Editor's Note: Scuba instructor and underwater videographer Drew Wheeler is traveling on board the Algalita Marine Research Foundation's 50-foot Ocean Research Vessel, Alguita, on a two-month voyage to sample and study portions of a 10-million-square-mile oval known as the North Subtropical Gyre (aka "Pacific garbage patch"). Wheeler and the rest of the Alguita crew left Long Beach, Calif., on June 10 with a plan to cross the International Date Line and investigate regions of reported high plastic concentrations, northwest of the Hawaiian Islands. This is his sixth blog post for Scientific American.com
July 14th…no wait the 15th…(but if I walk to the other side of the boat, is it tomorrow?!)
We made it to the International Dateline!
Yesterday, today or tomorrow…depending on where you live and how you look at it, we crossed back to the future. After a brief cheer and congratulations between the crew, we went about our work and began trawling north along the International Date Line.
Our first trawl came up so full of plankton that it was voided as a valid sampling due to the flow rate being obstructed by excessive plankton. So we decided to go with shorter trawl durations. On the first 15-minute trawl, I was astonished, disgusted, revolted…pick any one of those words and you only come close to describing how I felt when I saw the amount of plastic that could be seen in the sample, the green, white and brown pieces in petri dish. (Note the large white piece under yellow plankton.)
We did have a very unusual sighting in the morning, and a first for the Alguita Gyre voyages. While spotting and filming debris from the boom (a favorite perch for me) with Captain [Charlie] Moore at the bow, I spotted an unidentified object ahead in the water. So I made the “debris ahead” call and relayed the necessary course adjustments to Nicole [Chatterson] on the helm. As we approached the object, Charlie readied the pole net, I began taping, and suddenly we recognized the shape…
"It’s a Turtle!” Charlie and I chimed in unison. I quickly tried to zoom in as the boat rolled past the turtle, who didn’t really do much to get away from us. Probably as surprised to see us as we were to see him.
I jumped off the boom to get ready to jump in the water with my camera as Charlie took control of the boat. We stopped immediately and backed up a bit, but the turtle had dove under the surface by then, and I was unable to get anymore footage of our visitor. I did notice that the water was very thick with pelagic jellies, which makes sense because that’s what juvenile turtles eat for the first few years of their lives. We never got a clean look at it's ID, but I have a good enough picture that I think I can get an expert to take a look when I return. The picture above is too low resolution for an ID (white spot on the shell by it's head) but it clearly shows the Hawksbill turtle as we drifted past.
Finally, I got to do a night dive! Whoopee! As the sun was setting, the wind basically died out (again), and we took the opportunity to gear up and see what lurks in the deep at night. There is nothing more exciting for me than diving at night, and diving in the middle of the ocean at night is just that much better.
The first element of the dive was getting my lights working properly. Well, the old faithful Ocean Images RB75 lights pulled through in the clutch even though I had to zip tie them to the Light and Motion Bluefin housing. I think zip ties rank up there with duct tape; they always come through in a pinch! I still had some learning curve issues with the housing and camera, but ended up very happy with some great footage of many different planktons and jellies.
I won't even begin to try and name them, but I can tell you it is not what you see on an average "shallow water" night dive off the coast of Oahu. When reviewing the video, I found that some of the critters aren’t even in the ID book on board. I guess I need to find a good Pacific pelagic invertebrate ID book when I get back—any suggestions?
Talking about "when I get back," I can't wait to be able to get all this amazing footage edited together so you all can see what I have been seeing. Writing about it has been fun, but I want you all to see this adventure "moving." If a picture is worth a thousand words, does that make video worth a million? I promise I will jump on the video right away after reaching the dock, well after I rest and start on the "honey-do" list being composed by my wife, Jamie, that I am sure is getting longer by each passing day. But look for an "it's done" announcement soon after my return to dry land.
Now we begin our journey "away" from the sunset, making our way back to Hawaii. (So why are we headed north?)
I guess that’s where the wind is...we hope!
And so the journey continues….
Images © ScubaDrew VideoWorks & Algalita Marine Research Foundation