Thursday, May 24, 2012

Epic Meal Time

If you add cooking in a kitchen that rocks constantly + a stove that moves to the rhythm of waves + several varieties of meat – a large array of supplies + some Majuro greens and local squash ÷ by 14 different personalities and food preferences, you get the most amazing meals one can ask for while out to sea.  Each day a different crew was responsible for preparing lunch and dinner. Having the freedom to create whatever they pleased or in some cases whatever was available, each crew but their blood, sweat and tears into their meals; this must explain the peculiar taste of each meal......hahaha just kidding.

Whenever it was meal time we would count on the lovely Boxy to supply us with goods needed; “Boxy let me into those bins BINS, Gotta get me some tins TINS” (a line from a song about the ladies of Sea Dragon). We ate like kings and queens as we dined on several styles of cuisine; Thai, Caribbean, Spain, French, English, Chinese, American, Mexican, Hawaiian, Italian and Japanese. During the entire trip we only caught one fish, a 25lb Wahoo; boy was he scrumptious. The Shan Watch Man Watch team did an outstanding job with him as they had cooking duties that day. Hank filleted the fish and prepared deep fried fish burritos with basil aioli sauce for lunch, it was so good! To put the icing on the cake, Mike prepared Wahoo Tataki and Fried Rice for dinner; it was our first Japanese styled meal. It was ever so enjoyable. Throughout the trip this duo continued to outdo themselves and went on to make pizza, lamb, homemade mash potatoes and homemade spaghetti with meatballs the size of planet earth. Bebe, our resident mom made some great meals as well. She was very good at making homemade stews and soups.  I too played chef while on board. Incorporating some of my Bahamian culture into this trip, I prepared a local but simple dish of BBQ Chicken (sauce made from scratch), red beans and rice with coconut milk and potato salad. “you know when dinner’s finger lick’n that’s not KLG it’s Kristal’s chicken”-a line from Hank’s song about ladies of sea dragon). Everyone enjoyed it, leaving me quite happy and relieved as a big fear of everyone on board was making a bad meal. After dinner we would savour the flavour of Cadbury chocolates or canned fruit. A few nights we got lucky and had brownies, cake (or pudding as Bebe calls it), apple pie and chocolate chip cookies. Everyone did an amazing job cooking!
                                                   Hank and the Wahoo head Credit: Marcus Eriksen
                                         Valerie serving dinner Credit: Belinda Braithwaithe
                                            'Come and get it'
                                         Fresh Bread
                                                      Hot Sauce anyone?
                                        Excuse that goofy expression, probably laughing with Box
                                         Me frying chicken
                                         Making BBQ sauce  Credit: C.Box
                                         Lol 'feed me feed me' Jesse and Alex   Credit: C.Box
                                         Shanley serving fruit after dinner Credit: B. Braithewaite
                                         Hank prepping for a meal Credit: Valerie B
                                                      Alex going in on those noodles Credit: B. Braithewaite
                                                   25lb Wahoo  Credit: M. Eriksen
                                          Bebe chopping onions haha Credit: Valerie B

Discovery Day

As time went by, it was evident that we were getting closer and closer to the accumulation zone of the western garbage patch. Every day we spotted something new, interesting or funny. Pill dispensers, rope fragments and my favourite by far, the industrial strength tube of asian body lube Cynthia and Jesse spotted from the port side of the boat. ‘Eeeeew’!

It was a beautiful day out; the sun was scorching as usual and the seas were much calmer than we were used to. Our team was on watch when Hank shouted ‘Debris’! As we looked over yonder we discovered what seemed to be a huge white floating barrel. “Looks like a huge marshmallow “, someone shouted; “Maybe it’s a barrel of Sake” another crew member joked. We swung the boat hard to port to get a closer look at this floating debris; it was a massive Styrofoam float. Marcus and Hank wanted to get a closer look and haul it up on board but before we knew it the barrel was getting out of sight. Tyler, had been hoisted 50ft up the mast of the boat where he sat on the spreaders to get aerial footage for his t.v show. Suddenly he became our lookout, directing us towards our discovery. Ocean waves and currents were pushing the Styrofoam behind us, so in order to fetch it we had to drop our sails entirely and turn the boat around.

