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Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

Big Ideas for a Small Planet

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Today I had one of the neatest experiences I’ve had in my whole life, and one that not everyone gets to experience. I just spent 8 hours as one of the subjects of a documentary film on marine debris, and let me tell you, it is a thrill like no other. Sure, I’ve been in front of the camera before, but mostly for news or short segments. Never before have I experienced something of this nature, though. And boy, was I glad to have done it.

Let me set the scene for you. It’s October in Provincetown, MA. Blustery fall crispness abounds. The little town at the tip of Cape Cod is filled to the brim with people here celebrating “Women’s Week” – which makes this experience all that more surreal as there are parades and displays everywhere we go. I agree to meet the film crew at the crack of dawn on the pier where our boat, the Blue Skies, is waiting for us. We’ll be taking a trip out to simulate a retrieval of lobster pots – with the full notion that we’ll be finding derelict pots along the way. This is why we’re here – because the lobstermen & women that fish these waters are constantly plagued with marine debris in the form of abandoned or lost lobster pots and gear snagging their active gear and making it difficult to pull in their catch. We’re hoping to see some of that today and get it on film. The energetic directer, Bjorg, has all kinds of great ideas – and some that just aren’t feasible – on how to get these amazing shots. Luckily he has an amiable crew of different people who seem willing to do what it takes to make this good. I didn’t realize that many times film crews are only contracted out for a project and then that’s it – they all go their separate ways onto new projects. I just assumed that these people worked together all of the time. Anyway, I’m bundled up like a snowman because the wind is whipping, plus I have this lovely life vest on so I’m sure to look smashing on tv, ha. Oh well, it’s not about me anyway!

The captain of the boat and the first mate, Brian, who has been a fisherman all his life and has this fantastically thick New England accent, (and who was only wearing a flannel against the cold unlike my wussy self) maneuvers us out to a spot where they would normally fish and we end up finding 3 derelict lobster pots, each with non-target species (bycatch) in them that included: sea cucumbers (a delicacy in Japan), sea anemones (a delicacy in Brazil), sponges, and a few miscellaneous crabs. Luckily we find no lobsters, but it is not unusual to find them in an abandoned pot, according to the fishermen. We spend time talking about the impacts to the fishery from this type of derelict gear, the impact to the fishermen, and the overall feeling of need to do something about it. Brian provides fantastic (and colorful) perspective on what it is like to rely on this resource for a living and how the marine debris can really have a negative effect on their livelihood.

We return to the docks where we shoot several interviews (less wind and better light than on the boat itself) and then stage what Bjorg calls “the closing shot”. Did I mention that this whole thing seemed surreal? Well, imagine my chagrin and humor when I hear that he needs us (myself and another colleague from Covanta energy) to climb all over the boat, hoist some rigging, jump up and down on various and sundry objects that are on deck and basically ham it up for the camera. This is a “typical thing that they do for the show” and it shows the humorous and human side of it’s subjects. I can’t wait to see which goofy segment they decide to use in the final cut! After that, we all headed into town to share a few laughs along with a cup of some of the most amazing clam chowder I’ve had yet. Not bad for a day out on the job – sure beats sitting in a office!

The show, part of a segment for the series “Big Ideas for a Small Planet” will air on the Sundance Channel sometime in September 2009. Details to come when we get them. – Megan

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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