….by 2100 will our oceans be full of turtles and dolphins, or plastic?

Photo by Gaie Alling - Biosphere Foundation (2)

© Abigal Alling, Biosphere Foundation

After many years of being a plastic nerd with Two Hands Project in Sydney you  can imagine my excitement when I heard that the boat I’m volunteering on with Biosphere Foundation will be hosting plastic guru Marcus Eriksen (of 5 Gyres & the plastic raft trip to Hawaii) doing a trash trawl in the last unexplored global garbage gyre with a brand new high-speed trawling device!!! Ok, maybe not everyone will share my excitement, but for me this is huge, and may play a small part in saving the world as we know it.

TeamTrawl

© Abigal Alling, Biosphere Foundation

The data collected by 5 Gyres and friends provides proof (for governments, scientists and the general public) of what we all know – there is too much plastic being produced, it lasts forever and it’s now choking our oceans. There are 5 major gyres, or currents   where plastic tends to accumulate, in the world’s oceans. The most researched is the north Pacific garbage patch and the least explored is the northern Indian Ocean Expedition-Route-300x202(where we’re headed). So, we’re heading out to sea to the Bay of Bengal with 4 Americans, an Englishwoman, a Sri Lankan, the Aussie (me), a Belgian, and a Nepalese movie star named Karma. Bring on the adventures!

Crew-of-SV-Mir

Crew of SV Mir, Pic: 5 Gyres

We’re sailing on the Biosphere Foundation’s 110 foot, 103 year old ship named Mir. After last minute food-shopping, ship-shaping and plastic-trawl-constructing we had a celebratory dinner to welcome Marcus and Jody from 5 Gyres. The part of the introductory speeches which has really stuck in my mind was Marcus. He talked about how his new daughter Avani could live to the year 2100, and would surely see the many inevitable environmental changes being brought about by our current lifestyles. In this time, she could look back and say ‘well, they tried their best’ or ‘my parents, Biosphere Foundation and the crew of Mir helped save the world!’ An inspirational thought as we head out into the strong winds and choppy waves of the Bay of Bengal.

The first few days are a haze of green faces, sleepy crew members drugged up on seasickness pills and constant rocking. Cooking is a challenge. Once we’re far enough from the Sri Lankan coast we can start testing out the new trawls! MANTA trawls have been used previously on 5 Gyres missions, they skim along the surface at slow speeds to collect the plastic debris floating there. AVANI is Marcus’ newest invention, nAVANI trawlamed after his most-beloved creation: his daughter Avani. It’s got a much narrower, longer mouth which can be used to drag behind the boat at high speeds, allowing us to do the first ever continuous trawl, assuming it passes the test drive! We’re putting the MANTA trawl in twice a day for an hour and running AVANI the rest of the time, day and night.

Alice-inspects-a-trawl-225x300

Alice Inspects Trawl, Pic: 5 Gyres

The first few trawls are slow-going, a few plastic fragments and a lot of small ocean critters like Halobates (a sea insect) and Vellela (a floating blue disk). In some ways it’s great to see only small amounts of plastic debris, but at the same time it’s a little disappointing – I’m hoping for a mountain of rubbish in order to show the world what I already know is happening out there. The amount of plastic being poured into our oceans every day must be going somewhere, and it would be great to find it! Despite the lack of large plastic, all our trawls have some fragments, and this microplastic can be just as harmful. In all the many trawls Marcus has done around the world, only 2 have been plastic free!!

