As you know, we reached our goal of funding Lindsey's trip to the garbage patch which she covered in a blog and was published in a NY Times story. Lindsey is also talking to KQED and GlobalPost to produce original material not featured on the blog or in the NYT piece.
For future blog posts from Lindsey check out her personal/professional blog. If her talks with other news organizations covering the garbage patch are succesful I'm sure she will update you all there. This is the last garbage patch post from Spot.Us but Lindsey is working on other innovative environmental stories that she hopes to debut on Spot.us next year.
This is such an exciting moment since this idea started a year ago when I decided I wanted to write about the garbage patch first hand. I wasn’t sure how I’d pay for the trip or even how I’d get there. Little did I know that hundreds of people would rally to support this pitch.
Thank you to everyone who made this project possible. The video below recaps the trip and sends out a heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported me, Spot.us and my interest in the garbage patch. This story isn’t mine but ours.
What happens when you save all of your trash for an entire year? You make the front page of The New York Times. Freelance cameraman Dave Chameides decided to save his trash for an entire year in an effort to see how much waste he produced.
Why do I bring this up? I had the chance to meet with Chameides on Wednesday while in L.A. I’d written part of my master’s thesis on Chameides’ work as a new media activist* so I was anxious to meet in person. We grabbed lunch at a bar in Hollywood, before heading over to Shalhevet K-12 day school where he asked me to speak to his students about the garbage patch.
I say his students because he is sort of a visiting scholar at the school. He has his own office and even though they don’t pay him he’s heavily involved in getting the kids to be environmentally aware.
He posted a map outside his office that shows where the school gets their energy and how some of those companies are tied to mountain top removal in other states. He’s given lectures on campus and encourages the students to write letters to their representatives to enact change. His students call him Sustainable Chameides, as indicated by a small piece of paper taped to a blank wall outside his office.
So I showed up to the school with a bag full of debris from the Pacific Ocean and a water sample the Algalita crew had graciously given me. Inside the jar were tiny pieces of plastic floating in the water along with rope, a toothbrush and the top of a water bottle. I talked to a 6th and 12th grade class with notably different results. The 6th graders were more wowed by the fact that I’d been on a boat in the middle of the ocean than by the fact that I’d witnessed a floating plastic vortex.
The high schoolers in the ecology class were much more receptive and had great questions like, “if a lot of the trash is coming from Asia why aren’t you speaking to them?” or “why should we care?” In answer to those questions I’d say a) money and b) because it affects what you eat and is killing marine life.
I like to think that the 20-minute presentation I gave had some impact but Dave is doing the real legwork at this school. He works at the school without getting paid and he said he's there as often as possible when he's not filming.
His effort to get kids to think about their affect on the planet is wonderful and innovative. He's trying to get the students to use stainless steel water bottles and as he ushered me down the hall he nonchalantly reached into an empty bathroom and switched off the light. It's these little things that will make all the difference.
* Dave writes articles for Care2.com and maintains his own site 365daysoftrash, which emerged out of his one-year experiment.
As quickly as it started, the garbage patch voyage draws to a close. On Tuesday October 6th we arrived in Long Beach. Bill, Bonnie, Jeff and I stood on the bow as we neared the dock, and what sight greeted our eyes but hundreds of pieces of plastic? We watched plastic water bottles, a Capri Sun container, an empty bag of potato chips and a plastic shopping bag float beneath the ship.
Bill and Jeff stared out quietly at the trash and then agreed that trying to curb the amount of debris going out to the garbage patch seems near impossible if we can’t even keep our own coastlines clean.
As we pulled up to the dock Marieta Francis, Jeanne Gallagher and Holly Gray of Algalita greeted us. As did Jeff Ernst’s parents. We spent the morning cleaning off the ship and displaying all of the debris on long wooden tables on the dock. People were stunned by the sheer amount of garbage—the 100-pound tangle of net and rope was enough to surprise anyone.
Throughout the day I helped Moore make sushi from the fresh yellow fin tuna we’d caught a few days earlier. At 4pm we were ushered off the boat by Marieta so we could take photos and cut the cake.
The enormous welcome home cake was designed to look like the Pacific Ocean with the Alguita sailing across. “And this is the garbage patch!” Moore declared as he took a knife and drew an enormous circle in the middle of the ocean.
During the party I got to meet previous crewmembers aboard the Alguita and we shared stories about life at sea. As the party died down it was time to return to the “real world” and I’ve been here in Los Angeles since then.
So even as this journey draws to a close, there will be others and I’ve decided to use the blog to write about the next adventure. Stay tuned….
Bonnie asked me during our first day back what was most memorable about the trip. It took me awhile to think of an answer. Almost everyone else had an instant response.
But when I think about all the things we did out there—picking up debris, cutting open fish stomachs and catching Mahi Mahi—it has nothing to do with the garbage or the marine life.
At night, during my watches, I’d sit at the helm and look through the open hatch above my head at millions of stars. The sound of the waves against the ship and the sight of the sails above my head were incredible. There was a sense of peace I’ve never experienced before.
One night on the bow Moore said he wished more people would come out here. He talked about how beautiful it is and that people tend to “preserve what they love.” I couldn’t agree more.
Lindsey Hoshaw continues to blog at her personal website. We have a good system down. She drafts her blog posts as a word document so that when she is on the slow satelite connection in the middle of the ocean she can simply cut and paste the text.
The slow part is probably uploading her photos. And don't forget - she is saving her best photos for her return.
Then Lindsey emails these posts to Spot.Us and David Cohn uploads them to her personal blog and to this pitch update.
During Moore’s 2007 voyage to the garbage patch, most of the buoys he pulled on board were covered with gooseneck barnacles. Huge clusters of them that made the buoys difficult to lift.
But during this trip the buoys seemed barren. Their sleek surface was coated with brownish gray algae, and only small barnacles, something Moore had never seen before.
...yet the very next day Bill yelled from the bow that he’d caught a buoy covered in barnacles. This, said Moore, is what he’d expected to see during this voyage, and yet, this buoy is the only one of it’s kind. Since then we haven’t seen any other buoys coated in barnacles.
It just adds to the mystery of the garbage patch-which organisms will thrive and which will perish? The answer certainly seems to be fluid.
For the past three days we’ve caught Mahi Mahi every morning. And we’ve been graced by the presence of several squid, which have jumped on board, that we’ve conveniently used as bait. It seems they jump on board to escape predators, though they don’t know their fate may be even worse when they hop on this boat.
During the last two samples we’ve taken after dark, the net has come back full of strange purple creatures, hundreds of them that are the size of poppy seeds.
One sample was so full of these little critters that Gwen and Jeff had trouble unscrewing the end of the net from the manta trawl because it was clogged with the stuff.
No one on board knows what these creatures are but we seem to have come across a midnight bloom of them. For all of my Stanford friends who asked about conspiracy theories, these creatures could be the spawn of some alien life form, sent down to earth to multiply in the ocean before tackling world domination (end sarcasm here).
In reality we simply don’t know what they are. But every single sample has come back with plastic fragments. And so, when the last manta trawl was completed today at 4am, it became apparent that there is still just as much plastic in the garbage patch as there was ten years ago.
Moore believes there’s more plastic now than in ‘99 and after Gwen counts all of the plastic samples back in the lab, we’ll know for sure. It’s a sad state of affairs that we’ve seen just as much plastic as fish or plankton.
I’ve definitely seen more plastic than fish on this trip, which in the middle of the ocean is tragic.
Me with string, caption: A piece of fishing line I caught off the stern with a hand net. Photo Jeff Ernst
I’ve received a lot of questions about what the garbage patch actually looks like. Some people wonder whether you can walk on it or see it from space. Others wonder if you could turn it into a man-made island and auction it off, then use the money to raise awareness about plastic pollution. Project Kaisei, a non-profit based in San Francisco, has referred to the patch as the 8th continent. Here’s what it’s really like:
Q. Is it dense enough to constitute an island? A. Nope, not even close. The majority of the debris is small plastic fragments the size of rice. When you stand on the bow of the ship you can’t see these fragments because they’re too small and are often below the surface. And with the reflection of the water and how fast the ship is moving it’s difficult to see anything floating by unless it’s at least the size of a pea.
