Andy Keller, Aboard the Sea Dragon-Part 1

Posted by — March 31, 2011 12:24 pm


Journal Entry xa Tuesday 3/29/2011

Sea Dragon at Rest Before Heading to Sea

We are half way through the 6th day at sea and this habitation capsule that we call home is starting to feel normal as we bob and duck through the endless expanse of oceanic wilderness called the South Pacific.

Before embarking, I had visions of smooth sailing and mostly worried if I had brought enough suntan lotion for my sunburn prone pale northern skin. Before departure, the captain of the Sea Dragon, assigned each of the crew to one of 3 “watch teams” to sail the boat around the clock until we reach Easter Island, a total of 17 days. Each day is broken into two 6 hour shifts and three 4 hour shifts. The four hour shifts run from 8 PM to 8 AM. My worries about suntan lotion faded in the middle of the night on my first day. In complete darkness, with only a slight indication of where the sky met the sea, I tried to keep the ship on the correct heading, while mountains of water tried desperately to push me back to California, I sailed straight into a rain storm. Unfortunately, as I tried to keep myself dry, I continued to get wet, as I was on the correct course to our first stop, Robinson Crusoe Island. The three days it took to get to the island was a test of perseverance, as most of the crew quickly became sea sick upon leaving ValdiviaChile. The few plastic bags that did find their way aboard, became very useful immediately. Buckets and the ships smooth deck served equally as well. Just as soon as we all acclimated to our new carnival ride world of bobbing along the ocean on giant mountains of water, we arrived at Robinson Crusoe. I heard members of the crew discuss whether or not going to land would reset our clocks and start the whole sea sickness process over again. Our fears were not realized. Us land-lovers had obtained our sea legs! It is amazing how the body adapts. Maybe our bodies just gave up.

The research, assessing plastic pollution in the South Pacific Gyre,  started a day after leaving Robinson Crusoe. The South Pacific Gyre is the last unexplored gyre of the main 5 gyres. Marcus Eriksen, who is leading the research with his partner Anna Cummins, has two trawls, one we use at low speeds 1 to 2 knots, and a newer one that is designed to be used at normal sailing speed. The trawls are designed to skim the surface of the ocean, taking a sample of material over a period of time. We are currently entering the edge of the accumulation zone, the center of the south-pacific gyre, where the most marine debris and plastic pollution collects. As we transect the gyre, we will be collecting numerous samples which will go back to Algalita Marine Research Foundation for analysis. So far, as we skim the edge of the gyre, the trawls have appeared to be fairly clean, with only a few visible fragments of plastic. Unfortunately to us and to foraging sea creatures, small bits of plastic look a lot like sea life, so it is hard to determine exactly what is what. The samples will be sent to Algalita for analysis. Given the huge expanse of the oceanic wilderness, and the tiny tiny tiny fraction of the surface we are actually skimming, finding any plastic in our trawl is absolutely amazing. It is also scary to think of how much plastic our samples represent when extrapolated out to the rest of the gyre that we cannot skim. I was told in school that close to two thirds of the Earth was covered by water; however it wasn’t until I was out here that is actually sunk in. We actually do live on a water planet.

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