North Atlantic Gyre | Bermuda to St. Thomas
Depart: St. George’s, Bermuda
Arrive: St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Length: 9 days
Focus: Plastic Pollution research with Boyan Slat, The Ocean Cleanup
The Ocean Cleanup Expedition Wrap-Up!
Sea Dragon is safely berthed in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, after a tumultuous but ultimately successful voyage from Bermuda. I’ve sailed with a lot of different crews over the years, and dealt with a lot of different gear on the boat, and as I said good-bye to this team, I realized that this was one of our most challenging trips, and we had one of the best crews on board to meet the challenge.The ultimate goal of our voyage was to test a new multi-level plastic trawl for Boyan Slat, founder of The Ocean Cleanup. Until recently, all open ocean plastic research has been done by surface trawling with manta trawls or plankton nets. This has given researchers a good idea of what is on the surface of the Gyres, but left a lot of people wondering what lurked deeper down. After all, as waves build, we know that we see less plastic on the surface as it is forced down by turbulence, but we don’t know how much remains at deeper depths. Although various estimates have been made, no real hard data has been collected.
Boyan and his team have a very ambitious goal of trying to clean the Gyres of the world’s oceans, and to do so they need to learn at what depths the plastic exists. Dr. Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres institute has been tackling the same problem for years from a different angle, collecting and publishing some of the more comprehensive studies on gyre plastic and working to stop the influx of new plastic into our Oceans. As research has developed toward multi-level trawling, the two groups have been collaborating on the design and testing of their respective trawls so that their data is comparable.
On this voyage we faced rough weather conditions for the first few days, which tested the patience and the stomachs of the crew. When the wind finally subsided enough to begin trawling, I was impressed by how well everyone handled what was potentially a very dangerous piece of hardware swinging around on the deck as we deployed the trawl and took our first sample in 6-9 foot seas and 20kts of wind. Getting the 15′ long trawl, which weighs over 100 lbs, safely on and off of a pitching deck not much larger than it is requires precise coordination and cooperation, and we had it – everyone knew exactly what needed to happen and the trawl went in and out of the water without a hitch.
We managed 3 more trawls in calmer seas closer to the Caribbean, each time refining our technique for deploying and recovering the trawl, as well as processing the data from it – cleaning out 11 cod-ends became an almost full-time occupation for the crew as we found quicker ways to get them washed and their plastic contents stored for transport back to the lab.
This trip was a great success, working out kinks in a brand-new design, stress-testing it in very rough conditions, and finishing in St. Thomas with the first successful multi-level trawls that I am aware of. Well done, Team Science!
Eric Loss – Pangaea Explorations skipper
Want to join us on our next expedition? Check out our 2014 schedule!
The Ocean Cleanup North Atlantic Gyre Expedition
During this 7-day expedition, sailing from Bermuda to St Thomas (Virgin Islands), you will become part of Boyan Slat’s crew, helping to conduct experiments as part of The Ocean Cleanup’s feasibility study.
Sailing through the North Atlantic Gyre, The Ocean Cleanup will deploy their new multi-level trawl, capable of measuring plastic concentrations at eleven depths simultaneously.
Over the past 15 years, lots of data has been collected to measure the surface concentration of plastics, but very few researchers have measured concentrations below the surface.
Data on the concentration of plastics at different depths near the surface is essential to determine the necessary cleanup depth, and to know what cleanup efficiency could be achieved.
The trip price includes a donation to The Ocean Cleanup.
November 13: Guest Crew will join Sea Dragon at the dinghy dock in St. Georges between 12-1 pm. Everyone will have an opportunity to settle into the yacht, and put away their personal belongings. The captain and first mate will give crew a safety and expedition briefing, followed by Boyan Slat’s briefing of the research to take place. After an evening meal, the crew will retire and sleep on Sea Dragon for the night.
November 14: Sea Dragon will clear customs in St. Georges and depart Bermuda for St. Thomas.
November 15-19 Underway to St. Thomas, deploying and retrieving the trawl collecting samples.
November 20: Sea Dragon will arrive in Red Hook, St. Thomas. After clearing customs the crew will be free to explore ashore or enjoy the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean.
November 21: Crew will leave the boat by 9 AM for wherever adventure takes them.
Boyan Slat (1994) combines environmentalism, creativity and technology to tackle global issues of sustainability.
Currently working on oceanic plastic pollution, he believes current prevention measures will have to be supplemented by active removal of plastics in order to succeed. “The ultimate solution will do to close the tap, and prevent the plastic from reaching the ocean at the first place. But that won’t be a solution to the plastics already trapped in the currents of the gyres.”
Together with a team of over 50 people, The Ocean Cleanup is now investigating the feasibility and financial viability of passive and large-scale removal of plastics from the ‘oceanic garbage patches’, driven by the currents. Covering all aspects of the concept (including engineering, oceanography, ecology, recycling, finance and maritime law), Boyan estimates this study to be ready for publication around the end of this year.
Besides leading The Ocean Cleanup, Boyan is an Aerospace Engineering student at the Delft University of Technology (though temporarily halted his study to focus on this project), and is an avid photographer and diver.
- Enough clothes for a 7 day voyage (warm weather clothing, plus layers for cold nights)
- No hard suitcases or roller bags with frames
- Sunscreen and and required medications
- Sunglasses and a hat with a brim
- Pen and notebook/diary
- Camera or video camera (optional)
- Snorkeling gear (optional)
- Set of twin sized sheets for bunk
Everything you bring (with the possible exception of snorkel/dive gear) must fit in a box next to your bunk, dimensions- 50cm x 40cm x 26cm. Please avoid bringing anything in plastic packaging that will need to be thrown away.
Please note that Sea Dragon is a dry vessel. No alcohol or cigarettes will be permitted on board.
– 8 nights accommodation on board Sea Dragon
– All meals, snacks and drinks on board
– Sailing instruction
– Safety equipment and foul weather gear
Contribution does not include:
– Transportation to Bermuda and St Thomas
– Transportation to and from the dock
– Personal expenses while at port
Crew will require a passport from their home country that will allow them to travel to Bermuda and the US Virgin Islands. There may be specific visa requirements for travelers from countries outside of North America. For specific visa information, contact the US Customs and Border Protection. Non-US citizens will need a B1/B2 visa in order to enter the United States by sea.