Q. So you don’t see any plastic from the ship? A. No, we do see plastic, usually bigger objects like buoys, rope and water bottles that are easy to detect from far away. Jeff likes to sit on the main sail when it’s down and scan the horizon for trash. On calm seas we can see white or orange buoys up to one mile away; they look like tiny specks bobbing up and down among the waves.
Q. So what exactly do you see out there? A. The list is long. Common objects include water bottles, rope, fishing line, and pieces of plastic crates. We’ve also found a toothbrush, an umbrella handle, a tiny plastic tire (perhaps from a toy truck), a toilet seat, a glass vile, a plastic lid and part of a hag fish trap. We also saw a light bulb and a glass float, neither of which we were able to catch.
Q. What about partnering with Google Earth to get a photo of the garbage patch online? A. Moore has mentioned this before and met with representatives from Google. It’s a possibility but anything that went up on the site would be entirely conceptual/representational. Water in the ocean is like air in the atmosphere-it never stays in one place and these tiny fragments are constantly moving.
Q. Where does the trash come from? A. Most of it comes from the Pacific Rim. Some of the buoys we found have Japanese writing on them and one even says made in Japan. One yellow crate has Korean writing and another buoy says made in China. The garbage is carried off the coast of Asia by the Kuroshio Current, which flows east toward the United States. The Kuroshio Current is one of many currents that comprise the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre where the garbage patch is located. I should note that Americans contribute their fair share to the garbage patch; it isn’t just filled with rubbish from Asia.
This is a square Styrofoam float wrapped in a net that we saw from 150 yards away. Photo Jeff Ernst
We’ve finally made it! After days of waiting to hit the convergence zone of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre we’ve finally arrived. And how did the morning start? I woke up and saw an oversized light bulb floating by the bow. Unbelievable.
All the trash we’ve found has been truly amazing but somehow seemed “unofficial” since it was outside the realm of the garbage patch. Captain Moore, however, kept reminding me that the term “garbage patch” is almost irrelevant since he believes the entire world ocean is a toxic plastic soup.
Even so, we’ve been excited all day to see what the mantra trawls would bring in. We’ve found more fishing line and hundreds of pieces of plastic in each sample. Gwen spotted a glass fishing float off the stern this afternoon and Jeff hopped in the motorboat to chase it down; I tagged along to take photos.
But by the time we got out in the water it was nowhere to be found. When I looked back toward the ship it was a speck in the distance-we’d been motoring away from it for twenty minutes and the ship was headed in the opposite direction to keep the manta trawls going.
Jeff reminded me that if the motor broke we were in serious trouble-this as we headed back on choppy seas. The good news is, (and I use good in the most untraditional sense) I managed to find a floating buoy and a white plastic lid while I was out there.
Moore also wrangled in an enormous chunk of Styrofoam with a length of bamboo sticking through the middle. It was probably a homemade float attached to a drift net, which was used to catch fish. The underside was covered in algae and barnacles.
Photo Lindsey Hoshaw
By the end of the day we’d done a few trawls and were ready to do a few more. In order to resample all the areas Moore examined in 1999 we’ll have to keep a tight schedule. This means taking samples in the middle of the night and traveling quickly to get to each destination within the next three days. There are twelve spots Moore needs to sample and we’ve completed two.
Right now we’re heading through strong trade winds and the ship is ferociously rocking back and forth. Every once in a while dishes start clanging and spice jars go flying off the shelf. But I can see the moon through the front window and hear the water splashing over the bow, and it’s actually completely relaxing.
Just when you think it’ going to be an average day, you catch a fish, swim through an ocean of trash and the engine stalls.
If that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, Bonnie also found half a toilet seat, Jeff spotted another 55-gallon barrel with fish living inside and Moore, Jeff and I pulled an 80lb. tangle of rope on board.
Bonnie and the broken toilet seat she found this morning (Photo by Jeff Ernst)
It started before noon when I was at the helm, Moore suddenly shouted for the gaff so he could hook a Mahi Mahi he’d caught and bring it on board. It flailed around before Moore put it in a bucket, stabbed it in the head and waited for it to die. I have to say, the procedure was pretty gruesome and not having grown up fishing, I realize I don’t quite have the stomach for it.
After the Mahi Mahi stopped breathing, Gwen quickly went to work cutting open the fish’s stomach and found a small square piece of yellow plastic inside. It’s about the size of a popcorn kernel.
And here’s the most interesting part-we’re having this fish for dinner. Now, obviously, I have mixed feelings about this. Algalita is taking a tissue sample from this fish to test for toxic chemicals and we’re eating the rest of it.
Bill and Moore were quick to reassure me that this fish is no more toxic than other fish I’m likely to eat. Are farmed fish any better seeing as they’re pumped full of antibiotics and kept in close quarters with hundreds of their brethren? Are other wild fish better even though they may also contain mercury or dioxins?
Moore said that all food on this planet is tainted in some capacity and Bill said there’s no way to connect the plastic in the fish’s stomach to the level of toxins in it’s tissue. It’s just not that simple.
I started to see their point. I don’t know where a lot of my food comes from and have no way of knowing whether my food is tainted or chemically engineered or full of toxins. I do my research, try to make smart choices about what I buy and at the end of the day, I’m still looking for answers.
Feeling ambivalent, I ate the fish. It was a true “farm” to table experience-one of the first times I’ve been able to picture the animal, to see it’s face, while I was eating it. The vision was a little jarring and I’m ashamed to say the Mahi was delicious. But it was.
Let’s go back a few hours because a lot happened before that conflicted dinner. From the bow, Bonnie caught half a toilet seat in one of the mesh hand nets. As you can see from the photo she was overjoyed and has already wrapped it in a plastic bag to take home with her. Moore wants it too so they’ve jokingly agreed to ship it back and forth across the country from Long Beach to Wilmington.
Jeff, the master at spotting floating objects from his roost on the boom, saw a barrel and he, Bonnie, Moore and I put on our dive gear and dove in the water. The blue plastic barrel had two holes on either side and over 15 Hawaiian sergeant fish were swimming in and out. The entire barrel was covered with gray algae and gooseneck barnacles. Jeff and Moore covered the holes with a towel so the fish wouldn’t escape, tied it up with a rope and hauled it on board. Gwen individually wrapped each fish in tinfoil and will test the tissue for toxic chemicals back in the lab.
Jeff and Moore with a 55-gallon barrel full of Hawaiian sergeant fish. Photo Lindsey Hoshaw
Only a few hours later, Jeff, Moore and I heaved an enormous tangle of rope on board after Jeff spotted it while sitting on deck. As soon as it was out of the water, tiny crabs poured out of the center-yellow, purple and gray ones the size of dimes and one as big as a tennis ball.
The rope was two inches around and Moore said he’d never seen rope that looked and felt so organic, one that created the illusion of a natural fiber like manila or sisal.
Moore and I trying to unravel an 80lb rope we pulled on board (Photo by Jeff Ernst)
By the time all of this happened I had enough to blog about for three days! Of course that’s when the engine stalled. The dashboard light went on and the oil pressure alarm went off. Moore guessed almost immediately that the motor had caught on a drift net or a ball of rope like the one we’d found today.
Jeff put on his wetsuit and grabbed a dive light since the sun had already set. He swam under the boat and found almost as much rope as we found today, wrapped around the propeller. Luckily he could easily unwrap it-the last time the crew had to remove net from the motor it took an hour, but Jeff managed to pry the rope off in ten minutes. He dried off and joined us inside eating the Mahi Mahi for dinner.
So that’s it-our most action-packed day condensed into one post. A day that forced me to think about where my food comes from, why synthetic rope has replaced natural fibers post WWII and how a toilet seat ended up in the middle of the ocean.
