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Latest Expedition Journal

November 7:  Day 36

Posted by Kimberly McCabe

Sea Changes

Not many people can say they have gone 33 days without sight of land.  We left San Diego with purpose, but our pace was unhurried as we turned off our engine, turned on our hydrowinch, and slowed down for science.      

As the sun rose this morning I was standing bow watch, eyes keen to leeward as we sailed along Hawaii’s southeastern shore.  With the help of a steady easterly wind and our engine we were barreling along at 9 knots while getting tossed about by rolling waves kicked up by the sudden change in underwater topography.  To port, the sun threw highlights of orange and gold into the grey sky, and to starboard I spotted the first glimpse of volcanic earth.  Land ho!

The sight of land was jarring.  For the past five weeks my world has been 134 feet of undulating deck, hunting for plastic with my nose deep in a sieve.  We carry everything on board we need to keep both ship and sailor safe and healthy.  A self-sustaining microcosm.  

At the sight of land my mind flooded with questions: Has my dog forgotten me?  Will I get land sick?  Just how bad do I smell?  But primarily, I am thinking of how this trip has changed me, and how I will take these changes home with me.                        

I came here as an educator, although I have never taught in a traditional classroom.  For three years my classroom was Maine’s rocky shore, the Chesapeake’s salt marshes, Caribbean coral reefs, and the deck of a moving sailboat.  I was Ocean Classroom Foundation’s marine science educator for their high school semester at sea, encouraging young explorers to observe the ecosystems around them, ask thoughtful questions, and become ocean stewards.

Now, I have settled back on land as a Visitor Education Specialist at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) in Boston.  Our department acts as a critical link between the world of scientific research and the general public.  Let’s be honest: most people don’t read scientific journals.  And the inaccurately named “Giant Pacific Garbage Patch” is a perfect example of how the media can give the public the wrong information instead of scientific findings.

Informal education at institutions like the NEAQ and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (crew member Emilee Monson’s institution) provide an engaging platform for science to be shared with the public.  Every day I hope to inspire people to take action in their own lives to preserve and protect the world that surrounds and sustains them. 

Come by and you might see me chatting about sustainable seafood over a live lobster, examining a piece of baleen with an inquisitive eight-year old, or training a volunteer to lead our climate-change activities.  Next week, I will be flying home with stories, samples, and photos to create a tangible and proper representation of the North Pacific subtropical gyre for the public.  With my teaching tools, I plan to break the view that the public has been given of a “floating island of plastic.”

I came here hoping to inspire others with my experience, but little did I know how inspired I would be myself.  For the past 33 days at sea I have been surrounded by the most engaging and inspiring group of individuals I have ever met.  They have shared with me an insatiable enthusiasm for life and laughter, reawakened my musical creativity, and offered understanding and support to this beet-obsessed wanderer who has never been able to fit in.  

Sadly, while I scanned Hawaii’s jagged coast, I realized that I must soon say goodbye to this amazing crew.  What I carry home is memories, friendship, and a robust love for every salty soul on this boat.