Big samples


10 October 2011

On Friday October 7th, 2011, it’s 02:00 in the morning, and I’m on the night shift with Yohann until 04:00. Lights are off and we’re keeping track of the boat from the cockpit. The moon is setting on the horizon and Tara is plunged into complete darkness. The clear sky unveils a multitude of stars illuminating the ocean all by themselves. At the back of the schooner we can see fluorescent plankton sparkling in the propeller wakes.

At 9:00, Isabelle Taupier Letage, our head scientist, rushes into my cabin: “Andres, there’s plastic!”. I jump out of bed and follow her onto the deck. “Fishing nets are entangled under the hull. Martin and François are diving to release them”. The whole team is peering over the safety railing. Martin and François jump in to extricate this humongous plastic cobweb which has been slowing us down for the last hour. As they finally succeed in pulling the nets off the hull, we pull them up on deck.

Isabelle and Céline Dimier are trying to unravel this tangled mess to cut off some samples. Isabelle removes a pink toothbrush and adds it to the multi-colored plastic pile which Céline has saved on aluminum foil. Between the mesh, we find a colony of small crabs which have adopted the nets as a new home. Copepods and other plankton species are also present. The samples will be studied in particular by Melissa Duhaime from Arizona University, who will tell us more about the microbial life interacting with this plastic.

For the rest of the day, we continue to spot floating macro rubbish. We also see finely dispersed plastic flakes drifting below the water surface. It’s a soup of minute fragments of plastic bags. Outside of that, the concentration of macro rubbish remains relatively sparse and unevenly distributed.

Andres Peyrot