It was 12am when I felt the ship lurch forward and then heard a loud bang and a ripping sound. I think the next words out of Jeff’s mouth were a series of expletives. Luckily he was awake just as I was about to go off watch and knew instinctively that the sail had torn (we were sailing through gusts of up to 35 knots or over 40mph which put enough pressure on the Spinnaker to tear it).
Captain Moore popped his head out from his bunk, which is around the corner from the helm, and shouted, “what happened?” When I told him the sail had torn we both scrambled to find life preservers while Jeff sounded the alarm to wake up Bonnie, Bill and Gwen.
By the time I had on a life preserver Jeff was already on the bow wrestling with the Spinnaker trying to pull it down as it flapped violently in the wind. He yelled for help and I ran over and started pulling in the sail though it quickly pulled back and I flew up against the front railing.
Over the next ten minutes we fought to pull it down, each time trying to keep the Spinnaker from catching more wind and yanking us off the ship.
Eventually Bonnie came out and sat on the sails with me so they wouldn’t blow away. Bill helped pull the last bit of the Spinnaker on board, which had ripped cleanly all the way down one edge and was dangling in the water.
After an hour it was all over. The Spinnaker is out of commission until Moore repairs it back in Long Beach and for now we’re relegated to using the main sail and the genoa.
We all slowly wandered back to bed; I lay awake most of the night-hearing the sails flapping sent me into a panic every once in a while.
This morning when I woke up the windows were covered with rain and the sky was a cloudy gray. Moore said we have two more days of rain before we reach the garbage patch. We’re all hyper-alert now, aware of how quickly the seas can change.
We’ve had a few culinary adventures in the last two weeks, one of them being the tomatoes we delicately wrapped in tinfoil. Remember that little gem of advice about sealing tomatoes to keep them fresh? It turns out that strategy does nothing toward their preservation.
In fact, opening up the balls of foil is like opening up a stink bomb; you never know how bad it’s going to be until you peel back the wrapping and see a squishy tomato-like mess inside.
This was the beginning of the experiment, half of the tomatoes were wrapped in tinfoil and half of the tomatoes were left unwrapped. Let’s just say the wrapped tomatoes didn’t fare so well. Photo Lindsey Hoshaw
Jeff and Gwen make salsa from the few edible tinfoil-wrapped tomatoes
On the other hand, we’ve had some great meals, albeit unusual ones. We’ve consisted on a diet of banana bread, fried bananas, dried bananas, banana smoothies and banana pudding (among other things). And we managed to pull 20 muscles off a buoy we found floating by then boiled them for dinner. I have to say, spaghetti with a side of buoy-muscles is pretty delicious.
These are the muscles Captain Moore cut off an abandoned buoy we saw floating by the ship. They were tiny but worth saving. Photo Lindsey Hoshaw
In the name of transparency, I’m going to tell you why I have been a little miserly with my photos. Because the pictures I take may be published in The New York Times, I have agreed to save the “best” photos for them. Science Editor Laura Chang said as long as the photos I post on the blog are not the same ones I’ll submit to the Times, we’re ok. So, alas, some of the photos I’m most excited about won’t appear online until October or November. I hope you can wait and I hope the photos I do post answer some of your questions about what it’s like in the middle of the Pacific ocean.
Some of the nets literally weigh a ton, and are impossible to retrieve unless you’re on a commercial fishing boat with the right equipment. They also have organisms living on them; we found barnacles on the outside and crabs nestled inside.
And of course, as yesterday’s pictures prove, fish follow the nets which they believe are reefs, i.e. suitable habitats to live on.
So here’s a rundown of some of the material tangled in our “dust bunny”:
A hag fish trap
These traps are used in deep water to lure in fish through a plastic opening that gets smaller toward the inside of the trap. These jawless scavenging fish are usually lured in by some sort of bait. People, especially in Asia, eat hag fish or use their skins to make “leather” products.
These yarn-like pieces provide abrasion resistance on ships-they act as a buffer preventing large ropes from rubbing against the ship’s railings and fraying.
These fine monofilament nets are designed to catch many types of fish. They are clear, nearly invisible and are often left sitting across mangrove channels, or taken in and out according to the tide in coastal zones and left at the surface in the deep ocean.
*And an update on our progress toward the patch-Captain Moore says we’re about 6 days away…
In the land of garbage, we hit a goldmine. Today, Jeff spotted a large tangle of drift nets off the port side of the ship. Even from 100 meters away we could tell it was enormous. I ran into the cabin and gabbed my underwater gear. Within five minutes I was in the water swimming over to a mass of drift nets and rope of every size and color. There were blue ropes and green ropes, orange ropes, purple ropes and black ropes.
This is the tangle of rope/nets and the fish that ate my hair. Photo Lindsey Hoshaw
Underneath it was a school of Hawaiian sergeant fish, a rainbow runner and two grey chubs, all circling the debris. None of the fish were scared of us and the grey chubs were fascinated by my camera.
They kept swimming up to the curvature of my fisheye lens and started biting the camera. They even chewed on my hair! I could distinctly see one of them swimming around with a long blonde hair caught in it’s mouth.
After 45 minutes, Moore got in and grabbed the ropey mass by one end. He pulled it over to the boat and Bill and Jeff helped lower a line so they could haul the debris on board. Moore said the entire rope ball probably weighs 200lbs.
After Jeff and Bill pulled it on board we all sort of stood back and stared. It hung from the back of the ship all day. At dusk Moore tied it on the bow and flattened it as much as possible in order to make a sort of “debris nest,” where we’ll place our future finds.
Using a crain to pull in the large tangle of nets/rope. Photo Lindsey Hoshaw.
What a sight, and, as I’ve said before, we’re still not at the garbage patch…
This morning we were up cleaning the cabin for the Billabong seaplane crew, which was to arrive today. And they did-for a moment.
But as the plane neared the water and touched down, it quickly bounced back up.
The rolling waves were too much and they couldn’t land. They circled for about half an hour looking for the water to calm down and they scoped out an area that Moore said had plenty of debris to look at and then, they left.
The Billabong seaplane just as it touches the water before bouncing up again. Photo Lindsey Hoshaw
So who were these mystery people? Rumors were floating that maybe the Honolulu mayor was on board or even Jack Johnson since he’s friends with filmographer Mike Prickett who helped organize the trip. But we may never know.
Bill, Jeff and I stare off into the distance looking for the plane.
Luckily, a lot happened the rest of the day. Jeff swam out and found a piece of a packing crate and Captain Moore found over twenty large pieces of garbage-a flower pot, part of a black trash bag, a water bottle, a buoy and some yellow rope (among other things).
We hauled all of it on board and brought in the other debris we’d tied to the back of the ship as a display for the Billabong crew. By 3pm (HST) we were sailing again, leaving the area we’d been hanging out in for the last three days. Now, it’s on to the garbage patch.
Jeff swam out this morning and retrieved part of a plastic packing crate. Photo Lindsey Hoshaw
We’re preparing for visitors. And who, exactly, are these guests? Great question. We’re not entirely sure. For the past four months Mike Prickett of Prickett Films has been planning a trip out to the garbage patch to meet up with Moore’s ship the Alguita (which we’re on). He wants to fly out on the Billabong seaplane; I’m told it’s well known in the surfing community.
So the date has been set-for tomorrow. Prickett will fly out with a plane full of celebrities who are environmentally concerned and can bring attention to plastic pollution in the ocean. It’s part of a plan to turn Prickett’s visit into grist for a movie about plastic in the ocean. The script he’s sent Captain Moore reads:
At a small airport in Hawaii a seaplane sits on the runway making final preparations for flight. Destined for a target offshore in the Pacific Ocean, is a group of planet caring souls, from athletes to artists, boarding and packing the aircraft. Individually they have all heard of this “Garbage Island” and have different levels of education on what exists out there. Each of them are anxious to witness firsthand what it is all about.
So we’re expecting company and no one knows who will step off the plane tomorrow. Stay tuned…
Yesterday Captain Moore took out a motorboat to search for more plastic debris. His search yielded a caulking tube with a trigger fish living inside and a hairbrush surrounded by two Hawaiian sergeant fish. Both had algae and small barnacles growing on the outside.