A few minutes after we got all the sails down we headed towards our target with hopes of bringing it on deck. Marcus grabbed the pool net and Hank grabbed the gaff to pull it out of the water. Too bad it didn’t work. The instruments were not strong enough to hold the weight of the float. Like a scene out of a movie, Jesse flies across the cockpit to the side of the boat. All I can hear is “hold my legs”. Jesse launches himself over the side of the boat and grabs the barrel while Cynthia and Box hold his legs, it was hilarious but a success as he managed to capture it. Meanwhile Tyler is stranded on the spreaders filming the entire ordeal........Good Times!

We were all in good spirits about our new findings but still puzzled on where it migrated from. The only question left was ‘What else will we find?’

                                         Styrofoam barrel floating in the middle of the ocean
                                         The boys getting ready for capture
                                         "Hold my feet" Jesse retrieving foam float
                                         'GOT IT'!!
                                         Finally on board
                                         Marcus holding the barrel
                                                   Round of applause for Jesse
                                                   Jesse looking similar to Atlas holding the Earth
                                                   Playing Catch haha
                                                   Tyler 50ft high documenting the madness
                                         Hank and Marcus with their trophy

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cut to the chase Miss Ocean! What were you finding?

‘Let it be said straight up that what we came upon was not a mountain of trash, an island of trash, or a swirling vortex of trash-all media concocted embellishments of the truth. It was and is a thin plastic soup, lightly seasoned with plastic flakes, bulked out with dumplings; buoys, net clumps, floats, crates and other macro debris. –Plastic Ocean, Captain Charles Moore.

When I signed on to participate in this research expedition I already had the Western Garbage Patch pictured in my mind; a huge circulating mass of trash floating around, a mass so dense I was afraid our bow would not be able to make it through.  This was not the case at all! “Okay so what, there is a bunch of trash floating in the ocean, just go out with a boat and some nets and clean it up”-average person. Seems logical right? WRONG! Scattered throughout all the oceans of the world are minute pieces of plastic, floating around in the water column, presenting itself as food for marine organisms, and encroaching its way into an eco-system where it will live forever. Over the course of three weeks, we conducted 21 high speed trawls and 21 manta trawls in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from any country or coastline. In every single trawl sample we discovered pieces of plastic; plastic film, burned plastic, crate and bucket fragments, Styrofoam, and most commonly tiny plastic pellets called nerdles. These pre-production plastic pellets are the first step of any plastic product. They are shipped in containers all around the world by the billions, finding their way through cracks and crevices and ending up in our oceans and on our beaches worldwide.

In all of our samples we had by catch of micro and macro organisms; halobates, copepods, terrapods, juvenile fish, jellyfish and myctophids (family of lanternfish that make up a large biomass of fish in the ocean). At night myctophids do a vertical migration to feed on micro organisms like the ones mentioned above. Minute pieces of plastic are often disguised with floating zooplankton, leaving these fish victim to plastic ingestion. Sad stuff huh? Do you know what’s even sadder? Filter feeding fish are not the only ones ingesting this stuff. Pelagic and reef species of fish have all incorporated plastic involuntarily into their diet. Because plastic is benign,their systems they cannot process or break down this material; leaving in their system....forever.

It was estimated by Dr. Hank Carson that every 8 minutes we saw a piece of marine debris floating by. Daily we scouted the seas for macro debris and found anything from tiny pieces of plastic to huge buoys, jackets, glass bulbs, it was ridiculous. But this was not our biggest discovery. Stay tuned there’s more.

                                         Floating debris captured
                                         Algal growth on plastic bottle  
                                         One of many buoys captured

                                         Gooseneck barnacles grow on floating debris
                                         Black floats I discovered while on debris watch
                                         Fish make floating debris their home
                                         Red bulb with more barnacles
                                        Crab found on styrofoamm, notice bitemark from a fish possibly All marine debris photos by Dr. Hank Carson
                                         A trawl sample w/ juvie mahi on bucket fragments
                                         Plastic nerdle in the middle, burned plastic to the right
                                         Trawl samples

                                         Night sample w/ myctophid
                                         Notice the tiny plastic pieces in this sample
                                         Piece of plastic shaped like the state of Ohio
                                                   Hank rocking the jacket found floating in the Pacific

My watch is better than.......YOUR WATCH!

