Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We just pulled off the first EVER underwater lost fishing gear retrieval in NH waters!

For the last several years, we have gone out to the Isles of Shoals and conducted coastal cleanups of the islands.  Often, we came back with many unfishable lobster traps that had gotten lost and then washed up on shore.  We have also conducted a few side-scan sonar expeditions in Gosport Harbor on Rozalia Project's sailboat, American Promise.  We have seen the bottom of the Gosport Harbor littered with lost traps and other debris and always hoped (and even applied for funding) that one day we would be able to not only detect the gear, but also RETRIEVE the gear.  Well, we got our wish!

Jen Kennedy and Capt. Lee Schatvet
Last week, in collaboration with World Animal Protection (WAP), NH Fish and Game and lobsterman Lee Schatvet (F/V Yesterday's Storm),  we (BOS and NH Sea Grant/Cooperative Extension) were finally able to go out and detect and mark lost/inactive lobster traps with Humminbird side-scan sonars that were loaned by Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Then, we were able to go back and retrieve some of the gear that we found.  This was a two-day project made possible by funding support from WAP and our partnerships with NH Fish and Game and Capt. Schatvet.

Our first day , Wednesday, August 27th, Jen Kennedy (BOS), Elizabeth Hogan(WAP), Kara Wooten (WAP) and myself (NHSG) boarded the Yesterday's Storm and headed out towards the Isles of Shoals with our eyes glued to the screen of the Humminbird, which Lee had mounted on the side of his boat.
Elizabeth Hogan (left) and Kara Wooten
 from World Animal Protection (WAP)
Now, the Humminbird is a great piece of equipment and relatively easy to use, however, the big challenge was being able to see the screen in bright sunlight as well as figuring out if what you were seeing on the screen was really a lobster trap or just rocks.  Additionally, once we were sure that what we were looking at was, in fact, a trap, was determining whether it was, in fact, a lost/inactive trap!  This required confirmation of the presence or absence of a lobster buoy before we were able to mark the spot as a potential waypoint for the next day.  The Hummingbird worked very well in shallower water, but  the deeper we scanned, the smaller the traps appeared and sometimes we couldn't detect anything at all.

The Humminbird 1197c side-scan sonar

We spent most of Wednesday doing transects, looking for traps both in Gosport Harbor and later at the mouth of the Piscataqua River.  In all, we were able to mark 34 potential lost traps for us to go back and try and retrieve the next day.

The next day, Thursday, August 28th we met at Rye Harbor at 7 AM and NH Fish and Game Conservation Officer, Dale Gargac was waiting for us.  In order to be able to do this kind of project in NH waters we need to have a CO present to ensure that what we are hauling up is not an active lobster trap and that the traps we do haul up that are inactive need to be examined and deemed fishable or unfishable.  Touching a lobster trap without the expressed permission of the owner OR without a CO present is illegal under NH law, so it CO Gargac's participation and presence was important and required.

We arrived at one of marked waypoints around 8:30 AM and we quickly got to work.  Capt. Lee had soldered together a heavy duty grapple which is what we needed to lower and drag in order to hook lost gear.

Gabby Bradt hoisting the custom grapple
While Lee lowered the grapple, the rest of us got ready with data sheets and kept an eye on the sonar. However, even though we may have marked locations of potential traps, getting back to that exact spot proved difficult because of the tide and wind.  On the third grapple drag,  we hooked something in the general proximity of several marked traps and we all cheered and hoped that we had hooked a "ghost" trap.  Well, we hooked a ghost trap for sure, along with 7 others- in fact we had hooked onto a lost 8-trap trawl.  This was amazing but we were not expecting to deal with so many traps all at once.  Lee used his winch to haul up trap after trap and we had to jump into action, collecting data, photographing the traps and seeing and counting what animals were inside and outside of the traps.  We had to move quickly in order to return the animals back to the water before they expired.  It was exciting and at times chaotic!  We also had to process the traps and move them out of the way to make room for others.

Capt. Lee Schatvet lowering the grapple

A beautiful sight- hauling up a lost trap- the first of many that day!

A lost lobster trap covered in kelp, sponges and tunicates

While we processed those first 8 traps, Lee kept on grappling in the same area and suddenly, we were hooked on something else.  Yep, he started hauling up a 10 trap trawl, also lost. More data collection, more pictures, lots of "look at all these amazing critters we never get to see" exclamations and lots and lots of Jonah and rock crabs, brittle stars, blood stars, lobsters, fish, worms and spider crabs that used seaweed as camouflage.