Rick McCourt, of Pennsylvania, recently wrote a blog comment asking whether the fish we’re seeing around all the debris are reef fish, meaning they usually live near coral reefs. And Gwen, the director of lab research for Algalita, says yes. The floating plastic looks like a reef to the fish and they follow it, sometimes for miles away from their natural habitats. It’s a fascinating phenomenon, and one that, according to the Algalita crew, hasn’t been studied much.
So let’s count, how many pieces of plastic has the crew collected since we’ve been out here? Over 20 large pieces of trash, with everything from an empty 55 gallon barrel to a caulking tube. And these are just the big things. The amount of small plastic fragments is countless.
Also, we haven’t even reached the garbage patch. Captain Moore says we still have a week until we reach the patch! It’s truly astounding.
A hairbrush found in the ocean. Photo by by Jeff Ernst.
It’s been an action-packed morning. Last night Captain Moore tied up all of the debris he’d found to the front of the ship but this morning we woke up to rough seas and he spotted something floating off the back of the ship. Well, three floating somethings-broken bits from the yellow plastic crate we’d tied up.
With all of the wind, the crate smashed against the other tied up buoys and splintered apart. Moore, Jeff and I headed to the bow to check on the collection of debris. It was all still there, except for the crate.
Then something appeared to be wrong with the sea anchor. Moore could feel the boat drifting and the position of the buoy above the anchor had changed.
Jeff, Moore and I started reeling in the anchor and soon found that the rope had snapped apart. Luckily there was an extra rope we could use to pull the anchor in. After the anchor was on board, we tied on a new rope and threw it back in the water but it quickly got tangled up in the floating buoys.
Then Captain Moore and Jeff argued over how to free up the debris. Jeff ended up jumping in the water and untying everything by hand, after which he hopped into the motorboat which was loosely tied to the ship and bouncing around. Two hours and a lot of hard work later, we’d secured everything. It was only 12pm, who knows what awaits during the rest of the day…
Jeff spotted a large plastic barrel floating off the port side of the boat. Initially the crew thought they’d just reel it in, but after seeing how big it is-the size of an oil drum-they decided Bonnie and I had better get in and take photos/video before they lugged it on board.
I’ve gotten used to jumping in with my clothes on, so I dove in, underwater camera in hand.
It was pretty incredible to see this barrel floating underwater, especially since one end was open. Inside were about nine fish and they stayed put as Captain Moore and Jeff tied a rope around the barrel and got Bill to heave it on board.
Jeff and Bill hauling a plastic barrel full of fish on board, a first for the crew. Photo by Lindsey Hoshaw
Captain Moore was pretty excited; the crew has never hauled a 55 gallon drum full of fish on board before. The outside of the barrel is covered in green algae and hundreds of barnacles.
Gwen took out five of the fish and put them in a smaller bucket without water before wrapping them in tinfoil, labeling them and sticking them in the freezer. Back at the Long Beach lab she’ll see if they have any chemicals in their tissues.
Some of the fish that were in the floating barrel. Gwen transported them to this empty bucket and one of them was still flipping around. Photo by Lindsey Hoshaw
Well, it’s nearing the end of the day. I’m off to sit on the bow for a few minutes and watch the sunset, before getting back to work.
As I’m new to the world of long-term sailing, and I imagine many of you are, I decided to put together a frequently asked questions list. It’s compiled from actual questions people asked me before I left and questions I had leading up to the trip (which I now have the answers to).
Do you get seasick?
Nope, and thankfully neither does any of the other crewmembers. We’re the first group Captain Moore has taken out that hasn’t gotten sick.
What do you eat?
Contrary to my prior beliefs, we’re not eating beans and corn out of a can every night. The galley (kitchen) is well stocked with everyday spices, exotic fruit, fresh Mahi Mahi caught by Captain Moore and my favorite-farmed sea asparagus. A few of the meals we’ve had include tostadas and quesadillas, Thai eggplant with lettuce wraps, BLATs (A=avocado) and of course, fish tacos. We keep everything cool in a small fridge, a cooler and an oversized freezer.
Jeff making a salad and Bonnie looking on. We made a lot of salads the first week while we still had plenty of fresh produce. Photo by Lindsey Hoshaw
What type of ship are you on?
A 50-foot aluminum catamaran. Moore’s ship was designed by Australian ship maker Locke Crowther, and it’s hull (the body) is completely unique.
How do you go to the bathroom?
We have a head (toilet) on board, and in the same “room” (more like a tiny box), there is also a sink and a shower head. The bathroom is just big enough to turn around in and couldn’t fit more than two people. When you shower everything ends up getting wet, so you have to be creative about tying your towel and clothes to one of the handlebars near the roof. Also-during rough seas taking a shower becomes quite difficult. Standing up is hard enough and trying to undress, hold onto the railing and shampoo becomes an acrobatic feat!
The head (toilet); the tie on the left hand size comes undone and a plastic “door” unrolls that you can zip up when showering. Photo by Lindsey Hoshaw
How do you get fresh water?
There’s a desalinator on board that works through reverse osmosis. Yeah, I kind of get it; luckily Bill Cooper is a chemist and explained the whole process. In any case, we have fresh water to drink and for our showers.
What’s it like to live on a ship for three weeks?
Incredible. Growing up in the Arizona desert, I didn’t have much water experience before I came on this trip. I think the best I’d ever done was a few sailing classes at a sleep away camp in Minnesota when I was a kid. But the views out here are absolutely incredible. I get to see the sunset every evening, dive with Mahi Mahi and watch the changing ocean colors-from bright cobalt blue on sunny days to light silver when it rains.
And I get to learn from the Captain and Jeff about what it means to be a good sailor. And of course, I’m learning all I could ever want to know first hand about the garbage patch. This truly is a reporter’s dream: being able to meet and live with the person who discovered the garbage patch and then see it first hand.
Do you swim in the water/are there any sharks/have you seen any?
Yes; possibly; no.
A lot of people expressed concern about sharks but I really think this is fueled more by horror films and the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week than by any real experience with deep water diving. During almost every dive we see absolutely nothing but clear blue water. And I mean nothing.
You may be wondering, “but then, where is all the trash?” Well, we haven’t reached the garbage patch yet and most of the trash out here is tiny-the size of corn kernels, so we can’t see much of it.
Hope this answers most questions!
My bunk! This is where I sleep (and toss and turn during rough seas). Photo by Lindsey Hoshaw.
Ahhh, the leisure of a Saturday morning, reading the paper while sipping a cup of coffee. Ok, I don’t exactly drink coffee and the most recent newspaper we have is a September 5th edition of The Wall Street Journal, but still.
When I woke up this morning almost everyone had slept in and Bill and Bonnie were happily keeping watch at the helm. There were no shouts about plastic pollution or scrambling to grab camera and gear to take photos on the fly. Just a quiet morning putting up the sails and closing down the hatch as a rainstorm moved in.
It’s amazing to see the spikes of rain hitting the waves and the drops rolling off the windows. There’s something inherently soothing about being on a ship in the rain. There are so many nooks and crannies to nestle in and the bunks have just enough room where you can curl up with a book and read to the light of your headlamp.
This afternoon I’ll type up my first draft of an article about the garbage patch and try to capture some audio for the upcoming slideshow. I have an enormous amount of notes and numerous background articles. What better day to pull it all together than our first “day off”?
Well, the floating piece of plastic I mentioned in my last post turned out to be a yellow crate with Korean writing on it. I heard Bill yelling about it just as I was sitting in the galley about to update the blog.
As soon as I heard, “we’ve found something,” I ran onto the stern and realized it was time to gear up. I grabbed my camera, put it in the underwater housing and suited up with my snorkel, fins, weight belt and mask.
Bill hopped in with his video camera and I eased in with my camera and it’s underwater housing.
It was so incredible to see the crate underwater. Millions of tiny barnacles were stuck on every inch and a school of tropical fish swam underneath.
There was a white fish with a thick black line across it’s eye and a greenish yellow fish and another black fish with white polka-dots. Anywhere the crate went the fish followed-just like the rope we found yesterday.