Allow me to introduce you to the best watch team ever created............”The Mudda-MoonBows”

Watch teams come and go but the ‘Mudda-MoonBows’ will remain as one forever! Sometimes people can be the determining factor for the making or breaking of a trip. For me the people on board this ship made this experience so much more worthwhile! The diversity, personalities, pleasant attitudes, humor, knowledge and experience of each crew member left us all feeling blessed to have met each other. With several countries, scientific realms, and plastic industry sectors being represented, our ship turned into a melting pot of information and ideas.

Before I introduce members of my watch, I’ll introduce the other watch teams who are as equally awesome as ‘The Mudda-MoonBows’.

Watch Team #1
This watch team consisted of some great people, like all of the watches. Although they never created a ‘name’ for themselves, this crew made a mark on all of our hearts. Rodrigo, our boat captain was the watch leader of this team. I don’t know where to begin with Rodrigo, he is amazing! By far one of the best boat captains I’ve ever worked with. Hailing from Baja, California Mexico, Rodrigo has years of sailing experience. Having studied Oceanography, Rodrigo has been sailing around the world for quite some time studying whales and dolphins. We shared lots of stories and talked about The Bahamas, as he has sailed all around the islands of my homeland. His caring, nurturing, and humorous personality definitely brought some pizzazz to the boat. Rodrigo was joined by his lovely partner Belinda, a filmmaker from England. This lovely duo has been travelling the world together to study and film whales.  Bebe as she was known on board was filming our entire expedition day by day and was gracious enough to put together a video for us all.  Valerie, one of the sweetest people you could ever meet, hails from France. As a wife and mother of three Valerie realized the effect plastics and its chemicals, can have on the environment. To tackle this issue Valerie created her own line of biodegradable plastic beach toys and dishes that have microbes that help plastic to degrade overtime.  Her company is called ZoĆ« B Plastics, named after her first daughter. Their motto is, ‘It’s time to mother nature’; she could not be more right!  Last but not least is ‘Bob, the Body’, a self proclaimed explorer from Maine. Bob is a part of the Explorers Club, where they travel the world to take part in scientific and recreational activities.

The Shan Watch Man Watch

This crew formerly known as the banana bunch was lead by Shanlee, our resident fierce ferry. Shanlee is an avid sailor who recently received her Yacht masters certification. She is a BEAST when it comes to sailing; I was so inspired and proud to see a young female taking charge of the seas. Way to go Shanlee! She was the only female of this team but she kept all the guys on her watch in check. On her team were The Water Brothers Tyler and Alex a.ka The Water Boys (inside joke), two brothers from Toronto, Canada filming their environmental TV show called the Water Brothers that addressed worldwide issues facing water. Hank Carson, a Marine Debris professor at University of Hawaii Hilo, was also on this watch. Hank is HILARIOUS!!!!! He kept me in stitches daily and did I mention he plays a mean Ukulele’. Mike Brown has a packaging company in Rhode Island called Packaging 2.0 where he uses all recyclable plastics to make his products. Although he was often outspoken, he had a very funny side to him.

The ‘Mudda-Moonbows’