Trawl Sample 2Slowly, the amount of rubbish floating past and in our nets increases. We start to get recognizable objects, with plastic bags, bottles & crates, fishing nets and frequent polystyrene pieces floating past and a whole plastic cup in the trawl!  It’s a strange change to make for a crew that has previously been looking for whales and dolphins and now are getting excited about rubbish floating past. Some of us have been unlucky enough to have seen the impacts of plastic pollution on wildlife first hand. Marcus started his plastic journey at Midway Island, where baby albatross are fed plastic fragments by their parents and frequently die of starvation. Raja has cut turtles out of abandoned fishing nets. I’ve seen pelicans, stingrays and turtles entangled in hair ties, fishing gear and plastic bags. Maybe because of this, and because we know the far-reaching impacts of the trash, we get excited everytime we see some – “Hey! A piece of rope!!” “Where, where!?!” “Ooooh check that out, a whole plastic bottle!” “Polystyrene fishing floats, yay!!”

Trawl Sample 3The trawls are getting more and more interesting, pulling in a plastic shoe, food packaging and even a whole 2 litre plastic bottle. Most of the recognizable objects are single-use items, like plastic packaging from food or cigarettes, which isn’t that surprising considering over one third of all plastic produced is plastic bags and packaging. We also gReally cool overnight AVANI trawl sampleet some nurdles, very cool for a plastic ‘nurd’ like me! Nurdles are the raw plastic pellets transported around the world to be shaped into the plastic products you know and love. They are especially interesting because new ones are fresh and clear, but after some time in the water they absorb many chemicals, which then are released into the animals which eat them. We also get some unusual critters like a paper nautilus, lantern fish, (myctophids), a sea snake, pterapods, glass eels and baby flying fish among the ever-present rainbow of plastic fragments.

After a week at sea the wind finally slows enough for a very welcome swim stop in the endless blue sea. It’s perfectly timed to coordinate with the visit of about 20 passing spotted dolphins, who come and check us out as we drift along the surface! A few days later I’m woken just after sunrise to see a pod of pilot whales surfing next to the ship! It’s great to see them as so far our dolphin and whale sightings have been pretty infrequent. We were expecting to see many more, but the populations in the Bay of Bengal have a lot to contend with – hunting, overfishing, chemicals and of course the constant threat of entanglement or ingestion of plastic rubbish!

BigThings

Alice- Whale Watching of Sri Lanka,
© Abigal Alling, Biosphere Foundation

Our final trawls are more of the now-familiar plastic pieces and the crew starts to turn their minds away from the polluted oceans and towards hot showers and a good nights sleep. It’s been an incredible journey that’s left me feeling exhausted and my head Crewspinning. It’s hard not to feel a bit hopeless when you open your eyes to the amount of plastic currently floating past in our oceans and filling our planet. But it’s also hard to feel helpless when faced with the incredible people from 5 Gyres, the passion of the Mir crew and the people all around the world sending their photos in to Two Hands Project every day. I wish everyone could sail away and see all the trash**, but in the meantime you’ll just have to take it from me – there is A LOT, and the only way to stop it is to stop production & redesign , so get yourself a reusable drink bottle, stop using plastic bags & straws and tell your friends and hopefully by 2100 our oceans will be full of turtles and dolphins instead of plastic!

ALICEAlice Forrest –                                                                                           Founding Member Two Hands Project
& Biosphere Foundation Volunteer

** NOTE from Editor: Yes you can all ‘just sail away’ – you can join us on the East Coast Odyssey  anytime between August and October! CLICK HERE

OR CONTACT US TO SPONSOR a TRAWL –                                                          email to : sponsor@twohandsproject.org

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Message in a PET bottle

Beached Bottle
When I was a kid it was exciting to see a bottle on a beach, we used to race to see who   could get to in first in the hope it contained a message from a marooned sailor! Now with the advent of throwaway culture and the PET bottle, todays kids will never know that thrill. Where children once decorated their sandcastle with sea-shells they now use discarded bottle caps.

Plastic pollution, it’sCooks River become an ever growing problem we’ve created in the last 50 years, and it’s showing itself to be a threat to ocean health rivaling over fishing and global warming.

