Looking to 2012

I write this New Years Eve note sitting in Miami, the working home of Pangaea Explorations. We have an important year behind us and one of great promise before us. This is as it should be; pleased with what we have done, excited about what lay ahead.

2011 was a foundational year for our team and close partners Anna Cummins and Marcus Ericksen. Together we completed a tour de force of all the major oceanic Gyres. In August, Sea Dragon sailed smoothly into Vancouver Canada closing a long productive trip to the place where it all began- the North Pacific Gyre. In this year the teams traversed the South Atlantic from Africa to Uruguay, via St. Helena Island – one of the most remote locations in the world today. Rounding South America, Sea Dragon entered the Pacific for the start of what will be an almost two year stay. Up through the South Pacific Gyre, the team achieved a second “first” documentation of a never before visited Gyre. Clive Cosby, Dale Selvam and Emily Penn then worked the boat through Tahiti, the Cook Islands and the Line Islands ending in Hawaii. This island run was an important first for us. We now have a much deeper understanding of the many critical issues facing these remote tropical islands. Here the team encountered remarkably open local people with serious challenges in marine habitat condition, fishing pressure, the ever-present plastic marine debris waves, and much, much graver threats in long term sea level rise and acidification. The last three months of the year saw Sea Dragon…and Dale, remarkable still. The boat has been in a major refit and preparation for her next year of work. The most visual change is the new, sleek gray hull (which has proved a wonderful backdrop for our new logos and colors!). Stern_new colorNew air conditioning/heater units are on, dedicated freezers, sinks and tons of more efficient, capable electronics. Deep inside all the bilges were scoured and painted, walls stripped down, covers redone, tanks opened, winches stripped and greased and a new coat of anti-skid on the top decks. To power all this, a new super quiet Fischer Panda generator is on board, with 2x the capacity. Mission critcal new CO2 and water quality sensors are on board. Ultimately driving all of this are new set of exceptionally powerful state of the art North sails. We go into 2012 a much more efficient, solid and capable boat. Thanks go to Dale, Emily and our working partners at Outbound Yacht Services for this.

2012 will be an extraordinary year that has us crossing the Pacific, reaching Asia for the first time, and ultimately transiting the Panama Canal for Christmas in the Caribbean. The first leg begins late February as we transit south to Cabo San Lucas via Guadalupe Island. Then an important, and likely very, very fast sail down the trades to Hawaii. Onto Majuro, then a major round trip to Japan and back to Hawaii. This leg is a vital re-look at the western Pacific Gyre- an area SE of Japan that has not been visited for marine debris research in 25 years. Then crossing back to Hawaii, we will take on the serious and very sensitive mission of assessing the route and status of the debris from Japan’s 2011 Tsunami. From here we begin working back in the Line Islands, before beginning a long crossing via the Galapagos and Marqueasas to Central America.

This year is also important for our partners, We begin an important phase of work with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation -the original discovery team that first identified the “garbage patch” phenomenon. With 5Gyres, they are leading the Western Gyre and Japan Tsunami Debris expeditions. We also will begin extensive work with the One World One Ocean project led by IMAX film makers Greg and Shaun MacGillvray.. This partnership began with a lunch (see blog from 2010 )and now will step into a hopefully long term role with Sea Dragon acting as a roving ocean platform to report in from faraway corners. OWOO promises to be an epic contribution to marine conservation by tying together a vast range of media, exploration, education and research. We are proud to work with them.

Our sponsors and crew will continue to be vital parts of our work. Spinlock, Henri Lloyd and Sherwood carry forward their support for our team. North Sails has been a generous and hard working partner with our exceptional new canvass. Most important, our volunteer crew who give their time, spirit and financial resources to make these expeditions happen. We feel very good about this core part of our mission. Without these hardworking team members, we simply could not carry out these important trips.

We of course would be nowhere without our core team. Dale Selvam has proven himself an exceptional mariner under a vast range of conditions and trials. He has put up with long stretches of full on work, constant uncertainty and unpredictable challenges and finally a major overhaul of the boat. Emily Penn has made fantastic progress in developing our expeditions, partnerships and sponsors. She has been the first and last point of contact for virtually all of our crew and supporting team. Skipper Clive Cosby (and his family) made great personal sacrifices to bring the boat from the Cook Islands over 5,000 miles to Canada. Clive’s wife, Val, also took a bit of time “off” to win triathalon in the big island of Hawa’ii. Kriszti Mendonca carried us through massive improvements to our website and social media presence. We will depend on all of them in the new year.

To close our my thoughts, I think of my own last two days here in Florida. Yesterday, my junior explorer son Atlas and I went to the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota. Besides giving him (another) chance to hang out with sharks and put his hands in every possible fish tank, this gave me confidence about our own future. William Mote founded the lab to provide a place where “young scientists could work freely”. He went on to say that “For countless ages man has taken from the sea. Now it is time for us to give back to this precious source of all our planet’s life”. That was more than a half century ago. They worked hard and have now built an enduring institution that really matters. We aspire to this.

Second, I went today on a dive off Miami Beach. Dropping off the dive boat in flat seas and 80 degree air, I spent almost 2 hours visiting two great ship wrecks that are part of the city’s artificial reef program. Sea turtles, coral growth on old steel hulls, good schools of fish prove the value of our restoration efforts. I also cleaned up two two drink containers and a plastic bag over 90′ down. This reminds us of the vital need of the role we at Pangaea can play in restoring the oceans for our children.

Thank you to all our exceptional team, sponsors and partners. Feel good about 2011 and get ready for a dramatic year ahead!

Ron Ritter