Before I even begin to describe my fantastic watch team, I think it’s only right that I explain our name. During one of our late night/early morning watches we had a squall (small rain storm) pass through. At this time I was briefing some of my watch mates on common Bahamian slang terms, ‘muddasick’ being one of them. After the rain had passed the moon was shining bright and there was a moonbow (night rainbow) glowing in the sky. The topic of choosing a team name came up and all of a sudden Cynthia had this stroke of genius! I swear I saw the light bulb turn on on her head. “I know” she gasped, “How about the Mudda-Moonbows?!” There was silence for a brief second followed by uncontrollable laughter, I could not contain myself; the look on her face was priceless.  That’s how we came to be the ‘Mudda-Moonbows’.
Jessie Horton, our first mate and watch leader, was born in Bermuda, lived in Costa Rica and now resides in Colorado. Jessie is AWESOME! For a young person he has accomplished so much in his life. At 32 years old Jessie is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, sailor, world traveller, submarine pilot, whale enthusiast, I could go on but I don’t have that much time. His easy-going and charismatic attitude certainly brought a good vibe to our watch. Marcus Eriksen, where do I begin? Marcus is INCREDIBLE; I would not be on this trip if it wasn’t for him. He is the founder (along with his lovely wife Anna) of the 5 GYRES organization and has studied plastic pollution in all 5 gyres of the world. His passion of the plastic pollution issues exudes whenever he speaks. As an artist and a palaeontologist, Marcus has many sides to him, including a very humorous one, and bleeds innovation everywhere he goes. “Gee Whiz.......It’s Cynthia!” This is the ditty we sung everyday whenever she came around. Cynthia is a passionate marine biologist/cetacean specialist from Washington State who now lives in Maui, Hawaii. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Cynthia story, she tells the best ones; and they are quite detailed.  One can’t imagine the amount of jokes and laughter shared between her, Boxy and I. Carolynn a.k.a Box, CBox, Boxy, Foxy Boxy, Boxette, Boxina; she had a lot of names.  Box, is from Santa Cruz, California but lives in San Francisco where she works in the Environmental policy realm; she is going to be real instrumental in helping me with my plastic campaign in The Bahamas. She and I were probably the loudest crew on board, every single day we could be seen and heard laughing, shooting videos for our blogs or discussing a certain donkey on board. These people were the elements of a great trip.

                                         The entire crew Credit: Tyler Mifflin
                                         Crazy crew     Credit: Tyler Mifflin
                                         Valerie, BB, Rodrigo, Bob Watch team 1 Credit: Tyler Mifflin
                                         Shan Watch Man Watch a.k.a the monkey crew Credit: T. Mifflin
                                         The Mudda-Moonbows: Me, Boxy, Marcus, Jesse and Cynthia
                                          Credit: T. Mifflin

Life on board the Sea Dragon

Life at sea is the life for me! Living on a sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean definitely had more ups than downs which made it an overall amazing experience. There were beautiful sunrises and sunsets, breathtaking moon glances and shooting star shows, tons of flying fish and mischievous marlins, Bob Marlin to be exact; /.a 250lb marlin that stole three of our lures. Nature’s bounty surrounded us and I loved every minute of it.  We were not passengers on this vessel but actual crew responsible for running the boat. With 14 crew members on deck we split up into three different teams of 5, 5, and 4 known as watch crews. Each crew worked different shifts around the clock; working 3 hours on and having 6 hours off and then picking up the schedule again.

While a crew was on they were responsible for running the ship. This included driving, manoeuvring sails, setting trawls, looking out for ships, keeping an eye out for bad weather, cooking and cleaning. It was literally smooth sailing being a crew member! Work never seemed too strenuous or overwhelming and we actually found that we had lots of down time. Whenever we were not working, we all enjoyed meals together along with different presentations held every night by different crew members.

Before we hit the half way mark and headed north for Japan we were experiencing some drastic heat, I mean it was scorching! I guess I got a little cocky with myself and underestimated the amount of sun my skin could actually take. Aside from getting 12 shades darker........well maybe 6......or 4, I got really sunburnt. That’s what I get for not wearing sunscreen and letting the melanin in my skin get to my head. It was almost impossible to wear clothing on board the boat, especially down below in the cabin. The hull of the 72 foot sailboat is made of steel, so days and nights without the generator on powering the air condition often left us feeling like we were residing in an industrial sized sardine can.

All in all living life as a sailing researcher was truly a blessing. I learned so many new things about the ocean, seabirds, cetaceans, sailing, plastic of course and most of all myself. I’ve realized that I am capable of doing much more than I think I can.
Jessie dropping anchor Credit: H. Carson
                                                   Pulling in slack on a sheet
                                         El Capitan

                                                   Main sail hoisted
                                         The Sea dragon chill spot
                                         Waiting for the sun to rise after our 3-6am shift
                                         Marcus pullig in on the main winch
                                         Awww a wittle banana  
                                          Marcus and Shanlee deploying the Manta trawl
                                                    On watch duty
                                         Halobates, Halobates. Box processing critters