At Two Hands Project we believe plastic pollution is caused by poor design, either of the plastic products or packaging themselves, or of the systems used to recover them at end of  their useful life.
For example look at the humble soft-drink, a beverage billions of people enjoy daily. Disposable soft-drink (soda) bottles make up a large contribution to plastic pollution, over 30%.. so how is this pollution a design problem rather than a behavioral one? Consider the following.
What are the various delivery systems for soft drink and what contribution to plastic pollution do they have?
-single trip PET bottles, these are THE major problem, designed to be discarded after the use it’s no wonder they end up as pollution. Around 30% or less recovery with voluntary recycling.
-single trip PET bottles with a refund system, results in 80% recovery (recovery increases with higher refund)
Refillables
-refillable bottles with a refund system, this is the best pre-bottled soda system, over 90% recovery (recovery increases with higher refund) zero plastic pollution if glass bottles are used.
-soda fountains, potentially zero plastic pollution if consumed in washable glassware, can be a big contributor if plastic or plastic lined take-out cups and straws are used.
Big Bottle
-home carbonation systems, such as SodaStream , can save the production of thousands of single trip bottles a year.
These are a great choice if you love soft drink, want to reduce plastic pollution, and like to have greater control over what goes in to your drinks.
As you can see manufacturers have a CHOICE in how they deliver a product, these choices affect the amount of plastic pollution entering our environment, so companies must be held responsible for polluting designs.
This brings me to what is currently unfolding in Australia.
Yarra River Melbourne
In an effort to reduce plastic pollution every day Australians are calling for a refund system on empty beverage containers.
Despite choosing to market to Australia using polluting single trip design, Coca Cola, Schweppes, Coopers and Lion Nathan are vigorously opposing a refund system that would massively reduce their contribution to plastic pollution..
Coca Cola have even taken the extreme steps of suing Australia’s Northern Territory for their recent adoption of the 10c refund system. This is completely out of order.

Check out the facebook pages of Coca Cola and Mount Franklin , read and like the comments from fellow Australians regarding this legal action and leave a comment of your own.

You can even make your own “boycott coke” placard and photograph you and your friends with it and post the pics.

Boycott Coke Placard
Also check out the Cash for Containers action and send a letter to your MP using the online form
_SST1733_0382w
SwanBottlePollutionSilkePhotoMost importantly be aware of the role of design in plastic pollution, choose pollution free ways of enjoying your favorite things, and demand the manufacturers employing polluting design pick up their game and stop trashing our planet.
Paul Sharp, Founder Two Hands Project
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The story of Luke

This is the story of the smallest but perhaps most fascinating member of the Two Hands Tribe. His name is Luke, he likes scuba diving, and he is a Garden LukeGnome. How does a humble GNOME help clean yOUR world? Well that is what we are here to find out.

It all begins with the most extraordinary string of coincidences that could only be fate. James and Silke meet through a mutual love of setting things on fire (in a careful and controlled manner with the Sydney Fire Twirlers), but it wasn’t until later when Silke helped Paul kick off “Two Hands Project” that our hero enters the story. As luck would have it a few weeks before his ‘discovery’ James and Silke had met up at Longreef to discuss how his favourite hobby, Geocaching, could help spread the Two Hands message…

But for the rest of this to make sense, we better make a quick aside to briefly explain exactly what Geocaching is. Geocaching is an outside adventure game that uses GPS technology to assist players in locating hidden containers, known as geocaches. Think of it as a cross between orienteering, high tech treasure hunting, and hide and seek, driven by a community website (www.geocaching.com.au). One person hides a container with a visitor log book at an interesting spot and puts the GPS co-ordinates of the geocache online. Other players then use these co-ordinates to find the box, sign the log book and enjoy the location. Back at the website, the finder shares their experience with the community via an online log. Geocaching is also about the love of the outdoors, and one aspect, “Cache In, Trash Out” (CITO), where players are encouraged to clean up the area around a geocache or the track leading to it, inspired James that Geocaching and Two Hands could work well together.

