Wylde Swan Blog

Trawling the plastic ocean

4th April 2016

The oceans are full of plastic marine debris affecting water quality and sea life. It is an issue increasingly being addressed by and put on the agenda of environmental NGOs, research institutes and governments. Though, little is known about the scale of the problem and its consequences. Due to UV light plastics break down into small pieces that appear to be transported by ocean currents and concentrate in the ocean gyres. Far away from any Exclusive Economic Zone, no country has direct responsibility over cleaning up these gyres. It is a challenge which should ideally be taken up by the international community, since plastic marine debris and the health of our oceans, concerns us all.

In February 2013, the in Delft (The Netherlands) based organization, The Ocean Cleanup was founded to develop a technology to clean world’s oceans from plastics (http://www.theoceancleanup.com). Through two crowdfunding campaigns the organization channeled over 40.000 contributions totaling three million US dollars and created problem ownership. Soon after, they started experiments to test technologies’ feasibility. In 2015 two researchers of The Ocean Cleanup joined Masterskip from St. Martin to the Azores. Measurements were taken to research the vertical distribution of plastic marine debris in the Atlantic Ocean. Trainees were very welcoming towards bringing relevant research on board. Following its success, Masterskip and The Ocean Cleanup decided to continue the collaboration and also fish for plastics in 2016.

With the collaboration both The Ocean Cleanup and Masterskip hope to expand knowledge and increase environmental awareness on plastic marine litter. The Ocean Cleanup provided a special net, called a manta trawl. Samples are taken, put in the freezer and will be brought to the laboratory in Delft to calculate ocean plastic concentrations. Since leaving St. Martin we have been using the manta trawl four times. The first time anchored in a bay at the British Virgin Islands to test how to deploy the net from the ship and how to take it back on board in particular. After the successful test we fished for plastic marine debris three times.

Soon we realized fishing for plastics is a challenge. The Wylde Swan is a fast sailing vessel, so when there is wind the speed exceeds 5 knots. Below 4.5 knots the engine is turned on to maintain a comfortable speed. Ideal speed to tow the manta trawl is 3 – 3.5 knots, which is lower. Towing with a speed of more than 5 knots might have influenced the amount of plastic found in the cod-end. Suitable weather conditions for fishing occurred at the moment we were close to the Atlantic gyre. A day later the wind force as well as the wave height increased, making it impossible to plan more tows. The Atlantic gyre is from west to east somewhat egg shaped and located between 25?N-60?W and 35?N-30?W with its center at 29?N-54?W. Even though all three tows were just outside the gyre and the speed exceeded the ideal speed, we did find plastics in the cod-ends.

On lazy Monday, our day off, we made our own trawl made out of trash to be used by a speed exceeding 5 knots. We attached a sleeve of an old t-shirt to two cans, in one we made holes to tie it to a rope and we attached the cod-end with a water hose clip to the other can. Although the diameter of the can limited the volume of water going through the self-made trawl, we did find plastics in the cod-end! The ocean might look like a deep blue empty surface, but these experiments have shown the Atlantic Ocean contains micro plastics. After the Azores we will hopefully be able to do additional measurements outside the Atlantic gyre and use our previously taken samples to calculate ocean plastic concentration (in pieces per km2).

By Jan Joris Midavaine

Fishing for micro plastics with Masterskip Wylde Swan

Fishing for micro plastics with Masterskip Wylde Swan

Commotion on the aft deck

4 April 2016

Boudewijn with the catch of the dayThe Wylde Swan gently moves through the Atlantic Ocean with smooth waves and a wind speed of two Beaufort. On the aft deck of the ship, behind the steering wheel a fishing rod is attached to the rail of the ship. During the day, the line is in the water continuously. We do not fish much, but if we have a catch there is a lot of commotion. The line needs to be taken in and the deck needs to be kept wet so it does not get ‘fishy’ on board. But first the ship needs to reduce speed, otherwise we would lose the catch. With wind and all sails set this is almost impossible: the engine is switch on and put in reverse, the bow steered towards the wind, which makes the sails flap.

