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At-Sea Detection: In Which the Big Eyes Crew Faces a Challenge, and I Visit the Gym

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The POD (plan of the day) called for one small boat in the water during the Malolo II flights, with a possibility of another being launched if debris sighting warranted it. The Big Eyes crew started up at 8, the SAFE boat got in the water around 9, and the Malolo had some technical difficulties. Tim’s holding the UAS with its top off. Curtis and Mike are similarly dismayed.

While they were waiting to see whether the Malolo II would be able to fly, the SAFE boat came back in, allowing Joe a chance to rest. As it turned out, the weather didn’t really cooperate for flights or small boat operations.

After my first shift, I decided to brave the exercise room. It’s been 8 days of using only the muscles to keep myself upright and hold the Big Eyes handles. The exercise room is down two levels from the scientists’ staterooms, so presumably the roll of the ship is less pronounced. It’s a great gym, in a tiny space. From left to right is an elliptical trainer, exercise bicycle, treadmill, rowing machine, bench, and Bowflex machine.

There’s a fan mounted on the wall – hardly needed as the chill in the gym would keep most folks from sweating. The interesting thing about the fan is that its electrical cord dangles, with no outlet box in reach. And that’s interesting because it acts as a plumb bob or ship-roll-o-meter. Without the sway of the cord, it would be hard to know why you’re suddenly at the very back or front of the treadmill.

I spent 45 minutes on the extractor (at our household we call the elliptical trainer the extractor because of its high efficiency at extracting sweat—it’s not nearly as effective in a chilled room). I admire those who brave the treadmill and allow their feet to lose contact with a machine. I’ll stick with the extractor and bicycle.

Feeling pleased with my workout, I indulged in dessert at both lunch and dinner. If I had planned better, I could easily have blogged just the food on this cruise. It’s transcendent, and I’m not just saying that because we spend so much time in the open air. Robyn is particularly smitten with the bread puddings.

Back to the flying bridge after lunch, I was impressed at the change in weather. Wind was picking up, clouds were lowering, fog was creeping in from the horizon. In fact, over the next two hours, it just got better and better (or worse and worse, depending on your feelings about extreme weather). Here’s Allan struggling to tally sightings on paper before we switched to waterproof paper.

There was no question of flights or small boats, as I mentioned earlier, and our ability to detect buoys was hampered by the limited visibility and abundant whitecaps. As we witnessed the weather and finally retreated to simply looking with the naked eye for plastic fragments and other debris within about 100 meters of the ship, I tried to think of ways to convey the noise and motion to you. These photos probably don’t look like much, although the way the wind flattened the waves and left these lines of foam impressed the heck out of us.

This little movie clip isn’t very high quality, but it has some rudimentary sound and at the end you can see Andrea’s rain gear whipping in the wind. (If there’s a big space here, the video clip may be slowly loading.)


For about a half-hour we retreated to the bridge (where the ship’s captain stands), but the restricted view didn’t make up for the warmth and good company, so we crawled back up to the flying bridge for the 40 knot winds. Kelly’s hair whipping around may give some idea of what the wind was like.

We extended our viewing by an hour today, in hopes of hitting the chlorophyll front that Evan promised was imminent. I guess we hit it about 15 minutes after the last of the observing crew headed down to dinner. The flow-through fluorometer jumped from readings of 0.08 to 0.2 and even 0.4. We have a new plan for tomorrow – we’ll zigzag back and forth across the front, probably between 35’30” and 36’ north latitude. The Big Eyes team decided at tonight’s meeting to increase our viewing time by 90 minutes tomorrow, cutting our mealtimes in half. As these high winds continue to blow, the swells are expected to get bigger. In tough weather, ours is the only debris data being gathered, so we want to maximize our effort. Again, we hope we find some pay dirt, in the form of big clumps of debris we can attach ghostnet buoys to. We brought 16 of them along and would hate to take them back home with us.


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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