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News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

Even in the Ocean, Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Posted On June 8, 2012 by

Debris found during cleanup near Yokohama, Japan

Debris collected from Transect #1 at Sea Paradise Beach -- Nick Mallos

Mawar is the Malaysian word for rose, but Typhoon Mawar has been nothing but a thorn since we arrived in Yokohama, Japan. Like hurricanes, typhoons form when tropical depressions escalate into cyclones; in the Pacific, these cyclones are called typhoons, while in the Atlantic they are known as hurricanes.

This past weekend, Mawar delivered heavy rain and sustained winds of 110 mph to the Philippines, gusting up to 130 mph and taking the lives of eight Filipinos. We felt peripheral effects of Mawar in Japan as intensifying winds and strong gusts jostled boats and tested the strength of dock lines in the marina.

So far, Mawar has delayed our departure on the Algalita/5 Gyres Japan Tsunami Debris Expedition by almost one week. To say anticipation and angst on board has been high would be an understatement. However, we have not allowed our time on land to be wasted.

Several of us traveled to a nearby beach that sits adjacent to the Sea Paradise Amusement Park. With roller coasters and a Ferris wheel as backdrop, we surveyed the crescent-shaped beach using NOAA’s Shoreline Monitoring Protocol, incorporating a microplastics sampling component recently designed by 5 Gyres Institute.

Plastic fragments dominated the rag line — the tide line on the beach where seaweed, shells and debris accumulate — and cigarette butts and food wrappers comprise the majority of items found toward the berm. None of the items we found indicated this debris was tsunami-generated.

Nick Mallos on the bow of the Sea Dragon ship

Nick Mallos awaiting Typhoon Mawar on the bow of Pangaea Exploration's Sea Dragon.

If our delayed departure has caused anyone to lose sight of the tsunami-related objectives of our expedition, there was a big reminder this morning via news of a 70-foot dock from Japan washing ashore on the Oregon coast.

As our departure nears, uncertainty still lingers regarding our debris encounters. We know we will find plastic and trash, but what type and how much, if any, tsunami debris we will encounter remains unknown.

No indecision exists among my crewmates though. The passion and determination for trash free seas exhibited by each crewmember is inspiring, and there’s no question that we are ready for whatever Poseidon has in store for us.

This evening, I opened a card with words inside that flawlessly capture the spirit and purpose embodied by each person aboard this expedition:

“This is your world. Shape it or somebody else will.” – Gary Lew

Fortunately, the weather is looking up and we plan to set sail at first light. Check out Ocean Conservancy’s Scientist at Sea Center to stay up-to-date with my progress.