Two times we caught a large fish: a Mahi Mahi and a Bigeye Tuna. Part of the Masterskip program is then to dissect the fish and investigate the entrails. The content of the stomach is analyzed to find out what the fish has been eating. And the still beating heart of the tuna is passed round the group. At night the fish is served for dinner. Two days after catching the Bigeye Tuna the fishing rod started moving heavily: commotion on the aft deck. “Get the water hose! Make sure the deck is wet. Start the engine and put it in reverse! Get on the sheets of the sails and take line in!” Trainees hurry to the water hose and second mate Boudewijn Ridder starts to take the fishing line in.

At that time I was still asleep, resting from my night watch from 00:00-04:00, but woke up from the sound of the engine and flapping sails. Put on a shirt, short and boots and rushed to the aft deck where more and more trainees gathered and fishing line was taken in. Chef Jack Breed came out of the galley with a machete and dish ready to kill the fish. I will never forget what happened next: instead of a colorful Mahi Mahi or torpedo shaped tuna we did fish a bunch of tangled blue rope. An indescribable expression on the face of Boudewijn and the laughter of the trainees followed. Catching nylon rope did remind me of a recent newspaper article of the World Wide Fund for Nature reporting the oceans will soon contain more plastic then fish. We could not dissect the plastic neither consume it, but it was a great catch in terms of plastic soup awareness.

By: Jan Joris Midavaine

The amazing meeting with the Minke Whale

30 March 2016

By: Lotte Grootveld (maths teacher)

It has been two week since we last saw land and it will take at least another week before we see land again. We are sailing somewhere east of Bermuda, with still 1500 nautical miles between us and our first port: Horta, the Azores. I just realized this does not sound too appealing; it might actually sound a bit scary. And to be honest, during the preparations I felt apprehensive about it. ‘What if I do not like it, what if it scares me to see nothing but water for over two weeks?’ But, I do like it and I feel confident and happy underway by sail at the Atlantic Ocean.

Sometimes it seems as if we are alone. We rarely see planes or other ships; it is actually quite a big thing to see something that indicates that we are not alone. And sometimes we see that we are not the only species wondering this seemingly endless dessert of blue. ‘Whales on portside!’ The intercom was loud and clear to everyone on the ship and we all rushed outside. A whale, about 100 meters away from us, jumped out of the water. Something I had never seen before: such a large creature moving so playfully. And it came closer. I decided to climb on the roof, looked into the clear blue water and saw the outline of this huge animal, swimming on its side: on portside, around the bow of the ship, back to starboard.

Crew and trainees were trying to get the best glance of it, standing at the forecastle and hanging over the railing (but not too far of course). The Minke Whale must have been as curious about us, as we were about him (or her, we don’t know) and stayed near the ship for over 15 minutes. The whale easily kept up with us, just moving its tail. After a while it turned around and swam away; it may have decided the ship was inspected well enough. Today it was a whale, yesterday it was swimming in a calm Atlantic Ocean with a depth over 6 km. Every day we get to enjoy the beautiful, ever changing scene of the ocean and for that, I feel very privileged.

Minke Whale on starboard Jan Joris Midavaine   

 Photo Credit: Jan Joris Midavaine

Minke Whale by Marybeth de Waaij

Minke Whale by Marybeth de Waaij

Subject to Change

30 March 2016

We did not have Internet access for a while, but since our Satellite connection appears to be working again I would love to provide you with an update. The idea of the updates is to let trainees write them, however, we have not yet presented Sea Change to the group.

On board of a sailing vessel everything is subject to change: the wind, which force and direction determines the sail plan, and unforeseen incidents and destinations provoke changes in planning. These unforeseen events are interesting to write about. But first, to provide you with an idea about living aboard the Wylde Swan, allow me to introduce you to a regular day while sailing the ocean.

