Trashy Beaches, and not the good kind.

Last week, Sailors for the Sea and 5GYRES met in Hull Cove in Jamestown, RI to train sailing instructors on how to teach with Rainy Day Kits – our environmental lesson plans focused on marine ecology that can be taught to students in sailing programs and other low resource environments. This blog features a new lesson plan, created by 5GYRES, to be available for download on our website later this month!

Program Director Annie Brett teaches sailing instructors about our newest Rainy Day Kit.

Program Director Annie Brett teaches sailing instructors about our newest Rainy Day Kit.

Ever heard of Alexander Parkes? In 1856, he patented the first man-made plastic and as a species we have never looked back. For more than 150 years of using plastic as a panacea for everything from vinyl siding for homes to exfoliates in face wash. Quite a bit of it has ended up in one of five locations: North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic and Indian ocean gyres. And these plastics are dangerous for the ocean environment. Not only is the trouble with sea life eating them or getting tangled, but plastics also accumulates chemical pollutants that can poison organisms.


An instructor sifting through sand looking for mircoplastic.

And the gyres are not the only ocean places where plastics accumulate. They can also be found locally. 5GYRES has designed an excellent new rainy day kit that will allow students to identify and quantify different wastes (including those other than plastic) found on your beach by walking and diving along transects, and sifting through sand. The goal is to collect as much debris as possible, while sorting and counting it according to size and type. This kit provides an excellent thinking point for how our use of plastic, and other disposable materials, can affect a larger environment and  cleans your local beach at the same time!


Debris removed from Hull Cove in Jamestown, RI

5GYRES is committed to stopping the accumulation of plastic pollution in the five subtropical ocean gyres through research and communication.


Seabirds getting hooked

hooked cormorant

A hooked cormorant on the dock in Ft. Lauderdale. Photo by Mark Ivey

Spotted on the dock in Ft. Lauderdale a cormorant that got hooked by his potential meal. It looks like the cormorant was a victim of either a baited fishing line being cut free or longline fishing. Sadly longline fishing kill an estimated 300,000 seabirds every year.  Fishing with hook and line gear or having faster sinking longlines are two changes that the fishing industry can take to prevent hooking birds. Recreational fisherman should always avoid cutting lines and make sure they don’t leave behind any spare hooks or line on shore. Also having regular shoreline clean ups can help reduce fishing line that often washes up on shore, saving bare feet and wildlife.

If you are not a fisherman you can still make a big difference by eating sustainable seafood. Asking questions about how your fish was caught allows you to support fisheries that don’t use longlines. For example, with regards to eating Mahi Mahi, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Guide notes: “Commercial fishermen primarily use longlines and hook-and-line gear to catch mahi mahi. There is considerable concern about bycatch from longlining as sea turtles, seabirds, sharks and marine mammals get caught or entangled, often resulting in injury or death. Fisheries using hook-and-line gear (such as troll, pole-and-line, or handline), catch little to no bycatch and are more sustainable.”

To learn more about Seabirds and the problems they face visit BirdLife International. Special thanks to Mark Ivey for sending the photo, and helping draw attention to this important topic!

Plastic Pollution: Have you caught a bag fish lately?

Plastic bag in oceanThe not so illusive bag fish.

Seaweed, plastic bags, balloons, all of these items have been blamed for slowing a boat down. Whether or not this is due to an anxious sailor, the fact is plastic debris is becoming more common then ever and it can slow your boat down. For our first Sailing and the Environment post we thought about plastic bags and different ways they have proven to be a foe to the boating community.

For any boat with an engine, a plastic bag can prove to be a costly problem. The water intake can suck up plastic bags, which causes overheating and leads to serious damage if unnoticed.

In some harbors, sailing through the current line can be similar to visiting the local dump. This affects racecourse tactics, as extreme current relief is needed to make it worth sailing through the debris and risking what may catch on your keel.

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Some sailboats have tried to combat these problems with innovations such as the kelp cutter. Melges 32’s, 24’s, and 20’s, all have a thin blade on the front edge of the keel, when the boat feels slow, the smallest crew member leaves the rail, pulls the blade up and down to cut the debris and clear the keel. A great innovation but does it work with a plastic bag?

We recently caught up with Moth sailor Anthony Kotoun after just finishing a race in Miami. Anthony said, “Plastic bags can stop us faster that any other debris in the water, and when you are sailing at 20 knots anything you hit is dangerous.” During the event almost every sailor ran into a problem of having trash caught on their foil. For the moth sailor this is a timely incident. To remove the trash they flip their boat or stop and sail backwards. Plastic bags have also proved to cause more serious problems than losing a race. Moth world champion Bora Gulari seemed to have the worst luck with the bag fish, his first run in caused his rudder to rip off. A second incident, with an unidentified culprit, caused a severe crash where he ran into his shroud, cutting his face and requiring medical attention. Seeing as bag fish were everywhere, they seem like the #1 suspect. To read more about the sailing at this event check out Mach2mothusa and scroll down to the middle of Sailing Anarchy’s home page.

So what can you do?

  • The moth fleet tries to pick up the bags they have encounters with; even if they are hoping the guy in 1st will slow down.
  • Ban the plastic bag, in your home, on your boat, at your marina! As a boater reduce the risk of having bags fall into the water by never using plastic bags.
  • Have a trash pick up plan for your regatta or sailing club. Whether this means having pool cleaning nets with the race committee for trash that floats by or dedicating an hour when sailors contribute their time to clean up a beach, no matter how much trash you remove, it all makes a difference.”

Tell us: Have you had any run-ins on your boat with plastic bags? What do you do to help prevent this problem?