Thursday, April 28, 2011

Emerald Water and a Jelly Blob

The Gulf of Mexico off Ft. Walton is an incredibly beautiful emerald green. And the dunes have a lovely, sweet fragrance. I was not expecting either when I stepped onto the beach on Santa Rosa Island. I had an hour before the start of an Easter Sunday marine debris program at Ft. Walton Yacht Club and wanted to see a beach, check out the water and see what kind of trash there might be (the usual beach visit, really).

Luckily, first came the delightful flowery smell and then the green water and then the fine, white sand... and then the trash.
In this case I walked around 75 yards along the high tide line and back. There was too much to carry so I have to say it was handy that my finds included a shrimper basket. It was ALL plastic: a hard hat, several water bottles, beach toys and some plastic wrappers.

After a nice trash walk along the beach (is that an oxymoron?), I loaded the basket intothe rental car and headed to the yacht club. Ft. Walton YC is on a pretty spit of land with water on 3 sides, a big dining room and patio, lots of boats (more sail than power) and some lovely people psyched to see what was lurking under their docks. Thanks to George and Dave, we had a tent, power and everything we needed and launched the ROV into some of the clearest water in which I have had the pleasure to pilot.

The theme of the trash at the bottom of the basin was by far BEER. Maybe some other beverages as well but mostly beer cans and beer cups. There were several areas withbunches of cups and cans. Apart from that, the bottom was relatively clean and we removed a bunch of cups as well as a piece of PVC tube.

The most interesting find was... I am not sure. It must be a jelly fish but we could not find tentacles or see the internal organs. It looks like a balloon but was definitely organic and had mud stuck to it. We are looking for an identification... any ideas out there?

We spent some time with the participants having a go flying the ROV on the surface and found some naturals among the sailors (kids and adults). Lots of smooth flying and no collisions! When we wrapped up, I was especially psyched that local sailor, Robin and her husband took the plastic I brought back from the beach home to be recycled.

Overall, it was a great afternoon. I am looking forward to identifying the jelly blob and hopefully going back some day for more underwater trash hunting and this time maybe a swim in those gorgeous green waters and a sail in the bay.

Stay tuned for next week's adventure in the mid-west: Wayzata Community Sailing and Lake Minnetonka. The evening program is open to the public, check out the
Rozalia Project Facebook page for details.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Four minutes on a beach in Massachusetts

Just before heading to Hawaii, we (me, James, Hickory and Smudge) agreed that we all needed a dose of salt air and to revisit some of the beaches that we walked (and cleaned) at about the same time last year. So, we packed up the PB & J, doggie treats and sunglasses and headed east for the coast. Here is what we found...

Owl's Head Light, Rockland, ME: This is a beautiful park with perfect New England lighthouse and several beaches with different exposures. After climbing the lighthouse steps (and
doing a little photo shoot with the boys), we decided to check out the beach that faced northeast. My first comment was that I did not see much trash and we started to speculate that maybe there had not been much northeasterly breeze lately. And then we started walking. This beach hid its trash very well. While there was not heaps, in the course of a walk along it's short length and back, we found the following assortment of the usual (see photo right) plus a one, left, pink, cougar-spotted Croc.

Our next stop in Cape Ann and the same little rocky beach north of the
town of Rockport, MA that we visited last year. Here, we
found a similar assortment of debris as last year with a
touch less in the way of bait bags/rubber bands and more rope. The items shown in the photo far right were collected in 4 minutes of walking the beach. Yikes. We also noticed something else... broken up pieces of plastic somewhat evenly distributed within the sandy seaweed line right at the water's edge (as opposed to the bigger pieces of trash up on the rocky, sloping part of the beach). It is not hard to see that the wave action on the rocks along with photodegradation is responsible for this but after the Marine Debris Conference (see last 2 posts), I have a much more specific and vivid idea of how those little pieces of plastic
can make their way into sea bird and fish bellies. At the conference, it was easy to assign microplastics as a feature of the gyres, after the plastic bottles, forks, bags, buoys, etc. have traveled many miles on ocean currents. And while the center of the gyres may have shocking concentrations of microplastic, our own local shores are not immune.

