We will pass on this 72 day journey the Caribbean Islands of Guadeloupe, the Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, before we will cross the Atlantic Ocean with it’s garbage patch, stop over at the Azores and end the journey on the European mainland. On our stops we will engage with local watersport professionals, conservationists and scientists to learn about their work and to cooperate with them locally.
PLASTIC MAKES UP BETWEEN 60 TO 80% OF THE TOTAL MARINE DEBRIS
Guadeloupe / start of project
After a lot of preparations over the last months, the Aquapower Expedition crew has finally arrived in Guadeloupe. We chose this island as the first destination on our journey to show what ocean pollution is destroying but on the other side how people find ways to protect this paradise.
With regards to the underwater world, Frauke, our marine biologist was quite shocked after the first dive as a lot of the reefs are rather dead than alive. Luckily, there are still some “hope spot” where we have been rewarded with a garden full of sponges, soft corals and anemones. However, heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers on land for agriculture have led to coral reef degradation as both pesticides and fertilizers have been washed from land into the sea, with devastating effects on the marine life. To restore the coral reefs and to help to recover the fish populations, which are suffering from overfishing, the Aquarium of Guadeloupe has implemented several programs such as the coral restoration project and the fish nursery. To learn more about their conservation efforts we have been invited by Mariane Aimar who is working at the ‘Ecole de la Mer’, the ocean school located at the Aquarium of Guadeloupe. By teaching school kids about marine life, the aim of the Ecole de la Mer is to raise awareness by educating the next generation of young conservationists.
During our stay we have seen a lot of plastic littering on the beaches and therefore organized together with “Ecole de la Mer” a beach-clean up. Accompanied by 30 pupils from a local school we will collect the litter and teach the children the impacts of pollution on our environment.
Meanwhile, Camille and Flo have been surfing some decent waves over the last few days and leaving a big smiles on their faces. The forecast looks promising to score some windsurf conditions over the next few days as well.
We keep you up to date…
Aquapower Expedition / Video in Guadeloupe
The Virgin Islands are a pearl in the Caribbean Sea and one of the places where nature has created something unique behind every corner such as crystal clear lagoons, white sandy beaches and a rich underwater world that takes your breath away.
We started our search for new surf spots in St. Thomas and continued to Anegada a flat island made of corals. After six hours sailing straight against the wind, we finally found a beautiful setup with a perfect shaped reef with offshore trade winds. Unfortunately, the only thing we did not find were some waves to ride, but nevertheless we used the time for freestyle sessions and paddled around the island with our inflatable SUP boards. On our way back we passed Necker Island and anchored the “Double A” just in front of Richard Branson’s private beach.
To complete our team Boujmaa Guilloul jumped straight from the plane into the water to use the light winds for a kiting session.
We finally surfed some small waves along the north shore of the island Tortola and organised a meeting with local conservation experts to talk about ways how to protect the coral reefs surrounding the islands and how to implement new ways of waste management in this area.
The final highlight was a SCUBA dive to the shipwreck of the R.M.S. Rhone, which sunk in 1867. The wreck has been transformed in a colourful artificial reef full of life and Frauke couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day as it was one of the best dives she ever had.
For more impressions check out the gallery and the upcoming web episodes.
Now, we are on our way to the Dominican Republic…See you soon!
Aquapower Expedition / Video in Virgin Islands
From the Virgin Islands we continued our expedition on a three days sailing cruise to the Dominican Republic. At the first night it was Boujma shift to prepared the diner for the crew. Somehow the turkey in the ofen caught fire and ones we realised it, big flames and smoke came out of the kitchen. After some hectic moments and a big shock we had the situation under control. After three days and nights, some daily workout and countless shooting stars over night, we arrived safe in the port of puerto plata on the north shore of the island.
The next morning we checked in at the customs and we sailed the boat to Cabarete, a surf village on the north shore of the Dominican Republic. Here we found a perfect spot to anchored “double A” in a wide bay surrounded by palmtrees. The next morning we woke up by the sound of breaking waves of an outside reef. Our timing seemed to paid off as the swell was rising when we took the first waves on our surfboards. It felt amazing to finally surf some proper waves just on our own. In the afternoon the wind even picked up for a really good windsurf session on a spot called encuentro. The waves were really powerful with no room for mistakes. The show was on. Boujma , Flo and our Skipper Adrian on his kite had a really good session till the sun dissapear behind the horizon. The next day it was Frauke, our marine biologist who was desperately looking to dive with whales. Unfortuntely we found out that they just left this area a couple of weeks ago to go further north. Instead we discovered a beautiful coral nursery that got carefully inspected by our camera crew.
