NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

The Great Cream Cheese and Weed-Whacker Mission

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Okay, another day without marine debris removal. But plenty of high-seas adventure nonetheless! There are currently about six folks on Laysan Island. Laysan Island is the second biggest in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but that may say more about the size of the islands, since it’s just one and a half square miles. If you’ve ever seen one of those photos of a vast expanse of sand littered with fishing floats, computer monitors, glass bottles, and the odd monk seal, this is probably the island where it was taken. There are NOAA folks studying the monk seal and Fish and Wildlife folks getting rid of invasive plants and studying birds. The Fish and Wildlife crew had asked us to bring them some critical communications supplies (as well as a weed-whacker and a small container of cream cheese).

Sunrise en route to Laysan

At first light, or perhaps a bit before it, a small group of us on the Sette gathered for the safety briefing. Doug and Ray, both ship’s crew members, Mike, a brand-new NOAA Corps officer, and I were slated to take the supplies over to Laysan in the SAFE boat (it’s safe, yes, but the acronym also stands for “Secure Around Flotation Equipped”; if ever there was a phrase made to fit the acronym, this is it!). The winds are up a bit; trades at about 17 knots. There were apparently two different swells to make things even more interesting. So the safety briefing was basically saying keep your eyes open, pay attention, this is doable but tricky. The crane brought the SAFE boat down alongside the ship, and we loaded the 7 buckets, copper tubing, cable, and weed-whacker. I hand-carried that precious commodity, the cream cheese. Doug and Ray were already on board, so it was time to board the two newbies. Mike and I just had to climb down the ladder. We had to time it pretty carefully since a swell could lift or drop the boat a good six feet. I guess that’s why we needed life jackets, hard hats, and closed-toe shoes. A full-body bubble wrap would have been nice too, but it doesn’t look that cool.

We got a gorgeous sunrise that I was able to snap a photo of while we roared up and over the swells. As we got closer to Laysan, we could see the impressive surf. Fortunately, Doug is a very accomplished boat handler, and he confidently steered us in through the surf zone. Mike and I flipped off the side into waist-deep water and started handing the supplies to the thankful Laysanites (shown here fondling zippers, magazines, and the tub of cream cheese).

The human denizens of Laysan were grateful for the supplies

Once we had everything out, Doug and Ray stood back from the breakers a little. Mike and I had hoped to get over to the “float beach” but it turned out to be too far a hike for the 10 or 15 minutes we had. Mike did get to see a monk seal that was hanging near the drop spot—his first.

We clambered back onto the boat in a big hurry between sets and had the ride of our, or at least my, lifetime getting back out and then heading north to try to catch a glimpse of the float beach. The surf was breaking far out, so we only got close enough to imagine we could tell what was on land.

Distant view of float beach on Laysan

Then it was a thrilling ride back to the Sette. There’s less impact if you stand up, and it felt a bit like skiing moguls. Really big moguls, while clutching the console and a rope. On one wave I swear we were vertical and on another we got some pretty serious side-to-side action. Mike and I were both grinning like goons pretty much the whole time.

The cream cheese delivered successfully, we got back to the Sette by about 8:30 and now face another day and night of transit to arrive at Pearl and Hermes, where we’ll get to work early tomorrow morning.

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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