Monthly Archives: January 2010

Sitting Ducks

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The weather is getting bad. There is to much wind to do the trawls and since we can not have more than 100 miles between each trawl, we decide to stop the boat and wait for better weather. This means however that we will be waiting for a stormfront we see approaching on the radar, like sitting ducks. Without sail or motor the boat rocks on the rhythm of the waves and since they go crescendo there are just a few people that stay physicaly ok. For one reason I’m one of them. I haven’t been sick at all, which is more than I can say of our watch team. Lam and Joel are in bad condition when the boat moves to much. Marjolijn had to throw up the first day and had a high fever at night but since she has an anti-sea sick patch on, she is fine. Sitting and waiting is bad for moral, especially when it starts raining and there is no plastic to be seen 360 degrees around. What s going on? Where is that trash people are talking about?

Where is the trash?

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The weather is so good that we can make a short trip with the dinghy, the small motorboat we are carrying with us on board. Even on this expedition we see little or no plastic, which makes us wonder if the Atlantic Ocean is as polluted as the Pacific Ocean. More data needs to be collected over the next years first to come up with any conclusive answer. The currents and weather conditions are so influential on both location, movement and depth of the plastic particles that it is hard to say at the moment. On one hand I’m relieved that we don’t see as much as I expected, but at the other hand I’m also a bit dissapointed. I will have to rely much more on the trash washed ashore on the beaches of the islands at the borders of the gyre.

To comfort us, we are visited by a dozen dolphins, who swim and jump alongside the boat for about 10 minutes, and an hour later some humpback whales just pass us without paying much attention. On top of that we catch our first fish; a small bluefin tuna (not so many left according to different studies…), but it is to damaged to throw back. We cut it up and eat the freshest Sashimi ever, with a little regret in stead of wasabi. It has no plastic particles in its stomach. Another reassuring and/or dissapointing discovery.

Night Watch

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The first two days we hardly see big pieces of plastic debris. Small chips of plastic (around 5 mm) are present however from day one and are increasing as we approach the North Atlantic Gyre. The sky is open, allowing the full moon to clear the deck at night like a spotlight. It is weird to get into the watch schedule which is constantly changing. Three groups of four people are doing five watches every 24 hours. During the day they last 6 hours (from 06:00 to 12:00 and from 12:00 to 18:00). At night they last 4 hours (from 18:00 to 22:00, from 22:00 to 02:00 and the toughest one from 02:00 to 06:00). We all cook and clean in turns and keep the ships log, writing down data relating to weather conditions, wind and location. After a few days the team runs like a machine, operating the 19 meter long boat day and night non stop.

Lam and Joel through the night goggles.

In the morning the sun penetrates through the clouds like a laser beam. Despite the apocalyptic aura we keep heading towards the horizon.

Departure from Bermuda

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The weather is great so off we go! The crew consists of 13 people (God Almighty!), all birds of different feather. From scientists working for Algalita Marine Research Foundation measuring the amount of plastic floating on the surface (for the first time ever over the entire length of the Atlantic Ocean), to a writer and editor in chief of WEND, a magazine focussing on adventure, travel and conservation. From an independant videographer on his maiden voyage to Europe, to some students and sailing professionals. Our captain Clive was a skipper on the BT Global Challenge (2004) for which the Sea Dragon was initially build. He knows the ship like no one else and his main goal is obviously (and very reassuring) in the first place to bring us all safely to the other side.
We throw out our first plankton net to fish out small plastic particles and start looking out for the big pieces. Neptune seems to be willing to grand us a safe passage…

Beach cleaning in Bermuda

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Last day on land! We decide to go to the beach to look for plastic. On first sight it looks like paradise, but if you look closer…..

In 30 minute we collect 4 big bags (about 100 kilo) without any effort. It is hard to imagine how plastic there is in total on Bermuda… and that is just one island in the Atlantic Ocean.

Lecture at SALTUS grammar school, Bermuda

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Bermuda Beach, January 2010

Bermuda at last…

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After 20 days of travel and work, passing by Dubai, Beijing and LA I arrive triple jet-lagged in Bermuda. Luckily the departure is delayed a bit because of some additional instalment of a CO2 sensor to measure the changing acidity of the ocean.

The crew is exited to leave however. Below captain Clive on right is pointing at the center of the North Atlantic Gyre, our first goal.