Archive for January, 2011

Up The Gyre Without A Donkey

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January 26, 2011Where we sail to conduct our research is a place that sailors typically avoid. Why? Not because it’€™s dangerous, but because a gyre’€™s eye is typically a place with very little wind. And here, on the southwest border of the South Atlantic Gyre we’€™re utterly becalmed. Not so much as a wind ripple on the water. And hot.

For landfall in Uruguay we’€™re dependent on our engine (aka The Donkey) to take us through the windless areas on the open sea. But while chasing a windrow (an area where currents converge to form a line on the surface that often aggregates larger bits of plastic pollution) pulling out milk crates, buckets, and other various plastic garbage we heard the engine seize. After Skipper Dale ‘€˜squinted the donk’€™ (believe it or not this isn’€™t a euphemism for something untoward, but rather a phrase that means, ‘€˜had a look at the engine’€™) he determined that the gearbox had broken, rendering it useless. The gearbox shaft extends to the propeller. When the propeller doesn’€™t spin, the boat doesn’€™t move forward. End of story. Every once in awhile you’€™re reminded just how in the middle of nowhere one can actually be.

Ocean Haikus

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By Sara Close January 23, 2011
Every day around 6:00pm, our skipper puts down his bowl and spoon, and edges himself to the top of a winch or the top of the stairs so that his voice is heard over the rest of us still chattering away.

‘€œWell, it’€™s Groundhog Day,’€ he says.

The humor doesn’€™t escape us’€¦ looking out over the rolling blue backdrop to our ‘€œClive at 5′€ news segment (the fact that it’€™s really at 6 is largely irrelevant), we can all give a knowing smile to that analogy. It’€™s been well over a week since we’€™ve seen another ship, and as we’€™re well past the half-way point of the voyage, the daily rigmarole is just that ‘€“ a smooth (most of the time) motion of sail up, sail down, trawl in, trawl out, etc. The days, the shifts, the meals roll one in to the next, marked with the passing of each pastel sunrise and neon sunset.

The other piece that doesn’€™t escape my purview is the fact that ‘€“ to be honest ‘€“ I hate that movie. I think I really felt sick after watching it. I can understand the final moral to the movie, but watching the repetition and feeling Billy Murray’€™s dismay as he woke up to the same day, over and over again, was truly excruciating.

What happens on a boat, however, is anything but mundane. I’€™m learning that the longer you spend at sea, the more you start to find the beauty in the things that you would otherwise pass by. Time to think breeds clarity in the waves, magic in the stars, awareness of process, and appreciation of the little things ‘€“ like dancing on the spinnaker pole, laughing till your sore in the side, or staring with disbelief at the large heap of plastic that you just pulled up out of the trawl’€¦ artificial, yet teaming with colonized life.

Lucky for us, once a day, we all get together to have ‘€œfamily time.’€ It’€™s a bit like Kindergarten Show-And-Tell, where one crewmember takes the time to talk about whatever they want to the rest of the crew. Some are serious, some inspirational, and some just for fun’€¦ but the diversity of this crew shines through in these moments, and we have time to push our minds in ways outside the daily routine.

Last night, I led the boat in a haiku writing exercise. Not because I’€™m particularly addicted to haikus, but because I feel like their simplicity has the capacity to hold so much more ‘€“ much like the structure of this boat filled with the potential of so many amazing people. We each took 5 minutes to write as many haikus as we could, and then took an additional 5 minutes to write just one. With so many innovative people on the boat with end projects in mind, it’€™s important for us to keep in mind the dynamic between forcing creative space and giving it room to flow.

From our crew to you, here is a snapshot of what’€™s going on in our heads. Enjoy!

Ebb and flow bouncy Come on wind, blow your hardest Give a gentle push

Check out the sunset I’€™m sorry friends and family I ain’€™tcomin’€™ home.

Check out the sunset Salt and sun run through my veins This is my new life.

Waves bring clarity Hope and smiles inspire Over the engine.

Land ho horizon Our last water dreams quicken Angst now for land found

Little monsters drift In the waves they cannot hide To the gyre, they conspire.