Now that is (kind of) cleared up, back to our story. Trying not to complicate things too much, during the Geocaching CITO vs Two Hands meeting, Silke also learnt about special Moving Geocaches, which for reasons I wont explain here often take the form of Garden Gnomes carrying a log book container. While out on scuba dive clean up a few months after the meeting somewhere between Manly and Shelly Beaches, Sydney, Silke came across a most unusual piece of garbage. It was a Garden Gnome, who had an old 35mm film canister strapped to his back, very, very much in the fashion of a Moving Geocache. But what was it doing in 10m of water?! Silke took some photos and sent them to James to investigate. It turns out, the Gnome was not a Geocache, but a lonely wanderer… looking for a mission and purpose in life. Well, he got one!

 He was taken to the Geo-Gnome Hospital up in the Blue Mountains (yes, such a thing exists), cleaned up, repaired, formally listed online as a moving geocache, and christened “Two Cool Hands Luke” by geocacher rogerw3 who runs the Gnome Hospital.  In May 2011, he set off on an adventure around Australia, encouraging Geocachers not only to find, move and hide him, but to clean up the area around him as they went. His travels took him to Canberra, Melbourne, and scuba diving at Philip Island.

Then, tragedy! In November 2011 Luke disappeared, feared gnome-napped. He was listed MIA and sadly missed. However, unexpectedly almost exactly a year later he rose from the dead! Luke showed up at a local geocachers picnic and was recognised. He remained quiet about his whereabouts the previous 12 months (secret Gnome business) but insisted to be put straight back to work and continue on his mission for a cleaner Australia. So far Luke has been found by 29 Geocachers and moved nearly 1,200km! You can see all the pictures of Luke and follow his adventures at Geocaching Australia (http://geocaching.com.au/cache/ga3158).

James CITO IrelandBut even Luke can only be in one place at one time. Not happy just talking to those who find him directly, Luke also inspired another Locationless geocache, “The Two Hands Project CITO Cache”. The beauty of this geocache is it is not linked to any location. People everywhere are encouraged to clean up around any cache they find and take photos of their haul and upload the pictures Two Hands style to the internet.

CITO Map

Almost 50 cleanups have been carried out by  geocachers inspired by this cache across six Australian states and territories, in London and in Ireland. (http://geocaching.com.au/cache/ga3002).

Cacher Pjmpjm cleaning up CITO CachersLuke is currently sitting in Victoria waiting for his next move and adventure, and hopes you use some of the glorious long hours of summer to spare 30 Minutes  and Two Hands, (or more!) to help clean up yOUR local world.

 Best Regards, James (aka Zalgariath in caching circles)

 For more information about Luke, Geocaching and combining it with Two Hands Project work, follow the links above or contact James (Zalgariath@yahoo.com.au)

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Guest Post #2 A Challenge for our times – Plastic Free July

by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, Western Earth Carers

When I mention to people that I am avoiding buying anything packaged in plastic during July the response ranges from “are you crazy?” to “that’s impossible!” and then there is a lot of “I could never do that!”.  On reflection I agree with all three sentiments at different times but being of the “glass half full” rather than the “glass half empty” philosophy I think that on the whole its better to try to avoid plastic and accept that we will acquire some plastic during the month than to not give it a try.  Its too important an issue not to.

Of course its obvious to anyone following the Two Hands Project why plastic is an important issue, we all know where it can end up and the devastating impact it can have on the ocean.  But it’s not my problem, right?  I hadn’t accepted a plastic bag for years, I hadn’t ever knowingly littered, I tried to be a conscious consumer and always carefully read my council recycling guide and sorted waste properly.  I always recycled and felt very virtuous putting my (well sorted) recycling bin out.  Then I found myself working in waste education and did a tour of a landfill site (much as I expected) and then a tour of a Materials Recovery Facility (the place where our recycling goes to get sorted into different materials and then sent for recycling).  The sheer volume of materials was overwhelming as was the energy involved in the sorting, transport and reprocessing.  In an instant my attitude towards recycling went from a feel-good moment to questioning “why do I have this in the first place and how could I have avoided it?”.  Glass, paper, aluminium and steel can all be recycled into the same material but whilst in theory all plastic is “recycleable” not all types are regularly recycled and at best a lot is “downcycled” for one more life.

