#take4Florida goes rogue. Sailing with The Rozalia Project.
On July 6 I stepped on board the 60’ sailing research vessel, American Promise, knowing little more than the fact that I would be doing ground-rattling marine debris research and that I was going to get my hands dirty. I was officially an intern working for The Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean on expedition RESTORE.
The Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean is a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect the ocean through innovation, education, cleanup and research. The founders, two very passionate and skilled sailors, believe in not only studying the trash and figuring out efficient ways to reduce waste in our seas, but also in actually removing it one bit at a time. This conviction is what drew me in, because I believe that removing every piece of matter, no matter how big or how small WILL make a difference in our oceans, and that is what drives my initiative here in Florida.
If you don’t know anything about me, I can quickly sum up that I’m a native to Boynton Beach, Florida and I’m useless without salt water. Raised by a surfing, fishing, and diving family, I have never been away from the sea for more than 2 weeks, and I absolutely never plan to be. I recently finished my Bachelors of Science degree in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of South Florida – St. Petersburg (not at the hell-hole landlocked city of Tampa). I completed my undergraduate years in St. Pete, working as a lifeguard and Paddleboard instructor for the school before doing GIS (geospatial science, or map-making really) for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Just before graduating this May I took a job offer at Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center as a Research Assistant. I am a part of the Coral Reef Restoration and Monitoring Lab at the Oceanographic Center where we scuba dive to monitor Southeast Florida’s coral reefs every day unless it’s snowing. Basically, I have the coolest job ever and I will be beginning my master’s of arts degree in Marine and Coastal Studies this August.
Needless to say, I’m always in the water… and that is why #take4Florida began. I was boogie boarding at Dog Beach behind Nomad Surf Shop this past May (yes, there were little waves), and when I got out to walk back from a 200 yard drift, I picked up 4 huge pieces of garbage. UNACCEPTABLE. One item was this huge burlap sack… something that could easily strangle wildlife… and I had seen enough. I posted a photo of my pile of trash to Instagram stating that I wanted to start an initiative called #take4Florida (inspired by #take3hawaii) and planned on hopping back in the water to bump around on the knee-high waves again.
To my utter surprise, I was bombarded with responses from followers. So much so that I wasn’t able to put my phone down and hop back in the water. From then on, I ran with the campaign and have people sending photos in from professional surfers . I have always believed in beach cleanups and have been seeing debris in the water for years, but this past year was the end. The amount of debris I saw, both surfing in St. Petersburg and back here on the East Coast was inexcusable. Every time I was in a lineup this winter, I’d see plastic forks and spoons floating by along with the looming God forsaken plastic bag. I’d get out of the water 90 % of the time with my wetsuit filled with debris I collected and bags tied around my leash so I could carry them up to a garbage can. As I would grumble and actually yell about what I was finding I noticed that other surfers were pissed off about it too… so #take4Florida was born… the first of many initiatives within a non-profit I am starting up that can be studied more onPropheSEA.org. For every person that can’t attend a beach cleanup on a Sunday morning, all you have to do is take 4 pieces of trash off the beach, a reef, or the sea surface if you are surfing, diving, fishing, or boating. Multiply that by the thousands of people on the water everyday, and we’ll start to see some serious changes.
So how does this link to the Rozalia Project? I always want to do more. One day while I was Google-ing how to get more involved in marine debris work in the Atlantic (because I’m tired of hearing about how everyone’s obsessed with the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”), I found the Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean.
The trip I was a part of, Expedition Restore, can be summed up as a journey to test solutions to marine debris. That is exactly what it was. We worked in the Northern Atlantic where garbage (likely from Florida) is carried up in the Gulf Stream and is entering the ocean locally via the fishing industries. We kicked the trip off in full gear by testing out a drone on a shoreline to see if we could quantify how much debris there was in footage compared to what we then hand-collected from that sample area. If we could design a good technique for drone flyovers like this, the drone could then be used to locate the most densely polluted beaches. With this, organizations could use their cleanup participant’s time more efficiently. Cleanup organizations could choose beaches that are highly polluted rather than those that are chose for their accessibility (aka free parking).
On several parts of the trip, sailing from Kittery to Portland and from Hurricane Island to Isles of Shoals, we did neuston tows looking for debris in the surface water. A neuston tow is a 1×2 m net designed to sample the surface with half dragging above, and half dragging below the surface catching whatever debris is potentially along the surface. We did 1 km neuston tows for our scientist on board from the University of New England, and with the samples collected, were able to extrapolate that there were up to22000 micro-plastics per square km of the sea surface near convergence zones. This specific area was in between where the water temperature rose from 58 to 64 degrees F. Lauren is working on using a modeling program to determine where there are accumulations of debris floating in the Gulf of Maine… another awesome movement toward innovative clean up methods.
We used an ROV to study the sea floor at a port in East Booth Bay and again off a dock on Vinalhaven Island, which are both primarily lobster fishing communities. We presented our work with the Rozalia Project at both venues, held community cleanups aside from our daily clean ups as a crew, and worked with kids from a local sailing/science summer camp. With the kids, we found 1,200 pieces of micro-foam at one dock in only one hour, and another 300 pieces of debris cleaning up the adjacent boat yard. The kids also joined us when we deployed the ROV, and with them we found derelict fishing traps, lots of loose rope/line, a huge aluminum pot, food wrappers, and some unsuspecting wildlife (our ROV was punched by a lobster at one point).
Besides the drone, the outstandingly expensive ROV operation we had going on, and the badass sailing, we also did one more thing that I can’t say I would have done anywhere else. We dissected herring : ). Herring is a very useful and common bait in lobster traps, so we were using them them to study the presence of plastics in our food chain (because Maine lobster… ummm HELLO finger-lickin’ goodness). One of the scientists on board, Kirsten Kapp, brought 18 herring on board that she had purchased at a local bait shop, and we dissected them with an extra focus on the gill-rakers (shown in the hand-lens photograph) and intestines… where she has found plastics in previous studies. We did find two objects that Kirsten is now studying further in her lab in Wyoming.
Overall, the experience was incredible. After ten days of actively sailing through the Gulf of Maine, we had: only used between 15-20 gallons of marine diesel, had shared our mission with dozens of locals who joined in on our conversation, and had effectively cleaned up way beyond 3,000 pieces of marine debris… from large lobster trap buoys, trawl nets, and bleach bottles, to bits of microfilament and a pesky micro-bead. In the photo below you can actually see our collection after one single hour with 7 people on a rocky shore at Hurricane Island.
I hope to carry on with the lessons that I learned with The Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean, and make some serious innovative moves forward here in South Florida with PropheSEA. I’d like to share my story first of all, because I am blessed to have had the opportunity to travel with The Rozalia Project, and because it needs to be known that marine debris is an issue everywhere and can be cleaned up. Also, I’d like to hold off shore and near shore cleanups with #take4Florida supporters off of our local coast as soon as possible, and continue to share the movement around the country.