Looking yonder far Bits of people dreams so dear Wasted nature gone.

Clive and Dale captains Rest of us plastic hunters Together we sail.

Where are we going? Let’€™s go back to Africa, Back to the big dunes.

In the confusion We will always find the light And choose to ignore.

Steak, shroom sauce, red wine’€¦ Homemade bread and apple pie. Sometimes we eat well.

Die littering scum. Ocean suffers so bad. Fish and birds die, too.

We are here now, We were there before. Where do we go?

Plastic riddles us. Floating monuments of waste’€¦ Must change. Let’€™s start now.

Manta Manta Trawl ‘€“ You fly in the blue water Eating plastic. Yum.
5 Gyres wouldn’t be possible without your support. Please consider supporting our ongoing work and help us do the research and be the change the world needs to end plastic pollution by donating. Every amount makes a difference. Click here to learn more

A Message From the Gyre of Desire

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By Simon Max BannisterJanuary 22, 2011Image: Max Plasticological Monster gyre sampleReporting from the center of nowhere, far away from civilization, a flip-flop drifts quietly passed the boat. It is too small and too fast for my reflexes as I hold my harpoon at the ready. You have to be fast when hunting macro debris on the bow of the Sea Dragon.

Another Beautiful Day in the Middle of Nowhere

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By Leslie MoyerJanuary 21, 2011As we find ourselves, on day 16, smack in the middle of the gyre (and in the center of the high-pressure system that creates it, and thus in a state of an almost-windlessness), we have definitely noticed a jump in the amount of plastic we are finding in the trawls. As we entered the expected accumulation zone, we’€™re seeing a bit more macros debris (such as bucket lids and net boluses) floating by, but not nearly as much as we saw in the North Atlantic. I assume this is because we don’t have the abundance of pelagic seaweed we had in the North Atlantic (called sargassum, the namesake of the Sargasso Sea where the North Atlantic gyre is located). This afternoon, we’€™ve spotted a series of nets, a water bottle, zip ties, a jerry can, and fishing crates. Approximately every 10 to 15 minutes we spot something off the bow, sometimes quite close to the boat. In addition to the recognizable debris, we are seeing larger plastic items far off, incongruous after days and days of gleaming watery blue far as eyes can see. 
The crew is getting along great. This is probably partly due to the good weather we’ve had, but overall, the crew is just a wonderful group of people, each pulling their weight and contributing fully. Having everyone participate in the science work gets folks involved on a different level, and everyone seems both interested and invested in the work. It’€™s normal to have personal challenges from time to time; it is no easy feat to be on a sailboat for 30 days in the middle of an ocean faced with sea sickness, living in very close quarters, combating boredom followed by periods of intense, frenetic activity, doing work that, for the most part, crew members who haven’€™t experienced this before are unaccustomed to. However, overall, everyone is happy, grateful to be here seeing the problem firsthand and on the forefront of this research. We are keeping a steady conversation going about the relevance of this work, why we are all here, and how we will take it home with us. 
And Dale continues to bring out chocolate every night, so we’re good on that front. Thank god. 
5 Gyres wouldn’t be possible without your support. Please consider supporting our ongoing work and help us do the research and be the change the world needs to end plastic pollution by donating. Every amount makes a difference. Click here to learn more

Movers and Shakers Inspiring Changemakers

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By Sarah MenziesJanuary 19, 2011I’m sitting on the bow of a 72 foot sailboat wondering how I got to be so lucky.

The ocean is a magnificent shade of blue, so powerful that it actually evokes an emotional response from within me. It is so inviting, yet it takes everything inside of me to not swan dive from the spreaders. For if I did, I’d surely be swallowed up by the vastness.

Nothing is in sight. Nothing, and everything. A few weeks ago, I would have seen the endless sea as nothingness, but now I see it as everything. Anything. All things, thoughts, beings, wrapped up in this one constant – a dark, deep, clear shade of blue.