A basket that was found in the middle of the Ocean near the Pacific Garbage Patch. Photo by Jeff Ernst
Bill was fascinated by the fish and captured footage of the school swimming in and out of the crate, which hovered near the surface. I left myself sink down, took a few photos and then swam back up for air. After half an hour I was exhausted. Keeping myself from sinking had been more draining than I thought.
Moore and Jeff dove in after Bill and I got out and caught the fish that were in the crate before bringing them onboard.
Gwen dumped them into a bucket and then took them out one by one to measure them, seal them in tinfoil and pack them up for the lab. Once she’s back in Long Beach she will cut them open to see if they’ve consumed any plastic particles.
Gwen dumped them into a bucket and then took them out one by one to measure them, seal them in tinfoil and pack them up for the lab. Once she’s back in Long Beach she will cut them open to see if they’ve consumed any plastic particles. Photo by Jeff Ernst
It was an exciting day. We’re hoping for another great day tomorrow as we idle in calm winds and still waters waiting to see more garbage.
I was awoken, again this morning, by the sound of Captain Moore shouting about a buoy he’d seen a few hundred miles in front of the ship. Bill was on watch, upbeat and alert, always excited to be on “plastic patrol” as he calls it-looking through the window at the helm searching for debris in the distance.
Moore snatched up the floating buoy in a large net and observed that bird feces on one side indicated it’d been used as a floating perch.
Half of it’s white exterior was also covered in green algae and gooseneck barnacles. After snapping a few photos I put it on top of the other “loot,” but the buoy collection is piling up quickly. In just two days Moore has found nine buoys.
And today the crew collected the first round of plastic bottles-three separate water bottles, some with algae and barnacles growing on them. One opaque plastic bottle has bite marks out of it and looks like it’s been attacked by a group of hungry sharks. (This is highly unlikely but the jagged bite marks immediately conjure images of Jaws).
During the afternoon we took a quick swim. As we near our destination the ocean becomes calmer and calmer since the garbage patch is located in an area of low winds. The entire Pacific is starting to look like a giant piece of glass.
Bonnie and Bill tried out their underwater video camera and I practiced free diving with my camera and a weight belt. It takes at least 10 pounds to keep me from bobbing like an apple at the surface.
But our afternoon swim quickly ended when Bonnie started yelling and swam for the boat. Bill was right alongside her and, of course, with thought of sharks circling in my head I looked all around to see if I could spot anything. Nothing but deep blue water.
I soon realized what she was startled by when I felt a sharp sing on my hand. I yelped too and swam for the boat. Apparently we’d all been stung by Portuguese man o’wars.
My welts soon disappeared but Bonnie had a thin line on her back and under her arm where the man o’war’s tentacle had wrapped around her.
A Man O'War Sting while out in the Ocean. photo by Jeff Ernst
Yikes! Bill is shouting from the bow right now-apparently Jeff has seen more floating plastic. Got to run!
[These posts are coming in via email from Lindsey and being posted by with the help of the Spot.Us community which helped fund Lindsey's trip. We are in communication with Lindsey - comments and questions are welcome.]
I woke up to the sound of Captain Moore shouting from out on the stern. The first thing I did? Grabbed my camera.
He’d spotted a floating buoy off the starboard side of the boat-the first large piece of plastic pollution we’ve seen on the trip. It came closer as Gwen steered the ship and Moore scooped it up with a pool-like mesh skimmer.
It was covered with algae and small gooseneck barnacles. Some of them even opened up after they’d been on board for a few minutes. Their brownish-purple “tentacles” came out of small white shells.
We haven’t even reached the garbage patch yet so Captain Moore was surprised we found anything this far south. Especially since in the next hour the crew spotted three more floating buoys.
One of them had Chinese writing on it, well, Chinese words spelled out in English. Captain Moore thinks this means it’s from Taiwan-he suspects that Chinese fisherman wouldn’t bother translating into English.
During the afternoon we hopped into the water; I dove in equipped with my underwater camera and I furiously began taking photos of a large rope that was floating by.
There were over fifty golden rudder fish swimming around the rope. Jeff tells me that the rope provides a habitat for the fish, it keeps them protected from the sun and other predators and the algae on the rope is their food. They did not want to let it go!
As Jeff dragged the rope toward the ship they furiously swam alongside it. They kept up the entire time until he hauled the rope up onto the boat.
Not to worry though. Captain Moore has decided we’ll “hang out” in the gyre for a while and put the rope back in the water to see what type of creatures it attracts. He’s thinking more rudder fish, I’m hoping Mahi Mahi.
As soon as I woke up and stumbled into the galley (the kitchen) I saw Captain Moore out on the stern untangling the Mantra Trawl to take the first ocean samples.
The Mantra Trawl was built especially for Moore and looks exactly like a mantra ray-with aluminum rectangles for wings, a wide open aluminum cage for a mouth and a long cylinder of mesh dragging behind that looks like a tail. The mesh catches anything in its path and the 1/3mm mesh is small enough to catch plankton and tiny pieces of plastic.
Jeff lugged the manta into the water and slowly let out the two ropes that secured it to the stern. About an hour later, it was time to pull it in. He hauled the manta out onto the deck and Captain Moore unscrewed the end of the tail where all the debris gets caught.
Over a glass bowl he turned the mesh inside out and sprayed it down with a plastic bottled filled with seawater. The plankton and plastic dripped down into the bowl, which was soon filled with salps and tiny jellyfish and a few pieces of plastic.
The pieces were so tiny, if you weren’t looking for them you’d miss them. They were smaller than grains of rice. The three pieces I immediately saw in the bowl were blue, green and white. Who knows how many more there were; Moore and his crew won’t know until they process the samples in their lab.
The rest of the day we went for a swim and the water is so amazingly clear-you could see down for probably 100 feet. But there is nothing much to see. The plankton and plastic are so tiny right now, that all you see is clear cobalt blue water.
And this evening while having dinner on the bow as the sun set I realized why Moore felt so passionate about saving the ocean. The natural beauty is overwhelming. Under a deep blue-black night sky I could see hundreds of stars. I’m inside the ship now with the hatch open, slowly falling asleep to a luminescent night sky.
How do you stay awake from 10pm-2am during your first night watch? Coffee from the French press, 10,000 songs from iTunes and lots of conversation. Jeff and I stayed awake for the late shift last night to make sure the Alguita didn’t hit any oncoming boats, that the wind hadn’t changed directions and that the motors didn’t malfunction.
We talked about everything imaginable-what it’s like working for Captain Moore, how Jeff ended up on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and why he thinks cleaning up the garbage patch is impossible (more on this later).
The four hours passed slowly and I had a minor bout of anxiety when I looked down at my phone and saw the words “no service.” No phone calls, no email, no Twitter for nearly a month. Though I will, because of behind the scenes assistance from Spot.Us, be able to blog.
While I was lamenting the virtual death of my cell phone Jeff tapped my shoulder and pointed through the front window to a masked booby that landed on the front of the ship’s railing. He stayed there all night and into the morning catching a ride to calmer seas.
During this time we rounded Oahu from the west and traveled north past Kauai. The ship’s computer showed us as a tiny chartreuse speck sailing through the Hawaiian Islands.
There was more action in the morning after our shift ended when Captain Moore showed me a flying fish that landed on board. He was blue-gray and his eyes were sunk in-they’d probably dried out before we found him.
While I was snapping photos of the flying fish I looked over at the dangling cluster of bananas on the stern, all 85 of them. We’d bought them green to last the entire trip but much to our dismay they’ve all ripened.
Bonnie has vowed to make banana bread during her 2am-6am shift with Gwen. I just don’t have the heart to tell her that it only calls for two bananas.
Well, this is the last land-based post. We’re scheduled to depart this afternoon and we have the trade winds on our side. We’ve been doing last minute preparations–going over the mechanics of the boat, doing laundry, securing down the gear and the produce strapped on the front of the boat.