After a short week of surfing, windsurfing and diving we prepared ourselves for the long passage to Bermuda.
Aquapower Expedition / Video in Dominican Republic
With mixed feelings we left the warmth of the Caribbean and started sailing towards Bermuda. Our six days crossing took us through beautiful clear and starry nights with countless shooting stars and even meteors going down, but also some rough seas. Three days before we arrived Bermuda our main sail ripped in 45 knots of heavy headwind, which Adrian managed to fix preliminary. After a very bumpy ride we all were very happy to see the first signs of civilisation. Colourful cottages, all with white rooftops, embedded in sappy green hills and crystals clear bays warmly welcomed us. In St. Georges, a small and beautiful town we tied up our boat to stay there for four days. We were amazed by the open and friendly people we have met everywhere we got to; police officers serving us local home-made food on board, a lady helping out with some change for the bus ticket and a beautiful old lady taking care of our laundry. Summing up, the Bermudian people perfectly combine the relaxed Caribbean lifestyle with British politeness and take it to perfection.
As Bermudian waters are famous for whale and tiger shark encounters, we met Choy Aming, a filmmaker and local tiger shark and whale expert for a one-day whale-watching trip. Thanks to him and his colleague Chis, a professional wildlife photographer, we were so lucky to swim with a pair of humpback whales, which was a truly breath-taking experience. On that same trip we were shocked to find some Saragassum seaweed, which acted like an accumulation zone for microplastic. Just by taking some seaweed samples, our hands were covered with tiny plastic particles, the same particles the humpback whales might ingest when feeding on plankton.
Flo buddied up with some local surfer who took him to some secret surf spots where he also discovered some beautiful wild bays using his SUP.
As usually, beautiful moments end too soon and so we prepared ourselves to cross the big pond by stocking up our food and water supplies. Sadly, we also had to say good-bye to Greg and Pierre our French photo and filming team, both amazing professionals with a great sense of humour. Thanks to their beautiful personalities and great professionalism we enjoyed working with them very much. Ahoy guys- see you in Marseille!
Luckily, Doro a German cinematographer joined the team to continue their work. Never been on board for a longer period of time, Doro left the airplane, entered the boat and started her first sailing trip by crossing the Atlantic Ocean straight away. Brave girl! Next stop Azores.
Christopher Columbus used to say that you can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. So we followed his advice and crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
When you are on sea, time seems to follow different rules when you see nothing but blue water and 14 days of passage can feel like a lifetime. Not surprising though, that we were all very happy when the first glimpse of the Azorean shoreline appeared on the horizon. Warmly welcomed by the green volcanic island Flores and feeling solid ground under our feet almost instantly blew away any fatigue. Flores has a very unique fauna shaped by wind and weather and is also known as the island of flowers due to it’s many blue hydrangeas covering the ground. Even though we just had a quick pit-stop on Flores to temporary fix our sails and to refuel, it was enough to recharge our batteries to continue to our final destination of the Azores, the island São Miguel. On the three days trip to Ponta Delgada the capital of São Miguel, we were accompanied by dolphins and whales. The Azorean waters are well known among whale watchers as 24 species of whales, which makes 25% of the world’s known species, can be found in this natural sanctuary in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
When we finally arrived in São Miguel, we had to say good-bye to our skipper Adrian who had to go back home to Fiji to take care of his marine plastic upcycling program. With military-like commands he managed to bring us safely back on shore and by sharing his pearls of wisdom he made us laugh many times. Thanks to Adrian we have learned a lot about the different types of plastic and most important, how to take action by upcycling marine debris. It was great to have you on board Adrian, thanks very much for being such a great addition to our team!
After watching the swell for two weeks from board, Flo was desperate to hit the ocean and even though the Azores are not very well known for good surf conditions, Flo managed to find the perfect spot near Ponta Delgada to score some solid waves together with some friendly locals- an unexpected present from Mother Nature.
Marine debris and climate change are considered as the most pressing threats to our oceans and to highlight the impacts of climate change we interviewed Maria Vale, a marine biologist of the University of the Azores, who showed us the effects of climate change on the local marine fauna and flora. To learn more about climate change and its impacts, please check out episode 11, which will be uploaded soon.