For the past ten days, each wave, ripple, and splash has represented things of the past. I’ve thought about my family, reminiscing over both the good aspects and the bad. The dividing line is pretty thin these days, as both seem to have equally shaped me into the woman I am right now.

I thought about my friends. Their support and encouragement is what got me to this point.

I thought about the environment, the whole purpose of this trip. How can people be so reckless with what we have here? How can people be so selfish to put ourselves and our needs before the very thing that gives us life? It makes me think of The Giving Tree. I’ve always hated that book. The man kept taking, taking, taking from that poor tree. The tree never stopped sacrificing. What a terrible lesson for children. Perhaps that’s why I’m here, to witness what I and my species has done to our oceans… to shake me so hard that I’ll stop taking without giving a little back in return.

Today is different. Today I look out at the vastness and I see the future. I see everything that could be. A strange feeling to have before even reaching the gyre’s epicenter, I realize this. I suppose it’s my way of preparing for what we’re expecting to see there – humans’ negative impact and disregard for Earth.

So enough about the past, at least for now. It will always be there for my thoughts to return to.

Today is about tomorrow. What will I do with what I learn our here? How will I tell this story so we can stop this cycle of take, take, take? The answers are not there yet, but that’s alright, because I know they will come.

Today the waves represent the comraderie that is forming amongst the crew. I have never been so inspired, or learned so much from a group of strangers as I have from this one. Perhaps that’s the difference. We’re not strangers. We are cut from similar cloths, and perhaps even danced with one another in lives gone by.

And now we are here, each bringing something unique and special to the experience. Artists, activists, writers, changemakers alike… each here to learn, to open our hearts and worlds up to the unknown. I am letting them in, and today my intention and resolution is to never stop letting them in.

The weather ahead is unpredictable. Social turbulence is bound to ensue as the conversation and discovery of oceanic pollution continues to unfold. But this group, these movers and shakers, inspiring changemakers, will be my rock.

With this as my mantra, the vastness is everything, and the waves are those of change.

These are the Sands of our Future

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By Leslie Moyer
January 18, 2011
It never ceases to amaze, dismay, disillusion and challenge me to visit a vacant coastline on a remote corner of the earth and see this. From the beaches of eastern Sumatra to Danang, Vietnam, from the islands in the Andaman Coast in Thailand to Swakopmund, Namibia, from Elbow Beach, Bermuda to Carrapaiteira, Portugal, from the beaches of Santa Cruz, California to Tofino, British Columbia, from Faial in the Azores to most recently, Sandy Bay in Saint Helena, wherever I go, I find I have already been. In the form of tiny pieces of brightly-colored plastic bits, once part of my shampoo, detergent or mustard bottle, my yogurt carton or drinking straw, I find our human stain impossible to overlook. Walk down a once-pristine shoreline of a remote mid-Atlantic island as I just did and dig your toes in. Pull up a handful of sand and look what you have between your fingers. To varying degrees, it will be a composite of synthetics and geology.The sad truth, if you choose to acknowledge it, is that these are the sands of our future, unless we choose to do something about turning uninformed consumption into awareness, responsible consumerism and activism. The hourglass has been tipped, and I, for one, will not sit idly by while the tiny brightly-colored grains of sand slip away from us.5 Gyres wouldn’t be possible without your support. Please consider supporting our ongoing work and help us do the research and be the change the world needs to end plastic pollution by donating. Every amount makes a difference. Click here to learn more

Turning and Turning In The Widening Gyre

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Such are the first lines in Yates’€™s poem ‘€˜The Second Coming.’€™ At risk of sounding pedantic, I dare say that no other mediation is as apt for describing the range of emotions one feels traveling towards the middle of the South Atlantic. What will we find? What will we see? How will we explain it to landlubbers? Will the media get it right? Hell, will we get it right? And ultimately, is the evidence enough to change the hearts and minds of a society that has slouched towards a Bethlehem of convenience that is plasticizing the planet?