Front left to right, back to front: Me (Lindsey Hoshaw), Jeff Ernst, Bill Cooper, Gwen Lattin, Captain Charles Moore and Bonnie Monteleone
We’ll start our first night watches tonight–having two people stay awake in 4 hour shifts steering and watching for oncoming boats. Captain Moore assured us that last night was the last good night’s sleep we’ll have in a while.
And I want to thank everyone who has supported me as I head out to sea–from Twitter followers to Spot.us donors to environmental enthusiasts, the response to this project has been overwhelming. Know that I’m thinking of you all and will Twitter and blog as much as possible while at sea.
Jeff and Bill untying the main sail Bonnie taking footage from the bow of the boat Captain Moore drawing a diagram of how to put up the spinnaker (a special sail designed for use when sailing downwind)
Yesterday marked our first voyage out to sea. Our goal: learn how to work the sails and how to rescue passengers who had fallen overboard (don’t worry, no passengers were sacrificed for the drill). Captain Moore told us about the life vests we were to wear at night while keeping a watch and then showed us how to rescue someone using the three floatation rings on board. Thankfully, he said no one had ever gone overboard without someone being close by.
I quickly learned two things. One, hold on! The waves on our way back were so severe that pots and pans, dishes and spices jars in the galley (the kitchen) were banging about. And second, sailing makes you extremely sleepy. Throughout the day Bonnie, Bill, Gwen and I battled constant drowsiness–an effect of the sun and working outside all day?
By the time we got back to the dock last night, around 1am, we were all ready to crash. At least for a few hours–the next day it was time to head to the farmer’s market at 6am to load up on produce. The travails of this journey are on their way…
This morning I met first mate Jeff Ernst and got a tour of the ship. As I walked up to the Alguita a string of plastic debris lay on the dock–mainly buoys and one old tire. On the bow sits a large tangle of fishing net and rope the crew caught during their first voyage out this summer. So this is it–home for the next three weeks!
The Oceanic Research Vessel (ORV) Alguita, docked at Kewalo Basin
Back of the Alguita where all of the action–manta trawling (taking samples with a mesh net), scuba diving and underwater photography happens
Abandoned buoys and an old tire collected from the garbage patch during a voyage earlier this summer.
By mid-afternoon yesterday, I’d met the entire crew. Bill and Bonnie, a couple who split their time between North Carolina and California, flew in and we headed to NOAA to meet Carey Morishige who’s in charge of the debris recovery program. Afterward we returned to the ship, unpacked and then went out to Dave & Busters to celebrate our first night together. It’s a laid-back and amiable group, everyone willing to help out and make the journey run smoothly. So without further ado, here’s the crew!
Captain Charles Moore, founder of Algalita, the director of our ship and as you can see, a self-proclaimed tree hugger
First Mate Jeffrey Ernst, University of Hawaii (Hilo) Marine Science grad, Jeff spends his time manning the deck and sleeping in a hammock on the stern
Gwen Lattin, Director of Laboratory Research for Algalita, Gwen will be analyzing fish tissue samples (pending funding) from fish caught at sea with stomaches full of trash
Bill Cooper, Director of Urban Water Research Center, U.C. Irvine, sailing pro, former Army Captain, always smiling/life of the party
Bonnie Monteleone, University of North Carolina (Wilmington) Liberal Arts graduate student, videographer and blogger extrordinaire
After a bumpy ride, I made it safely into Hawaii on Monday morning. I’ve spent the last two days with Stanford graduate student and Waikiki Aquarium intern Micki Ream. While Micki is at work I’ve been busy making last minute preparations for the trip–checking my equipment, reading recent articles about SEAPLEX and Project Kaisei, responding to emails and kicking off the start of the blog.
Standing on the beach in Waikiki a few blocks from where the Alguita will depart
And I’ve been talking to just about everybody about the trip. From my experience, about half the people I run into on the street seem to have no idea about the floating mass of plastic trash. The other half either vaguely know what I’m talking about or pretend to know and nod quietly as I explain the expanse of the oceanic “landfill”. One man I ran into in a coffee shop, Jerry Bush, a lithographer, suggested we get the Navy to clean it up, a woman I sat net to on the bus suggested we use the plastic pieces to soak up oil from oil spills since plastic in the ocean concentrates toxic chemicals anyway. It’s very gratifying to know that everyone has some opinion on the matter even if they’ve just learned about it.
In a few hours I’m meeting with Captain Moore, the first time since I interviewed him back in March for a mini-documentary about nurdles. It will be the first of four consecutive days learning to be a member of the crew–working the sails, mastering emergency rescues and scheduling my night watches to check for oncoming boats. I’ll have full internet access until September 7th when the 50-foot aluminum catamaran Alguita sets sail, and limited access from then on. Right now I’m working on my maritime vocabulary–if anyone knows the word for neophyte sailor let me know…
Last Saturday I had the pleasure of going on my first boat dive off the coast of Monterey. I was on board the Monterey Express with my scuba instructor and a class of Advanced Open Water divers. We left shore around 1:30pm and found a dive spot that had great anemones at the bottom and hundreds of jellyfish.
What's it like to swim among jellyfish the size of dinner plates you ask? Well, quite wonderful actually. As their looming jello-like heads get closer and closer, there's only one thing to do--make sure you have the right lens.
They were so numerous it was like swimming in the Monterey Bay Aquarium's jellyfish exhibit. Thankfully my wet suit provided protection against their stinging
tentacles. I took my first underwater photos of the jellies and was so blessed that my camera was in good working order--no floods in the housing or malfunctions.
These are the first photos to get me ready for shooting underwater in the middle of the Pacific--something that's incredibly challenging while watching your air levels, making sure you don't sink to the bottom and equalizing your ears (by moving your jaw and swallowing, much as you'd do on an airplane).
Overall a great dive--I made it to 80 feet which is considerable since most beginning divers stay above 60 feet. Expect more photos while I'm in Hawaii next week. I leave for Hawaii on August 31, so the countdown begins...
For those of you who missed Friday’s BlogTalkRadio show about Lindsey Hoshaw’s upcoming voyage to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, look no further. The show covered every thing from how Lindsey scored such an epic opportunity aboard the Algalita Marine Research Foundation vessel to how Captain Charles Moore’s voyage compares to Project Kaisei which is already out at sea, to what Lindsey hopes to uncover as the only journalist going out to the garbage patch–specifically, how this floating plastic soup affects you and me by way of the seafood we consume.
Listen to Lindsey talk about every thing she’s doing to prepare for the trip, and hear about how this Spot.us pitch has served as a shining example of what’s possible in community-funded reporting.
Below are the sites where you can keep tabs on Lindsey throughout the reporting process.
A toxic garbage soup over twice the size of Texas sits in the Pacific Ocean, and you can help fund a reporter, “the garbage girl” to write about it! Support Spot.Us to publish her investigative story for the New York Times.
When: Saturday, August 22, 10 PM to 2 AM Where: New Delhi Restaurant, 160 Ellis Street, SF 94102
$15 advance tickets by donating on the facebook causes page or $20 at the door! Enjoy complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cash bar! With BradElectro spinning house, funk and space disco.
Lindsey’s travel fund is still over $1,000 short of the $10K goal needed to send her out to sea, so come meet the people involved in this story, eat, drink, dance and help send Lindsey on her way!
A toxic garbage soup over twice the size of Texas sits in the Pacific Ocean, and you can help to fund a reporter, “the garbage girl” to write about it! Support Spot.Us, a nonprofit pioneering community funded reporting, to publish an investigative story for the New York Times. Come to our fundraiser and mix it up!
When: Saturday, August 22, 10 PM to 2 AM Where: New Delhi Restaurant, 160 Ellis Street, SF 94102
$15 advance tickets by donating on this page or $20 at the door! Enjoy complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cash bar!
Funding for this story will help to show how plastic is not only affecting marine life—that animals are strangled by soda rings and that fish and birds die with bellies full of indigestible plastic trash—but also how this trash is affecting us. Can’t make it to the party? Donate to the story here.
