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At-Sea Detection: Medium-sized Disappointments and Small Pleasures

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OK, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Today could have been better. The morning was plagued with fog. My scopolamine patch (seasickness preventative) wore out and my sea legs didn’t totally kick in. The UAS–remember, that stands for unmanned aerial system–flights went off, but not for as long or as productively as we might have hoped. We deployed the small boats but couldn’t locate a single piece of derelict fishing gear for them to retrieve. Not only that, I’m writing this wearing jeans, a long-sleeve shirt, jacket, hat, wool blanket around my shoulders, and sipping hot coca, and I’ve still got blue lips and fingers so shrunken all my rings are about to fall off. But there were a few bright spots. We had a delicious soul food dinner. And… drum roll please… the return of the prodigal reading glasses!!

On day 2, something very sad happened during the fire drill or abandon ship drill (oh yeah, remember I promised a photo? Well here’s Barbara attempting a shaka with her survival suit on).Anyway, during those drills I lost my beloved green, blue, and orange reading glasses. In addition to their overall beauty and utility, they were a gift from my husband. I searched (almost) everywhere and asked the entire scientific crew and one or two of the ship’s crew to keep an eye out. Days passed, and my hopes faded. Then today they appeared, wet, a little scratched, but otherwise as good as new, on the desk Kelly and I share. It turns out our commanding officer found them on the deck. Oh, how I missed them, in both senses of the word. Sure am glad they’re back. So much for my Zen lack of attachment to worldly goods…

OK, I don’t mean to downplay our first day of UAS operations. This afternoon, we had an all-hands safety briefing in the main mess (that’s a dining room if you’re not at sea). Here’s the majority of us:

After the meeting, the crew lowered the small boats into the water. First in was the SAFE (secure all-around flotation-equipped) boat (basically a metal boat with a foam collar).

The occupants of the SAFE boat were in charge of recovering the UAS after its water landings. In future flights, when the UAS goes on auto-pilot, the SAFE boat will keep in sight of the UAS, so it can go farther from the ship. Next in was the AVON (an inflatable boat—you might know the term Zodiac, which is similar).

The folks in the AVON were prepared to recover debris, but as I said, there was none to be found today. The folks on the flying bridge were all eyes as Big Eyes operations were suspended for the launch. That’s all of us and maybe a few others up there.

I’d have great photos of the launch and flight, but I took mini-movies and had adjusted the quality down so I could post them. Unfortunately, they’re such low resolution that I don’t think I’ll inflict them on you. But here’s a photo of Tim getting ready to launch the Malolo I for its second flight.

Sorry if I built today up to be more than it could deliver. Sigh… Again, it’s not that we’re rooting for debris, but since we know it’s out there, we’d sure love to find it and develop the protocols for locating and removing it at sea, so it doesn’t eventually approach Hawaii and endanger our seals, turtles, and coral reefs. Still, we have almost another week to work out the kinks and track down some monster nets.

In the meantime, we’re learning a lot, eating great meals, and occasionally finding something we missed.


Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

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