Record-breaker Americas circumnavigator off on research voyage
Matt Rutherford, first sailor to complete a non-stop, single-handed voyage around North and South America, is about to depart with field scientist Nicole Trenholm on a nonstop sailing research voyage from Oakland, California, to Fukuoka, Japan. By deploying a high-speed trawl net off the side of their 29-foot Harbor 29 sailing boat while underway, the two sailors will embark on the first-ever continent-to-continent survey of plastic marine debris in the world’s oceans.
It was while was doing his amazing 309 day voyage around the Americas on a 24ft boat that he became convinced that ‘something’ needed to be done about ocean pollution.
So once Matt returned from his circumnavigation he immediately started working on starting a non-profit organization that would help scientists better understand the problems facing our oceans. Matt believes that no one person can do everything but everyone can do something. By creating Ocean Research Project, Matt plans to educate people about marine issues and give back to our earths oceans.
The expedition, already delayed by the non-readiness of the promised boat (when he went to collect it he had to help build it), is now anxious to depart as soon as possible. ‘We need to leave as soon as possible because the later we leave the longer we will be at sea during typhoon season in the western Pacific.’
The specially designed net has limited drag. It will scoop up small pieces of plastic trash and plastic debris floating on the surface of the Pacific. Once the trip is complete in the summer, the debris will be cataloged and studied at onshore labs to help better understand the impact of plastic debris on marine life and on human health.
‘When we cast off we’ll be attempting something that’s never been done before. The ocean is a vast and wild place, but unfortunately it’s not pristine. Human impacts can be seen even thousands of miles from shore. Our survey will help us understand just how much of an impact we’re having on the water that covers the majority of the planet, and on the countless species of marine organisms that depend on healthy oceans for their survival,’ Rutherford said.
The ‘expedition’ vessel is a W.D. Schock Harbor 29 day-sailor designed primarily for inshore waters, but that doesn’t faze the hardy sailor. ‘People generally underestimate small sailboats, there not as comfortable but they can certainly cross an ocean.’
The trip is expected to take at least 70 days, and cross about a quarter of the globe.
Events in recent years, including the 2011 Japanese tsunami and the ongoing search for the missing Malaysian jetliner, have brought new attention to the problem of marine debris, both large and small. This is Ocean Research Project’s second offshore plastic debris survey in which they spent 80 days and 7,000 miles collecting data. A 2013 expedition to the North Atlantic gyre turned up as many as 200,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer.
‘The trip itself represents only half of the project. After we gather our samples and dock in Japan, we’ll then spend months analyzing the plastic in both Japan and back home in the U.S. Sailing across the Pacific Ocean will be a big adventure, but what we learn in the lab will be equally thrilling,’ Trenholm said.
Samples will be analyzed for organic pollutants such as PCBs and pesticides through the University of Tokyo’s International Pellet Watch Program. Samples will also be processed at Baltimore Underground Science Space.
Throughout the trek, Maryland middle school students will build a BLOG based on the marine plastic debris problems & solutions with the guidance of the offshore team to be posted on both the Ocean Research Project and MD Sierra Club’s website. Post expedition, Maryland high school interns will join the team and help analyze the samples.
The trip will be the longest marine plastics survey in history. The planned route skirts to the south of Hawaii before turning northward toward Japan.
Ocean Research Project is committed to serving the ocean research community. Their mission is to provide data that explores man’s relationship with our planet’s oceans. For more information, visit www.oceanresearchproject.org
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