It is all good inspiration as we push forward with plans for the Trash Tour. I am adding each stop to the Rozalia Project Facebook page starting with two exciting events. Kicking off the early season is an Easter marine debris dockside program at the Fort Walton Yacht Club on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. Next, we're recognizing that marine debris is a universal problem and heading to the Wayzata Community Sailing Center to see what we can find on the bottom of Lake Minnetonka. I can't wait to get out there with the ROV and sonars again!

Stay tuned. News should be coming in thick and fast now that the snow is melting.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Processing the info and a perfect swim

With the 5th International Marine Debris Conference one week gone, I am still processing the volumes of information I learned there, figuring out how to incorporate new info into our message and programs and sending emails to the amazing people I met so we can stay in touch.

Looking back, here are some more highlights from the conference:
  • There are additions to MARPOL Annex V. This piece of international law prohibits plastic from being dumped overboard in the world's oceans. Until (hopefully) this summer, it still allowed for a fair amount of types of trash and materials to go overboard. The new version will require that ALL ships (from cruise and container ships down to private yachts) keep their trash onboard to be recycled or properly disposed of on land. Yipppeeeee.
  • The Chesapeake Bay sees a loss of 25% of their crab pots per year. They estimate that 4% of the annual catch of this multi-million dollar fishery is wasted due to ghost fishing. It puts some perspective on the consequence of line cutters on props and the need for attentive boathandling in some of the densely fished areas to find a balance.
  • A study on derelict lobster gear in Maine found one trap that had been lost in 1996 and was still killing lobsters. They are not seeing quite the same high yearly percentage of trap loss (closer to 10%) but there is still potential for significant effect on the fishery.We are looking forward to helping to determine just what the situation is on the sea floor off the coast of Maine concerning derelict fishing gear as well as other trash this summer.
  • There was a lot of discussion at the conference about finding marine debris, figuring out how to pick it up and what the trash, especially plastic, does when it mixes with creatures from sea birds to the great whales. But it was also discussed that 70-80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources. And because of that, there was also a lot of excellent discussion on preventing it in the first place through education and packaging. One presenter suggested some more R's to add to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Refuse, Return, Remove, Recover, Re-Educate and Re-Engineer.... Right on.

Overall, it was an extremely valuable 6 days both for the information, the opportunity to present Rozalia Project and what we are doing and our methods, the people and the inspiration. The crew from the NOAA Marine Debris Program and UNEP Environment Program did an incredible job of informing, herding, entertaining and feeding 440
people from 35 countries. Out of this conference comes the Honolulu Commitment (endorsed by all attendees) and the Honolulu Strategy (soon to be finalized), standardized data cards for debris monitoring and pick up (hopefully) and connections and ideas that will reduce marine debris and the damage it is doing across the world both at sea and on land.

The conference ended with a few extra treats. First, during the final lunch, we had a 3
song serenade by Jack Johnson. I think his voice is better in person than recorded and he is a big supporter the ocean and its cleanliness.

For me, however, the real treat came on the morning of the day I flew back to Vermont. The Nygards, my amazing hosts, took me up to the North Shore. We checked out some famous surf spots: Pipeline and Sunset both of which had small waves but were beautiful. We went to some really cool local art fairs and met some talented Hawaiian craftspeople.

And then we went to Waimea Bay. And I had one of the best ocean swims ever. It was
uncharacteristically flat as a pancake. The water was an indescribable clear, clear, blue-green and the deeper we dove, the more clear the whale songs and the dolphin clicks. We never saw the animals, but could hear them loud and clear. Amazing. Honestly, I did not need any additional inspiration after the week at the conference. But if I did, hearing the whales and dolphins, was it.