With Adrian gone, Felix Oehme, an experienced skipper who has crossed all the world’s oceans joined our team. With his calm, organised and humorous attitude he managed to bring some fresh spirit on board, providing us with new energy for the final part of the expedition.
After three days in the Azores we set our sails again to cross the last bit of the Atlantic Ocean. As soon as we lost sight of the shore, the wind was filling our sails providing us with the perfect sailing conditions. With five days of heavy winds and sailing against the waves, some of us had to fight against strong seasickness, making it impossible to take care of daily tasks such as computer works, writing, editing video episodes, boat cleaning, and cooking. However, Neptune had mercy and after five days of suffering, we were rewarded with one day of calm sea, which we used to jump off board to take a swim. Attracted by us splashing around, a group of short-finned pilot whales together with some dolphins came to say hello as soon as we were back on board and stayed with us for about 20 minutes. It was interesting to see that the leading animal approached the boat slowly to check us out first before giving the OK to rest of the group, which then slowly followed.
With an average boat speed of 7 knots, the European mainland was coming closer with every mile passed and increasing sea traffic marked one of the busiest sea-lanes in Europe. First insects on board and seagulls showed us that land was not far anymore.
The crossing of the Atlantic Ocean
The crossing of the Atlantic Ocean was an experience none of us will ever forget. It was special, beautiful, exhausting, breath-taking, tiring, emotional and even scary sometimes. Simply, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
During our 14 days journey to the Azores, starting in St. Georges, Bermuda, daily life on board followed a precise schedule of three hours duty on the bridge, followed by six hours of free time mainly used to eat and sleep, again followed by three hours of duty, six hours of free time and so on. The days passed by and routine started to settle in. As it just took us 15 steps to go from one end of the boat to the other (no real challenge for our legs though), it was important to do daily exercises to keep both body and mind balanced and to prepare us of what to come.
Even though the crossing was mainly calm, we experienced some rough weather, which taught us that humans are just tiny splashes in a huge bowl of water. At winds of more than 45 knots, waves were crushing over the bridge and some human errors left us with a Code Zero sail ripped into pieces and a damaged main sail. Our captain Arne used to say, ”it’s more fun to have done it than doing it” proving that he is a very wise man. Luckily, every storm is followed by the sun, giving us the chance to relax and recharge after some scary moments.
As further away we got from shore the conversations got shorter, our eyelids heavier, and visual input got rare. Watching the horizon in general is beautiful and helps sometimes to find answers to the questions of life. However, staring at the sea for 14 days can get very boring and occasionally doubts about a healthy mental state of mind arose. Luckily, regular visits of dolphins and whales were uplifting our moods, stunning sunrises, colourful sunsets and starry nights reminded us how lucky we were to be able to experience such beauty.
The route took us through the Atlantic Garbage Patch, an area in the North Atlantic, where marine debris tends to accumulate as bounded by oceanic currents. As the name ‘Atlantic Garbage Patch’ suggests a condensed area full of garbage, it’s tempting to think that this area looks like a carpet of debris covering the oceans surface. However, that is not the case, as the real plastic problem cannot be seen straight away. To visualise the problem, we applied a scientific method called plankton trawling. A plankton net is a kind of a miniature fishing net with a very fine mesh size of 333 micrometres to catch tiny planktonic animals such as fish and shellfish larvae (for more detailed information about plankton, please check out our facebook posts). As plastic tends to degenerate into small particles by for example UV light and wave action, the plankton net was used to ‘fish’ for these so called microplastic particles. Each trawl, which was not longer than one hour, covered just a very short distance, but revealed a sad truth. In every sample, we found microplastic particles mainly consisting of degenerated PVC, small pieces of plastic foil and many tiny fibres potentially deriving from fishing nets, ropes and polyester clothing. Even though literature has taught us about microplastic, we were shocked to see the sheer amount of those tiny particles polluting the ocean. Here, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and hundreds of miles away from land, the saying of “if you don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it is not there” was sadly proven right.
Crossing the Atlantic has made each of us richer as we were allowed to experience the raw elements Mother Nature has to offer and to remind us that we are just a tiny drop in a big ocean. That same ocean now needs our help as its slowly suffocating by the plastic we produce and dump. So let’s take action by reducing our plastic consumption, spreading the word and putting pressure on governments. Alone, we are not able to change much, but together we can help the ocean to regenerate.