Skip to content

Getting our sea legs

June 19, 2012

We made it out of Yokohama Marina! We set sail under sunny skies and the crew was all on deck, ecstatic that we were finally under way! We motored out of the marina and our enthusiasm seemed unassailable.  Moments later, I was in the galley when I saw our ship’s first mate Jesse filling up a glass of water and heading back up on deck pausing to say, “we’ve got some sick puppies upstairs.” He was right, Shannon, an affable coordinator for the California Coastal Commission and Laura, a student from Switzerland were both curled up on deck trying to overcome their nausea.  And Kelvin, a videographer from Korea who entertained the crew last week with his vibrant stories of Korean culture, the best way to make kimchi and why Korean ramen beats Japanese ramen, didn’t leave his bunk for the first 48 hours we were at sea.  The sun soon gave way to rain, and heavy gusts of wind created large waves that rocked the boat fiercely from side-to-side, making the seasick crew even more queasy.  I’m hoping for good weather tomorrow and that the crew starts to recover. We’re only a few days into the trip and so much has happened. This voyage is definitely going to be an adventure.


Setting sail for the tsunami debris field

June 7, 2012

Our ship sits in the Yokohama Marina south of Tokyo, waiting for Typhoon Mawar to pass

The voyage hasn’t even started and already it’s been an adventure. After discovering a typhoon making it’s way up the Japanese coastline we decided to stay in the Yokohama Marina south of Tokyo to let the storm pass.

I’m so glad we did because two rowers were stranded while making their way across the Pacific and have just been rescued by the Japanese Coast Guard.

We depart today and will spend three weeks on a 72-foot sailboat traveling from Japan to Maui to track the one million tons of tsunami debris headed toward the west coast of Canada and the U.S.

I’ll be writing about what we find for The New York Times, Civil Beat and possibly even the Boston Globe, whose science editor is interested in a story.

The expedition is organized by 5Gyres, Algalita and Pangaea Exploration and the 13-passenger crew is comprised of scientists, ocean conservationists and documentarians.

A major goal of the voyage is to see what’s out there, how much we encounter and whether any of it is hazardous. Most scientists I’ve spoken with, including scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and NOAA say it’s unlikely that the debris is radioactive since plastic—which will comprise most of the debris field—doesn’t absorb radioactive compounds. Also, most of the debris had dispersed before the nuclear reactors at Fukushima started leaking.

Already, beachcombers in Alaska and California have found debris strewn on local shores. Recent news reports have identified everything from a floating ghost ship to a soccer ball that have made their way across the Pacific—the soccer ball was even returned to it’s owner.

NOAA is accepting emails from anyone who finds heirlooms that could be traced back to survivors of the tsunami.

We’ll be sampling the debris using a manta trawl, free-diving off the debris and we’ll be taking water samples for scientists back at Woods Hole who will analyze the liquid for radioactive isotopes like cesium, something you may have read about recently when news outlets across the U.S. reported that bluefin tuna caught off the coast of California contain low levels of cesium.

I’ll be at sea for three weeks with limited internet access but you can follow the voyage here on my blog or on Twitter @thegarbagegirl.

14 journalists, 12 hours, one midnight adventure

November 8, 2011


At midnight I was pushing a 55 passenger van up the side of a hill. This adventure is just one of many I’ve experienced this week as an IJNR fellow. The Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources selects a handful of journalists each year to spend a week in the field exploring unique challenges facing the natural environment.

Our amiable group is looking at energy issues in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. En route to Colorado last night we got caught in a snow storm and after the chains on our tires broke, all 14 journalists tried in vain to push the van up the hill.

Though we managed to nudge the bus a few inches, it was ultimately our heroic bus driver, Dick Sandlin, who got us all the way to Ignacio, CO. A bus ride that started at 2:15pm ended at 2:30am and I’m certain it was the gummy bears and my boisterous colleagues that kept me going!

