Our second post today is from Andrew Titmus.
One of the greatest things about this cruise is that each of the scientists onboard comes from a different background and is out here working on very different projects. However, we have this unifying theme of plastic research. This means that many different ways of thinking can be brought to the table about how to tackle a problem. It’s one of the things that I love about science: You can have great discussions, throwing around ideas, figuring out the right questions to ask, and the right way to go about answering those questions, and then you get to go and try it. The best part about it is that we have gotten to really work through this process on this cruise; it’s both fun and rewarding. Here on the SEAPLEX cruise one of the things that we are trying to do is get a feel for the spatial patterns associated with the debris so that we may be able to figure out just how much there is out here in the subtropical gyre. Due to the variety of backgrounds on the ship, we are able to come up with some interesting ways to get at this question.
I came out to this cruise both to look for seabirds and marine debris with the goal of figuring out which species of seabirds are found to associate with high density areas of marine debris accumulation. I came out here with the goal of counting and describing the debris that I saw as we moved along the transects. However I was not prepared for how this visual survey would work out. As we moved into the gyre, the amount of seabird sightings declined dramatically. Concurrently, the amount of debris increased considerably. It was obvious that we needed a new way to look at the plastics as they floated by the ship. Luckily for me, there were others onboard who believed that we could examine these plastic aggregations using visual survey methods. Working together we were able to come up with what we believed to be the best way to examine the plastic aggregations at multiple spatial scales and also still be able to make comparisons between our visual observations and the quantitative manta tows. Using the incredible flexibility of this cruise, we were able to dedicate an entire day to try out our new methods. So we spent an entire day staring at the ocean for all sizes of marine debris and now we are left with sore eyes and lots of numbers. I am sure that we made some mistakes, and in hindsight we knew what should have been different, but that is all part of the process. Personally, I am happy with what we have accomplished with this survey and I know that it would not have been possible without the intensive collaboration of ideas that occurred.
Now that we have spent over a week here in the gyre it is time to shift gears again. After concentrating so hard on those little plastic fragments in the water, it is time for me to start looking for those seabirds again. Transit time is the best time for conducting seabird surveys and now that we have turned east towards Oregon there are some interesting days on the horizon. It is an interesting position to be in, most other people on the cruise are finishing up their science, while things are really only halfway through for me. We will be leaving the gyre, passing through the transition zone and in towards land. It should make for some great observations. Speaking of which, I should get back up to the observation deck, I wouldn’t want to miss the birds…they have a knack of showing up whenever I am not up there.