Dry Monsoon

As many of us living in southern Arizona know, it’s been a comparatively dry monsoon.  Normally, in my neck of the desert, Bear Canyon creek is running from all the rain dropped in the Catalina Mountains by summer monsoon storms. As of today, it is dry as a bone from the trailhead crossing on up to the last remaining pools.

However, a storm system is moving our way from the south (remnants of Lorena) and the forecast is 70% rain Monday and 80% Monday night. I’m so hoping for a localized drenching where the washes flood and Bear Canyon creeks flows again. Here’s an aerial I took of upper Bear Canyon at Seven Cataracts after winter rains earlier this year:

Hello again, it’s been a while (Topic: Ocean Plastics)

Dear old blog, I’m back. I’ve missed you! A lot has been going on since I last posted. Well, maybe not a lot, but at least some interesting things came and went since January. For this post I’ll start with the most notable and catch up with other tidbits in other entries.

This Summer Ocean Voyages Institute asked me to be their primary drone operator for their ghost net clean-up voyage in the North Pacific Gyre, also commonly called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The mission took place aboard the Sailing Vessel Kwai. Please watch the video at the end of this post for a better visual description of the project and check out this link, Ocean Plastics for more technical details.

The S/V Kwai in Honolulu before departure. Photo by Greg Joder for Ocean Voyages Institute.

The Kwai is a motor sailor, which makes it perfect for such a project. Her sails would allow us to use much less fuel than a traditional diesel powered vessel thereby lessening our carbon footprint. The ghost net mission lasted 25 days and approximately 2800 nautical miles during which time we collected nearly 40 tons of ghost nets, plastics and other marine debris.

The S/V Kwai under sail. Photo by Greg Joder for Ocean Voyages Institute.

Contrary to popular belief, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not an actual “island” of plastics spinning in the middle of the gyre. The marine debris is widely dispersed within the gyre and can be affected by wind, current and localized storms. As we sailed through the gyre we would pass through areas where plastic bits and pieces passed by every few seconds. We would also find the large entangled masses of lines, nets and other debris which the waves had turned into floating conglomerates. The largest mass we pulled out weighed around 5 tons. We also traveled many miles without seeing any marine debris.

Crew of the S/V Kwai attach lines to a large ghost net bundle in order to haul it aboard. Photo by Greg Joder for Ocean Voyages Institute.

There were three primary ways in which we found marine debris. The first was locating trackers that were already attached to the nets. How did they get there? Ocean Voyages Institute (OVI) gave custom satellite trackers to various ships that were going to travel through the gyre with instructions to attach the trackers to any large masses of ghost nets. We tracked down and found around 18 of these. Since marine debris tends to congregate in currents, we would then send up the drones to search for more debris in the area, guiding the ship to other masses of debris. But, in all honesty, the crew of the Kwai were just as good if not better at times, of spotting debris while searching the sea from the crows nest.

Here is the video of the mission created by Ocean Voyages Institute:

Here is a fun aerial video I made of the Kwai under sail:

Sea Shepherd and the Vaquita

During the first week of January I joined the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s (SSCS) Operation Milagro in the Sea of Cortez. Operation Milagro targets poachers who illegally set gill nets to catch totoaba, an endangered sea bass. In doing so a highly endangered porpoise, the vaquita, is often caught and drowned in the gill nets. The most recent population estimates for the vaquita place the number well below 100 individuals. The number of totoaba remaining is unknown. Our mission is to find the gill nets, pull them from the sea, destroy them and then hand them over to Mexican authorities.

Dead Totoaba pulled from an illegal net. Copyright: Greg Joder/Sea Shepherd.
Dead Totoaba pulled from an illegal net. Copyright: Greg Joder/Sea Shepherd.

Why do the local fishermen target the totoaba? Its swim bladder has purported medicinal and virility enhancement value and is sold for great profit in China.

While I can’t post the best video I’ve taken since Sea Shepherd will be using it in future videos of their own, here is a short video of interesting outtakes:

I am working on the SSCS ship named the Farley Mowat, named after the author who wrote Never Cry Wolf among other works. My primary role on the Farley is “drone pilot” and I am responsible for catching all the action from an aerial perspective not otherwise possible from the ship or a small rigid inflatable boat (RIB). My second role is that of deck crew. In this position I assist the other crew in taking aboard the illegal nets once we find them. This is difficult, back-breaking work as the nets are hundreds of meters long and are set in the shallow, current-filled northern Sea of Cortez waters by anchors that weigh nearly 150 lbs.

The anchors and bagged nets recovered in the span of two nights in the vaquita refuge. Copyright Greg Joder/Sea Shepherd.
The anchors and bagged nets recovered in the span of two nights in the vaquita refuge. Copyright Greg Joder/Sea Shepherd.

During my first few weeks aboard the ship we have found and destroyed over twenty illegal nets and the totoaba season is just beginning. We find the submerged nets by towing a “ray” behind the ship. The ray trails a grappling hook and is designed to skim along below the waters surface and snag the net. Once a net is snagged, a line purposely snaps and the ray and a set of marker buoys is let go into the sea. In this way we can turn the ship around and relocate the buoys, and thus the net.

The Farley Mowat crew investigates a dead whale, looking for signs of entanglement. Copyright: Greg Joder/Sea Shepherd.
The Farley Mowat crew investigates a dead whale, looking for signs of entanglement. Copyright: Greg Joder/Sea Shepherd.

Catching up, moving forward

Mount Lemmon. Copyright: Greg Joder
Mount Lemmon. Copyright: Greg Joder

Yes, I’m still dealing with post-election depression, facing the fact that the president elect’s views and cabinet choices will do their best to destroy nature in return for profit. A lot of damage can be done in four years.  There is a lot of talk about de-regulation and fewer rules.  Given that the GOP will control all three branches, it’s a no-brainer that many important and functioning environmental rules and acts will be cut or debilitated.  Under the next GOP-led administration, say goodbye to the Endangered Species Act, clean air and clean water (EPA).  Not to mention back-peddling on women’s rights, equal pay, pro-choice and public schools.

I despised G. W. Bush, but the next administration promises to be much much worse.

I recognize that I may lose what little viewer-ship I have by stating my opinion here, but that’s OK by me.

For those of you that stick around, thank you!

Here’s the latest… Lot’s of action at the backyard waterhole:

And, chasing a train:

Boulder October

Backlit Aspen Leaf. Nederland, Colorado. Copyright: Greg Joder
Back-lit Aspen Leaf. Nederland, Colorado. Copyright: Greg Joder

I made a quick trip to Boulder, Colorado where I spent time with friends and exploring my old stomping grounds.  I rode my mountain bike through the ranch which is now Open Space.  This brought up feelings of joy, pain, loss and wonder…  The old sign still hangs at the entrance:

Joder Ranch Open Space. Copyright: Greg Joder.
Joder Ranch Open Space. Copyright: Greg Joder.

I also spent time up in Nederland, Colorado and was able to make an aerial flight over Barker Reservoir and the Town:

And there was new snow in the high country:

Mount Audubon. Copyright: Greg Joder.
Mount Audubon. Copyright: Greg Joder.