Lindsey Hoshaw is preparing for her trip to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch funded by the Spot.Us community. She is signing papers and medical releases, working with the NY Times on their freelance contract and other fun stuff.
But she is also spending time thinking about what kinds of photos she wants to capture while out at sea. Of course, nature never stops to pose for a photographer but if it did the following pictures are what Lindsey would like to capture.
It just goes to show how much time Lindsey is putting into this project. If she isn’t reading up on the garbage patch, learning to SCUBA dive or going to plastic conferences, she is dreaming about what it will be like to be on the boat and take pictures for the NY Times audience and all of us.
Do you have suggestions or ideas for photos Lindsey should try and capture? If so – let us know in the comments.
Hello Spot.us followers, garbage fans and New York Times devotees. I've been getting a lot of questions over the last few weeks about what I'm up to this summer as Project Kaisei and Scripps set out to study the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Namely--how is what I'm doing any different from these organizations? (First I want to say that I think what they're doing is great, and I'm following their voyages with much enthusiasm).
There are four main differences between my voyage and what these great efforts are up to.
First, I am traveling to the Garbage Patch as a journalist. Though I'm going out with a group of researchers from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, my role is to report on the patch as a journalist and not as a scientist. I will be going on this voyage with Captain Moore who is credited with first discovering the Garbage Patch 10 years ago. So I'll be with the person who discovered the Garbage Patch on the 10-year annivesary of this discovery.
Second, I am the only independent journalist going out to cover this story first hand. I'll be the only journalist aboard Algalita's 50-foot catamaran. Scripps has a communications director who will produce press releases upon his return specifically for Scripps and Project Kaisei doesn't have a journalist on board. It's also important to consider what Kaisei is going out to examine. What they're interested in is determining how to clean up the garbage patch. What Captain Moore and his team are interested in is how we're affected when we eat fish that are consuming toxic plastic chemicals.
Third, I am talking to the New York Times about publishing material from the trip. They're interested in an online photo slide show--it'll be the first slideshow for the Times that is devoted solely to the Garbage Patch. One can argue that the Garbage Patch should be covered in as many ways as possible and certainly havint the NYTimes have a photo slide show dedicated to the Garbage Patch will spread awareness about this issue.
Fourth, in order to make this trip a reality I've been using Spot.us' innovative crowd-sourcing platform to help pay my $10,000 portion of the trip. We've received over 100 donations in less than a month from people all over the country that support this reporting.
Because this story melds three very interesting subjects--a floating mass of trash, the New York Times and Spot.us it's gained quite a bit of attention. From Gawker to Romanesko, people have weighed in on how this reporting will aid groups like Project Kaisei or Scripps. If you have comments or suggestions about my upcoming voyage feel free to post them below. And if you'd like a response let me know, I will try to respond to all questions.
Save the date! Next Friday, August 14 at 11 a.m., the Spot.Us community will have the chance to talk to the “Garbage Girl,” AKA Lindsey Hoshaw, live on BlogTalkRadio before she leaves for her expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Lindsey’s pitch about the soupy mass of plastic floating in the North Pacific Gyre has turned a lot of heads and inspired donations from the likes of Pierre Omidyar, Craig Newmark, Tim O’Reilly, Jimmy Whales and Alexis Ohanian, just to name a very few. To top it off, the New York Times has considered running the finished piece and accompanying photos, igniting an even greater buzz across the web.
Let’s bring all our questions and comments together on one platform Friday August 14 at 11 a.m. to create a community discussion around this exciting journey and historical Spot.us pitch. Wondering what Lindsey has been doing to prepare for the trip? Interested in hearing more about the garbage patch and its impact on human health? Call us at (347) 945-5577 between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. to learn for yourself.
Get the low down below. This show is not one to be missed!
When: Friday, August 14, 11:00 a.m.
Where: Listen on our BlogTalkRadio page or call in to listen, ask questions and join the conversation
There is so much you don’t expect during your first underwater class, like that your instructor will tell you she’ll turn off your air supply so you can “get the hang of it,” or that mild panic attacks are common and even expected. Luckily I’ve managed to master both of these—not freaking out and taming the voice inside that says, “you’re sinking underwater, get out, abort!”
My first two dive sessions in the Menlo Park community pool have been great. My classmates—two Naval engineers—are good sports when I keep trying to take photos during class and when I ask seemingly ridiculous questions about how to float underwater.
And I’m expecting to see all sorts of wildlife up close during our open water dive in Monterey this weekend. And it’ll be a chance for me to test out my new underwater equipment—camera + plastic housing (hopefully) = a non-leaky underwater camera. Though my instructor said she’d had three leaks in her six years of diving. Apparently underwater camera insurance is a must.
My next pool session is tomorrow when I’ll have to swim 4oo meters and tread water for ten minutes. Before that I’m tested on what I remembered from the reading. Yep, there’s reading. It’s like being back in college except instead of economics equations I’m trying to remember how to stay alive while submerged in the middle of the ocean. Exactly, piece of cake.
Wow. I don’t quite know where to begin. July has been (to say the least) an amazing month. In less than three weeks we raised $6,000 for the garbage patch voyage. And by we I mean YOU. Over one hundred people donated to make this story possible and I just want to say thank you.
This story is something I’ve become very passionate about and I am thrilled to be able to cover it. In the last month I’ve been keeping myself busy getting ready for the trip.
Since last week I started a scuba class, bought underwater housing for my camera and have started a new twitter account devoted to trash and the environment (twitter.com/thegarbagegirl). I’ll continue to prepare for the trip as the weeks go by.
If you have suggestions feel free to add them on the Spot.us page or the newly created Facebook cause. You can also tell anyone who has asked that they can still donate via the Facebook page. We might be able to raise the full $10,000—very exciting!
Anyway, the real reason for this post is simply to say thank you. Thank you for investing in me and taking an interest in the garbage patch and for supporting entrepreneurial journalism through Spot.us. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I couldn’t do it without you.
Monterey, CA—Sea Studios Foundation (comprised of filmmakers, scientists and communications specialists) hosted it’s first day-long workshop on how to communicate the dangers of plastic to the public. It was an amazing opportunity to bring together experts from Waste Management to NOAA to Heal the Bay to discuss how to deal with the growing problem of plastic pollution.
I was fortunate enough to land an invitation to go as a journalist (the only journalist in attendance) and report back on the events of the day.
The morning started off with a jam session. Jim Greiner, who uses drumming as a foray into teambuilding, laid out African drums, tambourines and shakers in the middle of our group circle.
We were told to pick our own instruments. I grabbed an African drum and in a few minutes we were all rattling away—drumming, shaking and by the end dancing. It was amazing to see all of these people—people I’d just met—let go and communicate without saying a word.
Next, after a break of bagels and coffee, representatives from each organization talked about how they were working to address public awareness of plastic pollution, the real purpose of their gathering that day.
Some had done beach clean-ups, others were working with schools and some had created television commercials, among other things. The approaches varied and each representative gave an update from their organization.
Dawn Hayes of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary said she’d just received $125,000 in a settlement after a cargo ship dropped all of its contents into the Sanctuary. She pointed out that oil spills get plenty of attention because the image of an oil coated sea otter is much more compelling than the picture of a cargo container at the bottom of the ocean, despite the fact that oil spills are much less common.
Jeff Lindenthal of Monterey's Waste Management talked about their Last Chance mercantile store. It’s like a thrift store, but full of items WM has pulled from “rubbish” before it gets buried in the landfill. It took a few hours for everyone to say who they were and what they were up to. Some people brought slides and Hannah Nevins of Oikonos brought in an albatross pellet. Like owls, these birds regurgitate anything their bodies can’t digest. In this pellet was an enormous wad of fishing line that the bird swallowed and then spit back up. We also watched a video of Edward Norton warning against the perils of plastic bags that Sea Studios had put together.
Toward the end of the day everyone seemed on board to schedule another meeting and eventually confront the plastics industry head on. Their main concern seemed to be funds since they knew the American Plastics Council reportedly has millions to spend against environmental advocacy groups.
