NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

Tow-boarding

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Today’s guest blogger is Kaylyn McCoy. This leg was her first cruise as a marine debris specialist, but she gets to tow-board for her regular job with the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division of the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. There were an awful lot of great photos to choose from, but I’m just including a couple.

SuperKaylyn at Halloween party
SuperKaylyn was 1st runner-up at the Monster Ball.

Kaylyn and other Marine Debris Specialists
The next cover shot for Hawaii Skin Diver mag?
Flower, Megan, Kaylyn, and Marie model their HSD rashguards.

Whenever anyone asks what I’m doing on this cruise, and I describe tow-boarding, the reaction is somewhere around “SWEEEEEEEEET!” or “I want to get pulled behind a boat!!” I’m not going to lie, it is super sweet. The debris divers are pulled behind the inflatable Avons by a 40 ft. line that attaches to a wooden board that is about 3 feet long and 1 foot wide. It took awhile to learn how to “drive” the boards, but once you get it down, it is fantastic. If you tilt the board one way, you can fly to the left, tilt it the other way, and fly to the right. If you want to check out the substrate, just point down and away you go.

the view from the boat when both towboarders are submerged
The view from the Avon when both divers are submerged.

the view from the towboard
The view from the towboard.

towboarding
The view of your fellow tow-boarder.

It’s quite an unreal feeling to fly over a reef. In the nice areas, it’s like going for a dive without doing any work. At first it takes a toll on your arms, but after a day of pulling nets, it’s no sweat. In the areas that are highly rugose, you really have to pay attention. I have almost face-planted into a wall, and assorted mini-atolls that appear out of nowhere, especially if the visibility isn’t very good. That will wake you up. My favorite method of towing is the look-forward-look-between-your-legs-style. I may zoom from one side to the other, make sure my buddy is still attached to a board, then flip my head down to look behind me, because I always get the feeling that something large and unfriendly with sharp teeth is following me. I have been lucky this trip; the only large thing following me is usually a curious ulua.

curious ulua following diver

Nothing with a prominent dorsal fin that would probably cause me to have an accident in my wetsuit and climb the line into the boat faster than you can say “derelict fishing gear.”

Kaylyn McCoy

Of course, the most satisfying thing about flying over the reef is when you see a dark object (that is not moving), zoom closer to it, and find a giant net. You triumphantly fly to the surface and throw up your hand to signal “GIANT NET!”

monster net

However, that signal may also mean “I found a tiny net, it’s not much, I’m sorry I’m screwing up your track lines and making you stop and pull the tow boards in, but one kilo at a time, right?” All in a hard day’s work of saving the world.

divers atop 40 tons of marine debris
Okay, this is from last month’s cruise, but
40 tons is 40 tons.

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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