All told, we found 24 lost, inactive traps, most of which were still in really great condition and could be used again and over 400 pounds of inactive rope and line.  We were able to release about 127 animals (lobsters, crabs and fish), 51 of them were lobsters, some with eggs, back to the ocean.  While at sea, CO Gargac called the owner of the traps and we were able to return 19 traps to him when we returned to Rye Harbor.  The rest of the traps were deemed unfishable and we disposed of them in a dumpster at Rye Harbor along with the 400 pounds of rope and line.  The traps and ropes were then taken to a waste to energy facility where it would be turned into electricity.
Elizabeth Hogan (WAP) and Jen Kennedy (BOS) processing a ghost trap
Elizabeth Hogan (WAP) returning a beautiful Sea Robin back to the water

Lost trap "Mountain"
Captain Lee Schatvet using a lift to bring the traps onto  the dock
Our goal for this expedition was to find and retrieve lost gear in NH waters to prevent 'ghost fishing' and to make the ocean a bit safer for marine life and for other ocean users.  In NH, approximately 10% of a lobsterman's traps are lost every year as a result of weather or other boaters cutting the lines accidentally. These traps are expensive and the economic impacts are significant in loss of gear and loss of potential catch.  The traps continue to work, they continue to fish even if they are not being actively hauled by their owners.  Additionally, lost gear can accumulate into larger, entangled 'balls' and become safety hazards for both commercial and recreational boaters.  Being able to successfully remove lost gear, return animals to a cleaner habitat, remove potential hazards and return useable equipment to its owner was incredibly rewarding. Working collaboratively with WAP, NH Sea Grant, NH Fish And Game and Capt. Lee was a clear example of the amazing things we can accomplish together and properly and within the confines of the law.  All of the logistical pieces worked as they were intended and we were able to do some good in many aspects of this complicated issue.

 Mission accomplished. For now.

The team. From left to right: Capt. Lee Schatvet, CO Dale Gargac, Elzabeth Hogan (WAP), Gabby Bradt (NH Sea Grant), Jen Kennedy (BOS) and Kara Wooten (WAP).

Friday, May 30, 2014

An Unexpected Cleanup at Smuttynose Island

White Island from F/V Yesterday's Storm
Today, we set off from Rye Harbor at 7 AM intending to go out to White Island, one of the Isles of Shoals. We know that White and its adjoining island Seavey have some old lobster traps and other debris that needs to be removed. Working under a grant from the Fishing for Energy Partnership, we had already secured a dumpster from Northeast Recycling and permission from NH Fish and Game to remove the (unfishable) traps.

White Island, with skiff approaching
As we've found out time and time again when doing these island cleanups, not everything happens as expected. We knew the swells out at the islands might be tough. The island is only accessible by small boat (i.e., a skiff or inflatable), since there isn't a dock on the island. But, we had a very tight weather and biological window in which to do the cleanup. It was a bright, relatively calm and sunny day, and it was one of the last days we could go out to Seavey Island to retrieve marine debris before we would bother nesting terns.

As we got to the island and launched the skiff from the fishing vessel Yesterday's Storm, it soon became clear that it would not only be difficult simply to land on the island - it would be nearly impossible to load derelict lobster traps and other debris onto the skiff, so we could transport them onto the fishing vessel and bring them to the dumpster in Rye Harbor. OK... on to Plan B.

Amy Warren and the iconic Haley House on Smuttynose Island
Not wanting to waste vessel time or that of our staff and volunteers (who, after all, had gotten up super early to pick up debris with us!) we decided to switch gears and see if we could do a cleanup on nearby Smuttynose Island. We did a cleanup on Smuttynose last year and found a lot of debris, and it is accessible from the relatively sheltered Gosport Harbor. That cleanup seemed like a piece of cake in comparison - we quickly found an available mooring, drove over to the island by skiff, and spent the next 3.5 hours combing the island for marine debris.

There aren't any terns to worry about here - but there are great black-backed gulls, and they weren't always too excited to see us (even though we kept telling them that we were ridding their habitat of harmful marine debris).  We can't say we weren't warned...

