Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kids, trash, kids, trash, adults, trash...

By the time evening rolled around, we had a bit of a tempo going on the Charles River: a group of kids would show up, we'd discuss the problem of marine debris, we'd play 'how long does it take to break down', introduce the ROV and then find and retrieve some trash and then do it again. Our pile of debris steadily grew and the number of kids excited by the whole process steadily grew. For lack of a better description, it was very cool.

Overall we had around 450+ people ages 8 to 60ish join us for our dockside marine debris program, technology demonstration and trash removal operations over 2 days out of the Providence Community Boating Center and then Boston Community Boating.

We had a little more time with each group in Providence and much better visibility. The Center is located in India Point just at the bottom of the hill from Brown University (my alma mater) and is clean, open and very pretty (very much unlike that area when I went to school there). John O'Flaherty and his team have done an excellent job. The kids were psyched about our program, clearly were enjoying their sailing camp
and even listened to their instructors!

There is a lot of current in the river at their location and that affected our trash haul. On the surface, it was all about state of the tide. As the tide ebbed, there was a lot of trash drifting by on the surface (helped by recent rain and an unusually high tide).

We wrangled a bucket out of the flow and tried to catch other bits and bottles by hand. The less water, the less trash we saw on the surface. We did not find a lot of trash on the bottom. What we did find was too anchored under rocks for us to pull out, I am sure all a result of the high current just taking everything to the outside of a bend or out to sea.

It was clear whose habitat we were protecting... crabs. Big ones. We were treated to a show of crabs running around, mating, sitting on wood and clearly telling us to go away (see Gallery section of our web site for videos and more photos).

At the end of the junior program, John (the Exec. Director), Will Lippit (Program Director) and I went out to look for a wreck. We used the Tritech Starfish side scan sonar and got some great images (to the left shows some trees and other debris on the bottom near the channel). We did not find the wreck, just some logs and general debris but it looked like the bottom was swept clean by the high current. The Starfish is a very small, very easy to use piece of equipment that gave incredibly clear images of the bottom. We ended the day anchored off of a wreck that is half dry at low tide checking out it's resident population of crabs and John showed he has a steady hand flying the ROV for the first time.

The next day was all about volume. Volume of kids and volume of trash. Community Boating Boston is one of the country's busiest sailing centers. It was like choreographed chaos. That day somewhere in the range of 300-350 kids came for lessons or just to sail. There were 50-75 boats coming in and out all day and all the time there was very little yelling. No crying. No panic. Just fun. Amazing. A tribute to Charlie Zechel, Amy Lyons and their large crew of instructors, dock staff and maintenance crew (who work really hard keeping those boats in one piece).

We started at the West end of the docks (the high performance section). While the boats may have been high performance, it was the worst visibility in which I have ever operated an ROV. I would say we had 2-4". There were times I could not see the manip
ulator right in front of the camera. That said, with the help of the kids, we were able to find and pick up several wrappers and pieces of plastic.

Eventually we relocated to the center dock and center of the action. Though we still needed the Lyyn image enhancement system, the visibility was marginally better and the haul began. We found hundreds of bottles and cans and picked up everything from unidentified bits of plastic to a baseball, wrist tags, cups, wrappers, plastic jugs, pieces of a Laser and Mercury mast, a Mercury jib (yes the whole sail, jib sheets and all) and more. Our best find was an old ship's bell.

I will put a lot of the photos up on a new section of the web site: Gallery including a great video from Providence of a crab getting very angry at our approach.

It was a great 2 days. Certainly proves there is a need to both get cleaning and keep educating (sheer volume and type of trash in the rivers and amount of life in and near the rivers).

Looking forward to more.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Oohhhh's and Aaahhhhh's = inspiration

I think that audible gasps are the best inspiration for a teacher.

This week I got out from behind the computer to get in front of 50 kids ages 8-15 who are learning to sail (and take care of the lake) at the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center. As part of the WAVES initiative, Rozalia Project was the featured lunchtime program for all of the classes that ranged from new level 1 sailors to a SCUBA & Sail class to the more advanced Level 2 sailors.

I was especially excited as this was my first marine debris program - and after all the planning, American Promise excitement, press release-writing, etc. it was great to spring into action. We started with an interactive prese
ntation/discussion about the effects of trash in the water then moved onto a big guessing game: the kids guessed how long various items take to break down in the marine environment. Newspaper: 6 weeks... cotton rope: 1 year (small gasp from the 8 year old sailor sitting right in front of me)... fishing nets: 30-40 years (bigger gasp)... soda can: 80-200 years (big audible gasp)... glass bottle: 1 million years (a full "oh my goodness"). I could have kept going just to hear that sailor's reactions. It was the best.

By then, everyone was paying attention (yes!) and we played a version of Family Feud to name the top 10 items found on beaches in a 10 year collection of data from around the world. In the end each class was able to get on the board with some correct guesses. Cigarettes were the top (the reaction by a small, pink-bathin
g suit clad, maybe 9 year sailor was, "I'm glad I don't smoke). Me too.

Next came what I think was the highlight for a lot of the kids, the introduction to the VideoRay ROV (remotely operated vehicle) and Blueview imaging sonar. Being a fan of the audible gasp, I love taking the little yellow sub out of the box because it always gets lots of ohhhs and aahhhhs.

While the kids separated their lunch debris by organic (into the compost bin), recyclable (into various recycle bins) and trash (into a bin with a lid) and got into their lifejackets, I got the ROV/sonar all plugged in and ready for launch off the dock. Again with the ahhs and some squeals - what is better than seeing yourself on screen through the eyes of a bright yellow robot?? In the end we had a good fly around the docks with the ROV. I was hoping to find and rescue a whole bunch of sunglasses, radios, watches, frisbees and other lost items but the seaweed was too tall to really see the bottom. We did not find any trash right next to the dock which was good. To wrap it up, the kids had a little swim with the VideoRay for some footage of lots of little legs churning away.

Next, I will be heading to the land of my alma mater and Providence Community Boating to work with 70 young sailors right at the foot of the city. I am psyched for this as there was no community boating center when I was at Brown and we had to drive to Bristol for sailing team practice. I have heard nothing but great things about this Center and the city's efforts at making the river an accessible place (though I will not be surprised if we find cars and other suspect items in the river). Those of you around Providence next week, I will be there from around 9-4 on Wednesday August 11.

After that, I am very psyched to head for one of the country's busiest sailing centers, Boston Community Boating on the Charles River. Amy Lyons (who I have had the pleasure to co-teach a US Sailing course with) runs a solid 400+ kid per day program with a zillion boats. We will be running a similar program for somewhere in the range of 300 kids plus adults. If you are in the area, come check it out on Thursday August 12 pretty much all day.

This is a good time to send out a big thank you to our technology partners: VideoRay, Blueview, Tritech (whose Starfish side scan sonar will be put to work soon) and Lyyn for helping us make the bad visibility days good ones - I think we will need it in the rivers.

Please remember to vote every day of August for us www.refresheverything.com/rozaliaproject and please post, tweet and spread the word to other lovers of the ocean.

Next report from Boston/Providence.