We’€™re now about 500 miles south of St. Helena and we’€™ve hung a right, bearing 238° true towards Uruguay at an almost exact 45° angle from the NE tip of the South Atlantic Gyre (SAG) to the SW tip. Thus far, we have five samples from the Manta Trawl in the can. Each are progressively more dense with plastic pollution (though still pretty light). Last night’€™s sample had the usual micro-plastics and a bit of a serious nurdle party going on. Very little biomass is coming up, even at night.

Now, too, we’€™re observing bits of macro plastic floating by. We expect that everyday will be more intense, but as always, the ocean has a million vectors that make quantification and hypothesis an ever more educated guess. The screen shot pictured in the lead photo above depicts our present course and the red ship is our position, the course and sampling completed on the first transect on the leg from Brazil to Cape Town (the little stars indicate sampling sites), the sampling sites south of St. Helena, the theorized borders of the SAG as well as another, smaller accumulation zone southwest of the SAG proper, and the arc we’€™ll follow moving forward. According to Dr. Eriksen’€™s protocol for this expedition, our mission is to sample every 100 nautical until we have turned the corner into the heart of the gyre and then every 60 nautical thereafter, all the way until our anchor is dropped in Uruguayan waters. In between Manta samples, we’€™ll also be running the high speed trawls for plastic for chemical analysis (looking at pollutants present in it) and 5 Gyres education samples.

I almost feel guilty writing what follows, as I’€™m sure members of the previous crew on the leg over will be reading this post, but the weather could not be better (just knocked like hell on wood). We could use a little bit more wind, but so far our only issue is that we might run out of sunblock. All the way, it’€™s been favorable wind direction, calm seas, pure cerulean blue all around. Bonnie, Rich, Mary M., Mary O., Mike, Chelsea, Marcus, Anna, James, and Jody, I love you all, but this leg is a weather dream. Sure, all can go to hell in a moment’€™s notice, but the high-pressure system seems quite stable at the moment and the barometer is steadily rising which indicates we’€™re moving toward the gyre’€™s center. We’€™re still at about 1016, and expect to be up in the 1030s in a few days.
Good weather is making for elaborate, if not celebratory meal times, and last night I busted out some pulled-pork, twice-baked butter mash, and a ginger sesame cabbage salad that blew Sea Dragon a few feet out of the water. Skipper Dale however isn’€™t baking as many cookies on this leg as the need for sugar escape from the weather isn’€™t quite prevalent. Put it this way, I’€™m not really getting any T-shirts dirty because there is no need to wear one.

Daily life is pretty easy on us, and because conditions have been favorable for sleeping when off watch, almost all the crew is awake during the day and philosophical as well as silly conversations abound. During the trawl today, I watched Willemien, Skipper Clive, Sara C., and C-BOX (Carolynn Box’€™s official boat name) do ‘€˜boat camp’€™ which looked a lot like 80′€™s era aerobics. And my camera has got lots of incriminating photos of goofy crew. For now the mood is light, but as we move to the center to see what lies ahead, that is bound to change a bit. Until then.5 Gyres wouldn’t be possible without your support. Please consider supporting our ongoing work and help us do the research and be the change the world needs to end plastic pollution by

Plastic Beaches and Driving With Saints

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“We want to go to the dump, and we want to go to a south east facing beach” we tell our guide Robert. Robert waits at the key on the lee side of the bay where boats anchor looking for customers to support his tour business on St. Helena. Saints, as the inhabitants call themselves here exist and thrive on one of the remotest islands in the world. Remote I say because though it represented a very important stopping ground for resupply for The East India Trading Company of yore, it’s hardly visited now. There is no airport and St. Helena is one of only a few inhabited islands in the entire South Atlantic. It’s perhaps most famous for being the place where, after his capture at the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon Bonaparte was talken, to live out his life under house arrest, where he died at age 51. Speculation suggest arsenic poisioning but the guides here are adamant that it was stomach cancer. Touring the house, the tour guide basically said at every corner, ‘we didn’t kill him.’

