School Email Exchange

What has been the most surprising part of your expedition?

Posted on November 08 2012

Question submitted by Pacific Boychoir Academy

One of the purposes of this trip is to be on the lookout out for debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan that is slowly making its way across the Pacific Ocean toward the U.S., being carried on the same ocean currents that move plastic debris.  We report any sightings to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who are keeping track of the location of debris in order to project its landfall on U.S. shores.

I knew there was a good chance we would come across objects from the tsunami, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotions I felt when actually seeing the evidence of this disaster.  “Debris” is a general term, but the specific objects we find floating near the Seamans are parts of people’s lives. For example, we’ve brought aboard a car tire, fishing floats, a beverage bottle with Japanese writing, a saki cup, a child’s ball and a tether ball.

This is the broken red boat we brought along side to measure for size, and to observe the organisms living on it.  We reported it to NOAA giving them its GPS location.

One item too big to bring on board was most of a boat. It was painted red and you could see where the outboard motor would have been.  The front part was broken off.  Another item we were unable to salvage was a refrigerator with ice cube trays and packages of food still in one of its drawers.

A saki cup, floating near the red boat, was brought onboard in a dip net.

A refrigerator was spotted bobbing in the waves.  We maneuvered the Seamans  next to it and were able to bring aboard some items found inside.

A container on the science deck holds the items that were retrieved from inside the floating refrigerator.

Like most people I found the news reports at the time of the tsunami upsetting.  I am surprised at how quickly that feeling returns with each new piece of tsunami debris we find.