So while it may not be my plastic bag wrapped around a sea turtle’s neck in those well publicised photos my plastic is out there somewhere, it doesn’t just go away.  I read recently that every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists somewhere.  Whilst not doubting for a moment that plastic is a useful, cost effective and diverse material that is an important part of our modern lives it still seems a waste to use it for packaging, water bottles, straws, bags etc that get used once or at best twice and then thrown away.  Of the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) it is reduce which is the most important element and plastic was the obvious place to start.

As a result Western Earth Carers started the Plastic Free July challenge in 2011 with about 40 households involved and has grown to around 300 households in 2012.  The aim is to avoid single-use disposable plastic packaging for a shopping trip, day week or the month of July.  Along the way participants are asked to share their ideas, recipes, inspirations and tips via the Plastic Free July facebook page (there is still time to sign up!).  Participants keep any plastic acquired in what we like to call the “dilemma bag”.  The challenge is a journey and by sharing our stories through social media and our weekly email we can learn from each other how to live lives a bit less plastic.

From the western Suburbs of Perth the challenge has been taken up by people in countries from New Zealand to Egypt, the Netherlands and the USA.  Questions are posed, answers given, recipes are shared, successes photographed, failures are described with sadness, alternatives are suggested and frustrations are vented.  Each week we come across new blogs where people are sharing their stories and promoting the challenge.  One lady wrote telling of her success in asking her butcher to put meat into her own container.  Constantly we hear stories of interesting discussions the challenge initiates in shops, cafes, family dinner tables and between friends.  To our surprise posting a photo of our rubbish bin lined with newspaper on facebook as an idea for a plastic bag free alternative was immediately liked and shared around the world!

Sometimes I think I am crazy and things have taken more work to source or make.  Other times it feels impossible and another item goes into the dilemma bag.  At times life seems simpler as there just aren’t as many options that are plastic-free (and I never really liked going to supermarkets anyway).  Kneading dough and making rosemary and olive oil crackers with my son was a time to chat and work together (and probably quicker than going to the shop to buy a packet).  It is easier than last year, this year my whole family is on board, we have reduced our plastic consumption significantly and I hope that again a few more new habits will remain after July.

On my way home from work the other day I stopped by an Italian delicatessan to buy some fresh pasta.  Rather sheepishly I produced a slightly shabby brown paper bag which originally contained potatoes.  The shop assistant said “Good on you, I reackon there should be more of this happening.”  Plastic Free July is a challenge which hopefully gives people inspiration that we can all do something in our own lives and together make a difference

.  On reflection the glass (not a plastic cup) is definitely half full.

Photo: Plastic Free July penance – carrying the shopping when you forget your bags (or getting a friendly 7 year old to do it, thanks Ronan)

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Land ho!

DAy 26   –  7th July 2012

21N 15.6” 157W 49.9
Finally we’ve sighted land, not the land we originally intended, it’s the peaks of Oahu we can see silhouetted in the clouds.
The prevailing winds and seas were slowing us on our course for Maui and our fuel situation was becoming critical.  After consulting the weather report our skipper Rodrigo made the decision to change course for Oahu. Giving us a more favourable wind angle this has allowed to sight land earlier and with fuel enough to enter the port.

The mood on board has shifted as expedition members anticipate landfall and meeting family and loved ones, or heading off to their next destination. It seems as if tonight we’ll be anchored off the coast ready to head in to the customs dock first thing Sunday morning to clear immigration.

Tracy, Lindsay and Shannon are baking a chocolate cake in celebration. It will be strange cooking on dry land, with kitchens that aren’t heeled over and constantly moving. Today while cooking lunch I had to hold the pots on the stove with brackets, as they kept trying to jump off!