The best part about being on the-longest-bus-ride-ever with a group of journalists is that it was well documented! Our fiasco was mentioned in the Durango Herald and photojournalist Michael Kodas published a great post about our entire trip thus far.

The last photo on his post is exactly how I felt when I realized we’d be trapped on the bus for 10+ hours without Internet! But I have to say, this week has been phenomenal and it’s only Tuesday.

Shark Tagging in Miami

October 27, 2011

Last week during a trip to Miami for the Society of Environmental Journalists‘ conference I joined a shark tagging trip led by the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation team from the University of Miami.

We put out 35 bait traps for the sharks and only caught one! Sharks are in decline across the globe due to shark finning, a practice where fishermen haul sharks on board, cut off their fins and throw them back in the water.

Most of the fins are used for shark fin soup. Because shark fins are made of cartilage, they don’t lend any flavor to the soup–only texture and are seen as a status symbol.

After their fins are removed, the sharks end up sinking to the bottom of the ocean and suffocating. Last week 2,000 dead sharks were found at the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Colombia.

But at the University of Miami, researchers are studying sharks’ behaviors in an effort to protect them and hopefully create a shark sanctuary as the Maldives and Palau have done.

This experience tore at my heart and made me feel a level of compassion toward sharks that I didn’t think was possible. The U of M allows people to adopt sharks and the 6 ft. bullshark we caught was named Ben. Ben, this video is for you!

A post turns into a New York Times story

August 15, 2011

Photo by Jillian Keenan

In January I did a post about an amazing man-made landfill island off the coast of Singapore that’s also home to over 700 types of plants and animals and serves as a park for visitors. I spent a few hours on the island and thought it was such an interesting topic that the story might be able to find a home beyond my blog.

After my trip to Singapore, I visited NYC and while I was in the city I called Laura Chang, the Times science editor, who’d helped me publish the Garbage Patch story and I told her about Semakau. “Send me an email,” she said. I quickly sent a pitch and got an email from science editor James Gorman who said they wanted to publish it! I was elated.

Well five months and many drafts later it’s here for your viewing pleasure. This was a great story to write and it’s given me enough encouragement to send some more pitches their way. So stay tuned–if my next idea gets published you’ll be reading about an impressive water-harvesting technique in Africa.

Meet a Forbes contributor

July 20, 2011

You’re looking at one of the newest contributors to Forbes! The editors have signed me on as a regular blogger and I’ll be writing about business, technology and the environment. I have my own page where you can see all my posts and see who I’m following on the site.

I wrote for Forbes in 2010 and then stopped for a bit when I moved to Boston and started working for MIT. You can see some of my old posts about Twitter, Green Vacations and How to Recycle Your Old Electronics on the Forbes archive.

My first post of 2011 went live today and it’s about a new business in Cambridge that just launched their site. You can read the full story here: “Buying local helps schools thrive.”

I am always up for new story ideas so if you think of something that should be covered shoot me an email (

Become a pilot with your iPhone

July 18, 2011

A small, remotely controlled quadcopter that MIT prof Missy Cummings can fly with an iPhone

Ok, you may be asking, what does this have to do with the environment? Former Navy pilot Missy Cummings told me that remotely controlled planes are being used to track the spread of wildfires, to monitor tornado formations and to detect radioactivity from the tsunami in Japan.

I had no idea that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were being used so frequently! Some commercial planes can even fly themselves! Cummings told me,  “You’ve probably been on a plane, and you just didn’t know it, where the pilot never touched anything.”

I was shocked. The full article, “The Sky’s the Limit,” was published in the business section of the Boston Globe today. Oh yeah, for all the seriousness of UAV deployment and the security concerns it raises, I have to include Cummings’ playful idea for how to use the vehicle, which has a camera attached:

“We could tell it to look in the window of Starbucks and see how long the line is.” Wow, waiting in a Starbucks line has never seemed so passé.

* Cummings goes on the Colbert Report next Thursday, look for the episode in August.

[UPDATE August, 19, 2011]: Colbert Report video in now online.