The day ended with a plan to meet in three months and keep in touch via email. People dispersed slowly and it was still grey and cloudy as I walked to my car. My normal urge to grab coffee was stifled—I hadn’t brought my mug and if I paid for that disposable cup, where would it end up? After spending a day with environmental scientists, I’m pretty sure I knew.
I woke up this morning to a very pleasant surprise. Our pitch “Dissecting the Great Pacific Garbage Patch” has hit the 5k mark in a little under three weeks! This is absolutely amazing and only possible because of the folks that saw a need for this kind of reporting and decided to chip in with $20 or whatever they could. The list of donors is on the right hand side of the pitch and we are giving them a big digital hug right now <hug>—-</hug>
This weekend, according to the blog attached to her pitch Lindsey will be attending a conference: “Communicating Plastics” in Monterey California. She will report back with interviews and news all related to her upcoming trip which WE are making possible.
Only $944 to go to reach our goal.
As we get closer we may raise the goal closer to the 10k mark which is the real cost of the trip on Lindsey.
As I prepare for my voyage to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch I get lots of questions from people wondering what it is and how it might impact them. To start, I wanted to blog some of the most frequently asked questions about the Garbage Patch.
The LA River filled with plastic that could end up in the ocean. Photo by kqedquest
Why can’t I see the Garbage Patch on Google Maps/can you walk on it?
To say it’s a floating “mound” of garbage is a bit misleading. The pieces of trash are distributed throughout the water column so there isn’t actually a garbage island you could walk on. Some pieces float, some sink; think about what a swimming pool would look like if you emptied your trash into.
Almost anything you can imagine—plastic coat hangers, volleyballs, water bottles, hard hats, rubber duckies, plastic lawn chairs, oil drums, plastic bottles, shoes…Most of the material is plastic and many marine animals mistake small fragments for food and are unable to process the indigestible plastic.
Who is dumping all of this material into the ocean?
Very few people/organizations are intentionally dumping material into the Pacific Ocean. Most of it (around 80%) comes from land-based sources. That means if you throw a bottle on the sidewalk and it goes into a storm drain it will likely end up in the Garbage Patch if that storm drain empties into the sea.
Why is it all in one place?
It’s kept in one place by a large swirling current called a gyre. A gyre is an area of heavy currents and slack winds, much like a whirlpool in a bathtub. This Garbage Patch (there are others scattered throughout the seven other gyres) is located in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. When trash gets washed down storm drains most material will eventually make its way to the Garbage Patch.
How will we clean it up?
Most scientists believe it is impossible to clean up. It’s over twice the size of Texas—and that’s just the area researchers have studied, it could be much larger.
What can I do?
-Reduce the amount of plastic you use
-Avoid single use items (coffee cups, straws etc…)
-Write a letter to plastic manufacturing companies urging them to invest in biodegradable packaging
-Make sure outdoor trash cans aren’t overflowing—this is how garbage gets into storm drains
-Spread the word—once people realize the amount of debris we’re putting in our oceans it’s much easier to use less plastic
I am, without a doubt, a garbage enthusiast. You can learn an a lot about people by the things they throw away.
Garbage is also a permanent record of the wastefulness of our society. The Pacific Garbage Patch is the prime example of this. It's a symptom of a broken system--we create things that we'll use for minutes (like plastic straws or paper cups) and then we throw them away.
When I first read about the Garbage Patch in The Week I was completely astounded. First, that the topic gained so little press--the "article" I read was about three sentences long. And second, that this floating garbage soup was twice the size of Texas.
We now know that the garbage patch is over twice the size of Texas and that that oft repeated quote simply refers to the area that the Algalita Marine Research Foundation has studied. The entire Pacific Ocean is bigger than North America and so the garbage patch may be even bigger than we'd imagined.
After I read about this toxic plastic soup, I started following the story. I read everything I could get my hands on. I wrote about it while I was a reporter in Argentina and told everyone I knew about floating "landfill."
When I drove up to Stanford last year I stopped off at Algalita's research foundation in Long Beach to meet the staff and learn everything I could about the their latest research. Captain Moore now says that in some parts of the Pacific trash out weighs plankton 46 to 1 (by weigh).
My trip to the garbage patch is intended to shed light on how the garbage is affecting humans. Most articles have focused on how it's affecting animals--an important issue--but they haven't focused on how this is ultimately affecting us. What happens when you eat a fish that had a belly full of plastic?
There has also been a lot of debate about whether I'm qualified to do this report and there have been questions about why I have to pay so much to cover the story. I do feel I'm qualified to take on this project, otherwise I wouldn't be doing it. And the money goes to pay for my portion of the trip--food, medical supplies, etc. No one else is directly benefitting from the money I raise.
I hope over the next few months, as I continue to blog, you'll see that this story is not just a chance to sail out into the middle of the Pacific--it's something I'm passionate about. Writing about garbage has become my focus and this summer brings one of the best opportunities to shed light on tone of the biggest environmental disasters of our time.
Spot.Us is all about transparency. In many ways it is built into the system. But sometimes I wish we could launch things in relative obscurity to get our ducks in a row. Alas this is a belated blog post announcing what a small Tweet already go started.
We have a pitch on Spot.Us that has a serious chance at getting published in the New York Times.
The Pacific Garbage Patch is an aggregation of plastic in the ocean that is now twice the size of Texas. On the ten year anniversary of its discovery Captain Moore has invited a young reporter to join him in researching the impact this toxic whirlpool might have on the food chain and potentially harming humans.
The young reporter, Lindsey Hoshaw, is as motivated as one can get. She is reading up on science articles, preparing for scuba lessons and ready to unleash all the skills she picked up at Stanford’s journalism school. This is her beat (trash) and this trip is her World Series. What happens to the world’s plastic? She’s made it all the way to the folks at the Times who have expressed real interest in running the content if its up to par. What they can’t do, however, is pay her travel budget.
That’s where we hope to help. But we have to do it together!
The NYTimes will run the finished content, giving credit to the Spot.Us community for helping to raise travel money. In addition, Spot.Us will get a few extra photos (for creative commons), blog posts along the way and an interview with Lindsey explaining the story behind the story.
We have a daunting goal. Lindsey’s travel will cost somewhere around 10k in total. As of right now Spot.Us is hoping to help by raising 6k. If we can do that – we may even continue fundraising. That means we need to find at least 300 people to give an average of $20 each. That is no small task. But I think we can do it!
And we are off to a GREAT start. In fact, we are very close to the 20 percent mark. If we hit it – that could be the most money raised on Spot.Us in a single week. We need another $290 to hit that goal. It would certainly be a reason to celebrate. In fact, if we do hit it, I will do a silly chicken dance and post it to 12seconds.tv. That’s right, I’m prepared to resort to antics!
David does not guarantee wearing this costume
This pitch represents an exciting challenge and opportunity for Spot.Us. I have full confidence in the passion and capabilities of Lindsey. The question is really if there are concerned and engaged community members willing to help out with the very real cost to report on this kind of topic: Travel. It isn’t cheap to get to the middle of the ocean. That may sound trivial but the topic is far from it. The more I learn about the Pacific Garbage Patch the more I wish I had never heard of it. I would sleep better at night.
But I suppose that’s what good journalism is supposed to do: Afflict the comfortable… into making better decisions that affect us all.
In that vein the following people have already helped get us closer to informing the world. We cannot thank you all enough. You are our partner in arms. And I know Lindsey will be doing everything she can to report this story on your behalf. Part of that will start now – as she gets ready to begin blogging on the Spot.Us pitch where this has been cross-posted (middle column).
May the project begin thanks to you!!!!
The next question is…. who's coming with them!
$290 left to go for me to do a chicken dance on 12seconds.tv.
Can you take photos, help report, sift through documents and records, or contribute to reporting in some other way? If so, get in touch with the authors.
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What is Spot.us?
Spot.Us is an open source project to pioneer "community powered reporting." Through Spot.Us the public can commission and participate with journalists to do reporting on important and perhaps overlooked topics. Contributions are tax deductible and we partner with news organizations to distribute content under appropriate licenses.