It’s kind of sad that this will be our last night together as crew on the Sea Dragon and the voyage will be over. I am looking forward to being at sea again already, though I am anticipating seeing loved ones and enjoying some fresh food on land.

We have achieved our goals in recovering tsunami wreckage and bought back samples of plastic pollution from parts of the North Pacific not sampled before. We also dodged typhoons and saw some rough weather. Stiv says this was the longest time spent sailing into the wind on any of the 5 Gyres expeditions he’s been on.

Tomorrow Marcus and I will be of to do some beach combing, I’m curious to see if we find anything tsunami related, there shouldn’t be much on Oahu at this point.

Last Trawl- 5Gyres

It really has been cool being a part of this, the 5 Gyres/Algalita  Tsunami Debris Expedition, Thanks again to all those who helped put Two Hands Project and myself on board. Working with a diverse team from around the world has been fantastic and our conversations have given us all a greater understanding of plastic pollution on a global scale.

Getting to know Marcus and Stiv from 5 Gyres has been great, 5 Gyres and Two Hands Project are well aligned on the issue of plastic pollution and I am sure there will be future collaboration.

Well, back to Australia soon, I’ll have some plastic pollution samples to show and a few good stories to share. Anyone up for a cold beverage? I hear the ‘on-shore crew’ has lines up some Murray’s Whale Ale & Monteith’s Cider for the first presentation at the  newly reopened  Manly Sea Life Sanctuary on the 24th July

if you can’t make the 24th or are closer to BONDI on the 25th … please follow the link:
Tsunami Debris Presentation- Bucklers Canteen

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toothbrushes in the middle of the ocean

DAy 23   –  4th July 2012

Sea Dragon is now 24N 17” 164W 44” and slowly reaching towards Maui. This last stretch is taking time, beating against the wind and motor-sailing if the wind drops. Our course takes us close to Necker Island, a small rocky outcrop which supports hundreds of frigate birds.

We are looking to arrive five to six days later than schedule (perhaps on the 7th..) and have ceased trawling for plastic after the trawl was found to be acting as a sea anchor and slowing the boat by up to 20%! It is unfortunate to stop sampling, though expedition members have flights to catch and family to meet. I think I may be the only one content to keep sailing, each sunrise is beautiful, the North Pacific rollers forming the perfect foreground for the painted skies.

This expedition has planted the seed for Two Hands Project to sample for plastic at sea offshore around Australia, if you’d be interested in joining such an expedition drop us a line, particularly if you own a seaworthy yacht! ;-)

Last entry I asked for any questions about the expedition, and some great ones have come in, mostly concerning radioactivity from Fukushima.

-Is any of the debris radioactive? We have a Geiger counter on board and have been taking readings from the tsunami debris we’ve recovered, all have been within normal limits (I even took normal readings off my sneakers which I wore while volunteering within the exclusion zone around the reactor …I was kind of disappointed they weren’t a little bit hot;) So far we have not recovered anything our instruments have shown to be above normal radioactivity levels.

-Is the seawater in the North Pacific radioactive? Last year Woods Hole found unusual spikes in the levels of Cesium in the waters off Japan, the 5 Gyres/Algalita Tsunami Debris Expedition has been collecting water samples as a follow up study, we will have to wait on the results from the lab to see whether levels are still elevated.

-How much tsunami debris is out there? This is really hard to quantify, so I won’t even try. It is a substantial amount though. As for the ratio of tsunami debris to plastic pollution in the North Pacific I would be surprised if more than 2% of what is out here is tsunami related. ( Which means there is an enormous amount of  plastic out here!

