Jennie's Ocean Voyage: The Sea Dragon

***This is part of a series of personal blog entries by’s founder Jennie R. Romer, which will document her trip to study plastic pollution in the North Atlantic Ocean with The 5 Gyres Institute.***

The Sea Dragon is the 72-foot sailboat used by The 5 Gyres Institute for many of its expeditions, including mine. I first learned about these expeditions out into the ocean to research plastic pollution several years ago by watching a Frontline documentary about the discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. As soon as I saw it, I wanted to go. Then I became acquainted with non-profit groups, including 5 Gyres, conducting research voyages that "normal people" could raise money to take part in. These trips commonly required about 30 days or so commitment, and you had to raise $10k+ to join.

I got to know the 5 Gyres Institute better over the years by attending their lectures and speaking at conferences with Stiv. As soon as I heard that they were going on a 7 day voyage in the Atlantic I was in.

When I first committed to the voyage, I had grandiose plans to brush up on my swimming and hit the gym to build my strength and read books about sailing and familiarize myself with Atlantic birds and wildlife. In the end, I just ended up verifying that there would be life vests (personal floatation devices) provided, and showed up.

The first two days aboard the Sea Dragon have been more trying than I’d expected. The weather is great, and leaving the clear turquoise water of Bermuda was beautiful and the sea was calm.  Then the realization hit me that I’d be sharing close quarters for a week, including bunking in basically a small hallway, with five other people. My little cave of a bunk could barely fit my six foot frame - with only three feet of vertical space ..... and the only other designated personal space that I have is a 2’x3’ cubby.

And then there’s the sea sickness. Luckily I don’t generally get sea sick, and have not had to take any sea sickness medicine..... but the look on almost everyone else’s faces has been dreadful.  A few people are incapacitated by sickness and we aren’t even in rough seas yet. Writing a blog on a small-ish boat is way more difficult that I thought as well, since I don’t want to press how long I can sit to be down in the stuffy galley before succumbing to nausea myself.  I must say though, sitting up towards the bow and looking out at the vastness of the ocean is inspiring.

We have not been seeing as many big plastic pieces or debris fields as I was expecting, but our trawling the ocean surface for microplastic has been disturbingly fruitful. We trawl the ocean surface for one hour every few hours and we generally get a sample of sargassum, a type of seaweed, (we are near the Sargasso Sea) mixed with microplastic particles and small ocean critters including crabs, shrimp, and Sargasso toad fish. These plastic bits look very similar to what we saw in Bermuda. The attached picture shows a sample from trawling about 100 miles from Bermuda, which is full of sargassum and tiny bits of plastic. How intertwined the sargassum and plastic is shows that plastic is becoming part of the food chain and makes the idea of cleaning up plastics in the ocean seem even less viable.

Here is information about the sampling that we are doing:

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