NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

At-Sea Detection: The Last 24 Hours of the Cruise

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It’s Tuesday, and we’re scheduled to get in tomorrow morning to Ford Island and home. We could have made it back by late tonight, but apparently you can enter the harbor only during daylight hours, so we’re going a little slower than usual and should be hanging out at daybreak waiting our turn to enter the harbor. Today we had our farewell meeting of the scientific party, at which Kyle gave awards to Robyn as MVP for the cruise—with her sharp, young eyes, she spotted both the debris fragments we tagged with tracking buoys—and to Barbara, for most questions ever asked on a cruise! Barbara awarded Allan an honorary set of Big Eyes (made of paper towel rolls, a ship’s patch, and Andrea’s knitting yarn), signed by all who put in a shift, in recognition of his leadership and countless hours on the flying bridge every day and in the electronics lab every evening.

The CTD and small boat crews spent the day cleaning up the spaces we’ve used. The ship’s crew spent most of the day cleaning and preparing for our return to port. Each member of the Big Eyes crew put in a 2-hour shift, which felt astoundingly easy! Here I am, a seasoned ol’ salt on the Big Eyes, having just in the last day or so finally gotten the hang of how to scan efficiently (well, relatively so—I’m sure it’s an art that one improves at with many more than our 16 days).

The rest of the day looks like cleaning staterooms, starting to pack, getting some report-writing done, or making more headway on the marathon of The Wire, which has been the signature television event of the cruise. Most of us seem to have our heads firmly back on land already, with thoughts of ideal first foods or beverages, what we’ve missed most (significant others, pets), and what we’re dreading (dentist, taxes, all-day trainings, presentations). My head is right there with the others, looking forward to my household of husband, dogs, and cat, a carrot-celery-apple-ginger juice, and a nice grappa martini. Foods, not so much. One thing you can say for the SETTE, the stewards know what they’re doing. We were abundantly and well fed.

As the days passed on this cruise, I finally came around to the pleasures of sighting critters. Even though marine debris was the cruise’s focus, some participants are downright interested in sea life. Against my inclinations, I got to enjoy seeing the albatross hanging around and even got excited about shooting some photos of Laysan albatross with the monster camera, although this particular one may be taken by Allan once I gave it over to the pro.

Here are some black-footed albatross photos taken by Allan.

Earlier in the cruise, we saw sharks, scads of flying fish, dolphins, and some whales. Here’s a Risso’s dolphin, photo by Allan Ligon.

These Pacific white-sided dolphins are apparently unusual as far south as we saw them (about 35N). Amanda Cummins took this photo.

I’ll miss all the time to reflect on the ocean – when you’re observing, there’s a certain amount of chatting but lots of alone time too, to admire the surface of the water (at times it looks like molten metal, pahoehoe lava, Japanese watercolor waves, or Brazilian hillside favela rooftops), to ponder waves and wind, and to actually think about oceanography—circulation, productivity, Ekman transport.

This group of 19 scientists will scatter. I’ll see some of them on Oahu, though never so intensively, and others will scatter to neighbor islands or move off to other jobs or grad school. It’s been an interesting, challenging, and pleasurable cruise. In the words of Bugs Bunny, “Adios! Have a nice trip! Bon voyagee! Farewell to thee!”

-Kris

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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