-What do you miss most while at sea? Fresh fruit and vegetables, good cheese and rye bread. Beer.. That about sums it up. I hope I can find a good beer in Maui.. Next voyage I’d like to do with all the Two Hands Project team on board :)

-Are there really plastic toothbrushes in the middle of the ocean? Yes! We’ve recovered two and spotted more. ( not mine!  I have a Bamboo Toothbrush :-) We’ve also recovered a hair-comb and cotton bud (Q-tip)

Just heard our fuel is down to 550 litres, less than a third of our capacity, so we’ll cut back on the motor sailing for a few days and make way wholly under sail. To me that’s great news, as long as we get to Maui by the 7th, it’s so much nicer sailing rather than motoring.

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Trade winds& plastic head on-

2nd July 2012 – 29N21 171E 06

Sea Dragon sails on towards Hawaii… We are now in the trade winds which means we have to tack into the wind, making slow progress. We have around 900 nautical miles to go on a direct line, though the tacking will add much more distance.
Finally some respite from the rain! Laundry has been done, the railing was aflutter with our clothes and foul weather gear, it is almost dry below and the smell has almost gone. (or we have become accustomed)
This expedition certainly hasn’t been a pleasure cruise, as well as having to keep low to avoid the typhoons we’ve had gear failure and heavy sailing, and one of the doco makers has been laid low with seasickness. So much so we almost diverted to Midway Island to put him ashore, fortunately he has responded to a new medication, which allows him to take some food so he has decided to stay on board.
Our water maker has been failing, so now we are limited to salt water showers on deck, as well as salt water for laundry (which means our clothes stay damp, as the salt attracts moistures). Water is not being rationed yet and we should be good for the rest of the trip as long as we aren’t wasteful.

The high speed trawl was destroyed by the swell, so Marcus from 5 Gyres and I sat on deck and improvised a repair, we are now back in action.Sampling for plastics as we sail. We are finding large amounts of microplastic in our samples.

One visual survey, in which we sit on deck for an hour noting the plastic pollution we pass resulted in 64 pieces of large plastic objects and pieces in one hour! This was in a difficult sea state for observation as well..so the true number would be higher. It’s remarkable we can sail for so long without seeing another boat or plane, yet still be constantly sighting plastic in the sea.

Personal highlights thus far are being at the helm of Sea Dragon in 40 knot winds and on another occasion having Sea dragon cruising at 12 knots. Brilliant stuff. Sea Dragon was built for an ocean race circumnavigating the globe, and it is a privilege to get a small taste of what this boat is capable of.

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Years to come

DAY 15 – Tuesday 26th June 2012   29° 17′ N 178° 20′ E

We’ve been sailing for  over two weeks now, the Sea Dragon is a beautiful vessel, it’s incredible to be at the helm or on bow lookout as she moves through the swells. Weather has been a bit wearing, squalls regularly soaking us with rain and seas coming on board covering us in saltwater. Below decks is pretty disgusting, wet and smelly, we need some sunshine and dry weather soon.

I’d like to thank everyone who helped Two Hands Project send me on this expedition, I feel immense gratitude to you all, without your support I wouldn’t be here. I am learning so much out here.

Do you have any questions you’d like to ask? About the voyage,  tsunami debris, plastic pollution or life on board Sea Dragon? If so fire away, our shore support will relay the questions and I will endeavour to answer them next post.

Today we’ve been joined by a Wandering Albatross, a privilege indeed, these incredible birds spend the majority of their lives on the wing, effortlessly gliding for thousands of miles. They actually lock their wings in flight position so as not to expend muscle energy holding them in place.

Our other avian companions are a quartet of Tropic Birds, white bodied with black beaks and trailing tail plumes as long again as their bodies. These guys are so perfectly set up for life in the air their legs are practically useless, when they make landfall for breeding they’ll crash land and drag themselves about on the ground.

We’re still spotting tsunami debris, our most significant find has been the bow of a Japanese fishing boat, with ID markings intact. We hope the owner will be found alive and safe in Japan. Having visited devastated fishing villages in Japan finds like this are sobering.

Finding tsunami debris this far south west is important, as it demonstrates the debris field is incredibly widespread. We’ll be seeing flotsam from the tsunami reaching the US mainland for many years to come.

