At this morning’s safety briefing, Ensign Erik the safety guy warned us that we should enjoy the morning’s good weather because he figured the weather would turn bad in the afternoon. Wrong again, Erik. I hope he sticks to the NOAA Corps, and not the Weather Service.
Today was our first day in the new teams. I’m now in Kevin’s boat, along with Derek (he of prodigious free-diving ability), Megan (a fellow Oregon State Beaver!), and Mark (who was on Kyle’s boat with me last time). The commute to our site took about an hour this morning. The ship has to anchor on the south end of the atoll, and we’ve been hunting for marine debris toward the north end. We wake up too early, rush to get everything ready, wolf down breakfast at 7 sharp, and convene for the safety meeting at 7:30. Then the boats are launched one by one, so you can see one in the distance ahead and one in the distance behind you. We took “the highway” this morning, a wide, continuous, safe sand trail through the maze. It felt a lot like a carpool, with the exception of other vehicles all around us. We did a bit of idle chitchat or consultation on the best route, but for the most part each of us was waking up, preparing for the workday, or just zoning out.
There’s a lot of unflappable cool on Avon 3. Some darn fast swimmers too. First in the water were Mark and Megan. Either they had an easy route or they’re very good at reading the reefs, or maybe both. In any event, they didn’t require a lot of course corrections. I’m finally figuring out how to translate from the daily map to the water around us and actually did some directing yesterday. Mark and Megan found smallish net fragments (but still much larger than you’d feel comfortable carrying around for any length of time) at regular intervals for the morning. They knocked out the day’s route in the morning so we broke for lunch fairly early. It was hot, still, and peaceful. This young monk seal and an ulua that was on his tail came to check us out then messed around a few hundred yards from the boat through most of lunch.
After lunch Kevin and Derek took over swimming on an alternate route. They covered a lot of water but didn’t find much net. Midway through the afternoon we were the emptiest boat and were nominated to go cherry-pick some left nets, ones that were spotted yesterday during boats’ transit back to the ship. The boats were too full or it was too late to pick them up yesterday. It’s called cherry-picking because you don’t have to do the work of a towboard or swim survey; you just go up to the net and remove it. Well, I don’t know if it was the still water or the area we were looking, but en route to the first left net, we found three or four others, including one that was so encrusted and overgrown with corals that it no longer represented an entanglement hazard. Additionally, removing it would destroy the corals growing through and on it, so we determined it was better to leave it in place.
Left Net 1 was bigger than we realized when we spotted it yesterday. It took the rest of the afternoon and all the rest of our space to get it, so we left the other left nets for tomorrow. Additionally, another boat found and marked some more left nets. The area with all these nets was just surveyed in 2007, but for some reason it’s accumulated a lot of nets in that short time. I’m kind of hoping we get sent there tomorrow. Just for the big numbers.
Speaking of big numbers, yesterday Avon 2 came in with 1,086 kilograms, and today they had 934 kilograms. All four boats did pretty well today, for a total of 2,798 kilograms. Pretty good day, huh? That comes to a gooseneck two-horse trailer hauling two Arab geldings with Western saddles and tack.
For the cruise overall, we’ve removed 11,429 kilograms of marine debris from the water and an additional 1,448 kilograms from the land. All of this is primarily derelict fishing gear with some ships’ lines mixed in. Just the in-water debris weighs as much as a fully automatic M1090 dump truck (“the soldier’s choice”), filled with 330 packages of double-stuffed chocolate sandwich cookies and 330 gallons of whole milk.