After enjoying the Caribbean atmosphere with high temperatures and white sand beaches, we set sail for multiple weeks sailing from Road Town, British Virgin Islands to Horta, the Azores. Crew is scheduled in shifts of 2 times 4 hours a day (20:00-00:00/00:00-04:00/04:00-08:00…). Trainees and lecturers are expected to have breakfast at 07:00. Three periods of 50 minutes self-study start at 08:00 and at 12:00 lunch is served. From 13:00 to 14:00 happy hour takes place, which means cleaning the ship with all trainees. And the afternoon and evening are scheduled for central lessons and group activities. This rather simple looking program is continuously interrupted. Sails need to be set, dropped or adjusted. Then a Minke Whale swims right next to the ship for at least 10 minutes. We catch a Mahi Mahi (or Dolfinfish), a Bigeye Tuna, and… a bunch of blue ropes. The sails flap, due to the lacking wind the captain decides to invite crew and trainees for a swim in the 6 km deep blue ocean. In the meanwhile, all need to be fed. Food is prepared, and 47 plates, bowls, spoons and kitchen equipment are cleaned after each breakfast, lunch and dinner.

It is a rhythm you need to adapt to, allowing you to work and live on a ship together. Your personal belongings should be stowed away unless you use them. Laptops and books right next to others, as are trainees and crew. No privacy. It is living together, caring for each other and experiencing the Atlantic Ocean, together. After almost two weeks of sailing, the trainees start to get familiar with living on a ship, get to know each other better, and comfortably move with the waves.

We will keep you updated and hopefully provide you with some detailed stories soon!

Sea Change

By: Jan Joris Midavaine (Plastic Researcher Masterskip)

6 March 2016

St. Maarten_ I just took over Willemijn’s anchor watch, deckhand on the Wylde Swan. It is 1:22 in the morning and the noise coming from a party at the beach of St. Maarten just came to an end. We are moored in Simpson Bay not further then a 10 minute swim to shore, 18.02 N – 63.06 W. Today, March 6th 2016 the Dutch trainees and ship’s doctor arrived, completing the Wylde Swan Masterskip team that will be crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the coming 7 weeks. World’s largest topsail schooner now is a little community of 30 trainees, secondary school children in the age between 15-17 years old and a crew of 17, including 5 teachers, 2 deckhands, a first and second mate, a boson, an engineer, a cook, an intern maritime officer, an interior manager, a ship’s doctor, a photographer and the captain.

Masterskip Wylde Swan is an innovative educational project. Its mission is to create an inspiring and demanding environment for students in the age of 15-17 years old. In a six months sailing trip (October 2015 – April 2016) secondary school students join for periods of six weeks to become a crew member and follow education on board. The current group will cross the Atlantic Ocean from St. Martin (Caribbean) to Rotterdam (Netherlands) from March 6th to April 24th 2016. They learn about sailing, life at sea and the ship, focusing on science which can directly be applied on its environment. Examples are: navigation, marine litter, how to make fresh water from sea water and dissect a freshly caught tuna. (More information about the ship and the program can be found at: http://www.wyldeswan.com/training-education/masterskip).

I am on board as a guest lecturer and junior researcher in marine litter. In preparation for the voyage I have been looking for partnerships and collaboration in ocean and coastal science. First of all, this allows transferring state of the art knowledge on ocean related subjects to trainees. Secondly I can expose their experiences and research findings in blogs and updates on other organizations’ websites. “People protect what they love and love what they know” (J. Cousteau). By writing about experiences, Masterskips’ crew and trainees hope to provide a large group of people with accessible knowledge on the Atlantic Ocean. Collaborations and partnerships help to access (social)networks besides our own and contribute in reaching this ambitious goal. Thanks to the enthusiasm of many, collaboration with The Ocean Cleanup, Sea Change, Plastic Soup Foundation, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and Plastic Whale is established.

The European consortium/project Sea Change, aiming for increasing ocean literacy, has a great fit with Masterskip. It supports Masterskip by providing access to a large scientific community and valuable knowledge. In return Masterskip trainees are given the opportunity to provide Sea Change with stories on how they experience the Atlantic Ocean and ocean related science, which can then be used as material for others to learn about and create enthusiasm for the ocean. In the coming weeks we will aim to write blogs together about our experiences and research projects carried out on board.

St Martin02

Day out sailing in St Martin

First sunset trainees St Martin

Trainees at first sunset, St. Martin

Correspondence: Jan Joris Midavaine (janjoris.midavaine@gmail.com +31648061953)