Perhaps the most surprising thing to me, is that in two weeks of sampling and observing we have only found one piece of natural driftwood. Compared with the abundance of synthetic flotsam this simply blows my mind.

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Tsunami debris& Boobies AHOY!

DAY 11 – Tuesday 20th June 2012   30° 30.5′ N 167° 26.6′ E

The dawn watch is the best, particularly when sailing east, I am fast falling in love with the open ocean. I greet the sun standing in the bows, with a pool net in hand, scooping plastic from the sea.  The ocean looks like a giant swimming pool, clear depths and gentle swell….

A pair of Boobies (birds that is) were flying about Sea Dragon, dropping to pluck flying fish out of the air as our bow wave startled the fish into leaping from the water. Such an amazing behaviour to observe, a bird catching fish on the wing!

Boobies indicate land is near, they don’t range as far as some birds, on checking the charts we saw we are around 600 Nautical Miles north of Wake Is. where they are known to nest.

We are now in the south eastern part of the tsunami debris field and are spotting objects regularly. The tsunami debris we find here will be floating on or just below the waterline, providing little windage to be blown east, indeed that is reflected in what we are finding. Buckets, shoes, bottles, toys and so forth.

Two items we have recovered that are almost certainly tsunami debris is some traditional Japanese floor matting and a light truck tyre of the sort used in Japan. The rate of degradation and colonisation by marine life puts both of these objects as entering the ocean in the correct time period. We still hope to find some traceable debris.

I spotted a rare glass float, it appears to be a recent one, and we bought it on board. Marcus said some fish farms in Korea are still using them. Glass is a much better material than plastic in this application, is inert when in the environment and does not carry toxins or pollute.. Bring back glass floats! These floats are beautiful, I have dreamed of finding one for years.. I offered to fight Marcus for possession of the float, though lucky for me he refused (the guy is an ex Marine, my only hope of winning would be to shout “look, tsunami debris!!” then hit him from behind  :-D )

Typhoon Guchol is moving fast up the Japanese coast, bringing flood & strong winds. Though it is unlikely to hit us directly it is a huge storm, comparable to Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans…. Rodrigo our skipper is unsure of what it will mean to us, though 30ft plus swells and high winds aren’t out of the question. Our storm sails have been checked and are on deck in readiness.With luck that is how they will stay.

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Japanese characters

DAY 7 – Saturday 16th June 2012

30° 6.4′ N 159° 34.2′ E  ( 1800km of japan)                                                                Today was a brilliant, sun shining with a gentle swell, it’s Saturday and we have been at sea for seven days. The wind has dropped and as we are under time restraints we have been motoring all day. This isn’t ideal, though it does allow us more maneuverability when we spot debris, and this morning we hit a dense patch.

15 year projection of tsunami Debris- by Uni of Hawaii

We recovered a bucket with Japanese characters (which may be tsunami debris), a bundle of rope and packing strap, some kind of natural fibre/plastic/foam composite building material or cladding and numerous small items, including a hair comb. We passed dozens of other small fragments of plastic, bottles and debris which we couldn’t collect.

The most striking thing about this plastic is it is all being colonised by a wide variety of life, it is being used as substrate for animals to lay eggs on and as shelter from predators. Some of the larger pieces are becoming floating eco-systems of their own, allowing species to exist where they shouldn’t. On our bundle of rope we found a frog-fish! Certainly not an animal one would expect to encounter mid-ocean.. This ability for plastic pollution to shelter and transport exotic species is cause for concern.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was spotting a pod of Sperm Whale off our starboard bow, we didn’t get that close though they have a distinctive spout pattern which made an id possible. The whales hung around for a while then we lost them when they dived. These animals can dive to great depths and spend over 45 minutes under water.

Looks like we’ll have a few more days of weather like this, hopefully the wind will pick up and we can make our way under sail instead of motoring.

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