Robert, our guide, is short jovial man whose family is third generation Saint. Short and friendly, the mostly woman crew found him extremely endearing in the ‘everybody’s favorite grandfather’ kind of way. We told Robert about or mission and he was extremely keen to help us find the places we needed to go. So essentially we mixed a history tour of Napoleon’s house, Boer cemetaries, flax fields, garbage dumnps and plastic covered beaches. The island has a population of no more than 5,000 people and looking at an isolated group of people of that size’s waste footprint can tell you scores about how larger populations might function. If a good model for managing waste is built at its inception, in a place with limited land for landfills, chances are the waste managaement infrastructure will improve as a society grows. In a sense, looking at small island communities and their attitude towards waste is akin to geneticists looking at remote indigenious population for mapping the genome. It’s fascinating. Every culture in the world has waste, it’s what binds us.

St. Helena sits about 500 nautical miles north of the NE border of the South Atlantic Gyre. Looking at how the Atlantic conveyor works with regard to current, and its place inside of it, the island would most likely be a collection point for plastic spun out of the gyre. What’s missing in a lot of reporting about oceanic plastic pollution is the concept of gyre memory which Curtis Ebbesmeyer outlines in his seminal book, Flotsametrics. With each full rotation of a gyre, the gyre will kick out roughly half its contents (this varies on the size of the gyre, its orbit, and other vectors) and that plastic will either enter another gyre, or get washed up on land. This is why The 5 Gyres Institute maintains that beach cleanup IS gyre cleanup. If you get that which is spun out and washed up at low tide before it can go out to sea again, you’ve just cleaned the sea.

Message in a Bottle with Artist Jay Little: Bottle Release #191

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By Leslie Moyer January 9, 2011
This evening, after a shared dinner on the deck of the boat as the sun set over what looks to the naked eye like pristine waters of the South Atlantic, the Sea Dragon crew launched a message in a bottle into the big blue. We hope that at some point in the relative future, someone, somewhere, will find our message on a far corner of the earth and will be inspired by what they find inside.

We partnered with artist Jay Little of Marin County, California with his global art project ‘€œMessage in a Bottle.’€ Jay’€™s goal is to deploy 300 bottles, each with a unique message based on every participant’€™s contribution. The aim of this project is to draw worldwide attention to the threats to our oceans, and as a symbol for the cooperative effort needed to solve the environmental issues of our time. We pegged the release to our current location in hopes that the bottle will be picked up by the global conveyor belt of oceanic currents.

Within bottle #191 Jay placed information on the work of 5 Gyres and personal notes from several of our crew, along with his own message. So far, 21 bottles have been discovered, from such far-flung places as Vanuatu, Nova Scotia, Kauai, Midway Island, Oeno Island in the Pitcairns, Murilo Atoll in Micronesia, Elbe Island in Italy, California, Egypt, Australia, Nicaragua, Japan and New Guinea.

Of the project, Jay says ‘€œI have some mixed feelings as I collect beached debris for my sculptures as the sheer quantity of discarded waste saddens me. A particularly distressing form of litter is the plastics that may never reach the shore, but instead are entangled upon and ingested by ocean mammals, seabirds and fish. After long exposure to the sun, the plastic littler breaks into microscopic sized particles. These plastic particles attract toxic chemicals like DDT and PCBs that end up working their way up the food chain into the largest fish that people frequently consume.’€

Jay is aware of the potential irony in the project ‘€“ to draw attention to discarded waste by tossing a re-purposed glass bottle into the sea (especially from a research vessel examining marine pollution) ‘€“ and says that as an awareness-building tool, his message bottles are creating a net benefit far greater than any conceivable harm done. I’€™d like to add that as an inert, non-synthetic material, glass does not pose the environmental hazards that discarded plastic does. Jay likens his bottles to ‘€œunmanned vessels that have limitless destinations and [he hopes] to raise consciousness about the’€¦ problem within the outreach of the project.’€

We hope the discoverer of bottle #191 will take this opportunity as a call to action, as we each have felt, to help preserve and bring new vision to our fragile oceanic ecosystem.
5 Gyres wouldn’t be possible without your support. Please consider supporting our ongoing work and help us do the research and be the change the world needs to end plastic pollution by donating. Every amount makes a difference. Click here to learn more