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Making Waves: Episode 69 (Feb. 17, 2011)

Podcast script

You're listening to Making Waves. I'm your host, Troy Kitch.

Today, we're going to talk a bit about marine debris. Then we're going to take a look at two recent NOAA stories that tie back to the 1800s. One's about a really cool shipwreck discovery and one's about the Civil War. Good stuff. Let's dive right in.

Marine Debris Conference

The Fifth International Marine Debris Conference is set to take place next month from the 20th to the 25th of March in Honolulu, Hawaii. NOAA and the United Nations Environment Programme are co-organizers of the event.

Marine debris is a big problem around the world. Most people think marine debris is the trash that washes up on the beach, but that's just the debris that you can see. It's also underwater and floating around in the ocean. And it comes in all shapes and sizes ... from microscopic ground-up plastic, to lost fishing nets and gear.

And a lot of it starts out on land. You know the litter you see around your neighborhood? Well, a lot of times this trash ends up in a stream, a storm drain, or some other waterway ... and it can be carried out to rivers and eventually makes its way to the ocean.

When debris is floating in the ocean it's often mistaken for food by marine mammals, birds, and sea turtles. Whether it's a plastic bag that looks like a jellyfish or shiny pieces of plastic that resemble fish - animals will go after this and eat it.

Albatross, for example, eat flying fish eggs, and those are often attached to floating objects. While the eggs are often attached to natural things like wood and pumice, they also attach just as easily to plastic floating in the water. So the Albatross often end up eating a lot of other materials when they eat the eggs.

When animals eat plastic and other marine debris it sometimes results in starvation, but often it contributes to a more subtle problem … these animals can face lower survival rates because they're less fit. That makes them more likely to be eaten by other animals, and because they're weaker from eating marine debris, they're often more prone to parasites or disease and can have reproductive problems.

And these are just a few of the many problems that debris in the ocean is causing.

How do we tackle this problem? Well, that's what the upcoming conference is all about. The event is bringing together international marine debris researchers, natural resource managers, policy makers, industry reps, and the nongovernmental community to look at marine debris from a global perspective. Experts are going to talk about research advances, share strategies and best practices to manage the problem, and look at ways that the international community can better work together.

How can people like you and me help? We can recycle our trash, reduce the amount stuff we use, and reuse as much as possible to generate less waste. And we can help with clean-up in our communities to keep trash out of our waterways. If you'd like to learn more about the marine debris problem and the upcoming conference, check our show notes for links.

1800s Shipwreck Found

Archeologists working with the Ocean Service's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries have found wreckage of a famous 1800's Nantucket whale ship nearly six hundred miles northwest of Honolulu, within NOAA's Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

The ship is the Two Brothers. and it's the first discovery of a wrecked whaling ship from Nantucket, Mass., the birthplace of America's whaling industry. All of America's whaling ships are now gone, broken up or sunk, except one, the National Historic Landmark Charles W. Morgan at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.

Two Brothers was captained by George Pollard Jr., whose previous Nantucket whaling vessel, Essex, was rammed and sunk by a whale in the South Pacific. Sound familiar? The Essex was the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby-Dick.

Pollard gained national notoriety after the Essex sinking, when he and a handful of his crew resorted to cannibalism in order to survive their prolonged ordeal drifting on the open ocean.

After the ill-fated Essex expedition, Capt. Pollard went to sea again as the Master of Two Brothers. Just as he did as Captain of the Essex, he headed to whaling grounds in the Pacific.

But the Two Brothers whaling expedition was once again ill-fated…

On the night of Feb. 11, 1823, the Two Brothers hit a shallow reef off French Frigate Shoals near the Hawaiian islands. Pollard didn't want to abandon ship but his crew pleaded with him and they clung to small boats for survival during a long and harrowing night. The next morning they were rescued by the crew of another Nantucket whaler.

For the past 188 years, the wreckage of Two Brothers has been lost on the ocean floor.

A 2008 NOAA-led expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to study marine life, remove floating marine debris and look for cultural resources resulted in the initial clues about the resting place of the Two Brothers. Maritime archaeologists first spotted a large anchor, followed by three trypots — those are cast iron pots for melting whale blubber to make oil — another large anchor, hundreds of bricks and the remains of the ship's rigging. Those artifacts conclusively indicated the wreckage was from a whaler dating to the early 19th century.

Then, follow-up expeditions in 2009 and 2010 resulted in researchers discovering more artifacts … blubber hooks, five whaling harpoon tips, three whaling lances, four cast-iron cooking pots and ceramics and glass indicating a U.S. origin. This helped confirm the dating of the wreckage. Additional research provided first-hand accounts from Two Brothers crew members, including an approximate location of where the ship grounded, which matched the location of the wreckage. We'll have a link to more details about the shipwreck discovery in our show notes.

Civil War Map

And we're going to stay in the 1800s for our last story today to tell you about a very special map made by the U.S. Coast Survey nearly 150 years ago. The Coast Survey is NOAA's predecessor agency.

What's so special about this map? It shows the distribution of the slave population in the Southern states during the Civil War. And according to both contemporary sources and historians, President Abraham Lincoln used the map to connect military forays to his policy of emancipation.

Now you may take maps and graphs that portray data and trends for granted today, but this was a novel thing to do in the late 1800s. In fact, it was pretty revolutionary. This map was among the first to use shading to represent population. It helped kick off a new trend in statistical cartography.

And it played a role in affecting political change and directing military strategy. Here's how.

Cartographers used shading to represent the human population, with the darkest areas of the maps showing the highest density slave populations. And a list in the map corner shows the number of slaves in each state, and the proportion of slaves to the total population. To Northern audiences studying the map, it was readily apparent that the order of this list, from highest density to lowest, corresponded closely to the order of secession of Southern states. It was clear, in other words, that the first states to secede were those with the most slaves.

According to Civil War-era artist Francis Bicknell Carpenter, President Lincoln often consulted this map in considering the relationship between emancipation and military strategy. Carpenter observed that Lincoln would look at the map and chart the progress of the Union troops in liberating the slaves, a military tactic that was destabilizing the South.

Fascinating stuff. And there's a lot more for you on the web. This map is part of a much larger collection now available online from NOAA's Office of Coast Survey in recognition of this years' 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The collection is comprised of 394 Civil War-era maps, including nautical charts used for naval campaigns and maps of troop movements and battlefields. Rarely seen items include Notes on the Coast, which the Coast Survey prepared to help Union forces plan naval blockades that ultimately helped starve the Confederacy economically ... and annual summaries from the superintendent of the Coast Survey in 1843 which detail his staff's efforts to meet the military's growing demands for Coast Survey products.

Of course, you really have to see these maps and charts to appreciate them. We'll have links in the show notes so you can take a closer look.

(Closing)

Thank you for joining us this week. Write to us as nos.info@noaa.gov if you have any questions or comments about the podcast, the National Ocean Service, or our ocean. And visit us online. Our home on the Web is oceanservice.noaa.gov. And don't forget that you can subscribe to this podcast on our website so you'll never miss an episode … We serve up a feed for your feed reader and we're also on iTunes. You can get those links on our website.


See you in a couple of weeks.

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