Debris Hunter


June 25, 2018

Day 179/7

Noon Position: 37 13N 156 00W
Course/Speed: NNE7+
Wind: SSW17-20
Bar: 1026, steady
Sea: NE/S3
Sky: Overcast, frequent drizzle
Cabin Temperature: 72
Water Temperature: 63
Sail: Twins poled out full, running
Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 169
Miles this leg: 987
Avg. Miles this leg: 141

Mo is not a racehorse, but she can keep up when the wind is right. Yesterday it was fast on the beam, and Mo turned in a 7-knot average day giving us nearly 1000 miles on the week. By my calculation (best guess of a route) we’re 1800 miles from home. That’s about thirteen days at 130 miles a day.

Debris hunting has been good the last few days. We’ve not found what we came to find, deposits large enough to warrant a satellite tracker, but the field has been “rich” in other types of debris.

Over the last week, I’ve set aside several hours each day where all I do is observe and collect debris. And I’ve started counting using a rudimentary classification system: 1) SUP (small unidentifiable plastics) from minute up to 1 sq ft; 2) LUP (large unidentifiable plastics) from 1 sq ft and up; 3) IP (identifiable plastics of any kind and of any size). These three sets I apply to two buckets: a) things seen within 30 feet of the boat; b) things seen in excess of 30 feet from the boat.
Here’s how June 22 looked using that system:

0730 – 1000

SUP 0-30ft = 10; 30+ft = 0
LUP 0-30ft = 1; 30+ft = 1
IP = 5
1) Fish buoy, 1/2 mile distant.
2) Plastic lid; e.g. for milk bottle, near boat.
3) Square, five gallon bucket, broken, near boat.
4) Trash can lid, near boat.
5) Skien of orange ship mooring line.
Fifteen sightings in two hours.

By way of comparison, here’s June 23:


0900 – 1200

SUP 0-30ft = 27; 30+ft = 2
LUP 0-30 = 1; 30+ft = 4
IP = 11
1) Large black fish buoy.
2) Bottle, e.g. shampoo.
3) Fish Basket (retrieved, catalogued).
4) Bottle, e.g. clear squeeze bottle.
5) Bottle, e.g. dish soap.
6) Small orange fish buoy.
7) Bottle (2), e.g. for pills, white.
8) Rope, 3 feet, approx 1″.
9, 10, 11) 3xfish buoys, one orange, one yellow, one small and blue.

That’s 45 items of plastic seen from Mo in three hours time of steady looking and is the busiest day of finds we’ve had so far.

At other parts of the day, I’ll collect debris using a net I’ve rigged to a 15-foot pole or a metal hook rigged to a pole that’s even longer.

Likely the two most significant hauls so far are a large white calk tube made for a calk gun (similar to what’s sold at Home Depot for Liquid Nails and Silicon in 10.5oz size). On it the word “Shinjia” and two asian characters; inside was a crab and an “eel” type animal. The next day I brought up a whole fish basket decorated with large barnacles and crabs. Inscribed on its side were two asian characters.

Remember the goal: to help ascertain if Japanese marine species have been colonizing ocean plastics. Am hoping the above two specimens can shed some light.

General observations this passage vs 2012 (the year after the Japanese Tsunami):

2012: we encountered much more debris between 35N and 45N than we are this trip. Much of the debris was identifiable and floating at or above the surface: shoes, desks, chairs, a hard hat, tooth brushes, hair brushes, etc. Yes there were fish buoys and other SUP, but recognizable domestic items were common.

2018: almost all plastics are at or below the surface, making them very hard to see at any distance from the boat. The only items predictably floating on top of the water are the fish buoys. I have retrieved a piece or two that have been at sea so long, they are suspended below the surface (sinking slowly). Domestic items are less common while fishing industry items (fish buoys, fish baskets) are more common.
Today is dreary. We are running NE on the tail end of a passing low. Rain and a heavy sky…but good sailing. On my plastics patrols I’ve seen maybe a tenth of the usual concentration. I fear I may now be above the main body of the garbage patch.

One Comment on “Debris Hunter

  1. You (and the researchers) probably already know this, but all these same items can be found on the windward beaches in Hawaii. I go beach combing there whenever I can, and have see exactly all the things you list and show in your images. It seems I always find at least one of those popsicle sticks and one toothbrush of some kind or another. And lots of SUPs, LUPs, and IPs, including caulk tubes or tube-shaped caulk blobs. I had also seen a few of the tsunami debris back in 2012, mostly refrigerator doors, but not as much as you describe, so it seems that pulse missed the islands. I believe those items float differently and didn’t make it around the gyre and back to Hawaii. Sometimes we find the Marco Polo crabs clinging to some large piece of plastic, but I have never seen an eel in one–then again they need the water.

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