This is a sampling of what we found:
  • 66 Lobster Trap Pieces
  • 37 Pieces of rope (including two pieces that were about 240 and 100' long!)
  • 3 Beverage Cans
  • 8 Balloons
  • 4 Plastic Bags
  • 49 Plastic Bottles (it always astounds me how many plastic bottles we find on these islands... and none even have messages in them...)
  • 37 Pieces of plastic
  • 64 Pieces of foam
  • 118 Pieces of glass
Some of the more unusual things were: a wooden chair seat, 2 combs, a flip flop, 2 big foam chunks, an orange fender and a large plastic sugar container.

Gabby Bradt from NH Sea Grant, with our haul from the day
In all, we picked up 228 pounds of marine debris from the island - litter that could have threatened the seabirds living on the island, or washed out to sea where it could harm other marine life, such as seals, whales, sea turtles, seabirds and smaller marine animals that make their home in the Gulf of Maine.

We have had a great season of Shoals cleanups so far - before today, we had already removed about 700 pounds of marine debris from Star Island and Appledore Island. We are still hoping to get out to White Island to get that debris before the end of June... stay tuned...

Cleanup crew!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

April Microplastics Beach Blitz is in Full Swing

Our new recruits! 2 beaches down, several more to go!
Finally!! After a very long winter and some panic that the weather would not improve in time for microplastics sampling season, here we are, in full sampling mode!  We have had several successful training sessions at the Blue Ocean Discovery Center in Hampton and I am so pleased with our new recruits! Their patience and eagerness to help out with this "kinks-still-being-ironed-out" project has been refreshing and really enjoyable.  The microplastics study is really exciting and interesting but it is also a work in progress as we try and figure out the best way to sample our beaches given the weather, topography, the number of volunteers and the time that it requires. With all this in mind, the fact that we have such enthusiastic volunteers is wonderful and I thank you!

Wallis Sands State Park-sampled April 7, 2014
For the entire month of April, we will be sampling 12-15 NH beaches and I am pleased to say that we have completed two beaches already, Hampton Beach State Park and Wallis Sands State Park. Both of these sampling outings took place on gorgeous days, which made the time pass by! These two beaches are part of 5 beaches where we have added two more sites with the hope of capturing more of  a "microplastics signal".  By adding more samples, we hypothesize that we will be able to collect more microplastics and get a better idea of how and where microplastics are accumulating. Thus far, we have observed that microplastic accumulations appear to be very patchy. Hopefully, this subset of beaches with the extra samples will help elucidate some patterns so that we can modify our protocols if need be.
Microplastics on our beaches-this is what we are looking for!
In addition to some new Blue Ocean volunteers, we have a star team from the Coastal Research Volunteers (CRV) from UNH. This group of 5 are returning to sample more beaches and they have experience with the protocols and the technology and have been eager to get going. They will be sampling 4-5 beaches that have one designated sampling site.

We hope to finish our sampling by April 30th and we have some dates reserved for the next phase of the data collection- SORTING! Sorting the samples will occur in May which will then give us time to enter the data and do some preliminary analyses before we have our final sampling blitz in August.

We are always looking for extra hands so if you are interested in volunteering, please get in touch with Gabby Bradt or Jen Kennedy for more information.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Want to Help with a Unique Project? Volunteer for Our Microplastics Study!

Microplastics sampling at Wallis Sands Beach
Want to volunteer outside? Interested in marine conservation and research? Help with our microplastics study! 

Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation and NH Sea Grant are working together to conduct a pilot study on microplastics (small plastics) on New Hampshire beaches. Below is a two-minute video with more information:

Want to help?

Here's what it involves:

  • Samplers needed: This work involves being outside on the beach, collecting and sieving sand samples. Fair warning: the work is conducted outside, in sometimes cold weather, and can be a bit tedious, but it is very important! This is the first study of its kind in New Hampshire. The time commitment will be approximately 6 hours in April and August for sample collectors, plus 1-2 hours for training. We are looking either for teams of 5 people, or individuals willing to be matched to a team.
  • Sorters needed: We are also looking for volunteers to work indoors to help sort the samples once they are collected. Time commitment for sorters is about 12 hours total between May and October. April through October. 

For more information:

Join us for an information session on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 6 PM at the Blue Ocean Society office at the Gov. Langdon House, 143 Pleasant Street, Portsmouth, NH. The training will be held in our conference room, which is all the way in the back of the buildilng, on the 2nd floor. Please RSVP to or call 603-431-0260 if you plan on attending.  We hope to see you there!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Adopt-a-Beach Program Expands to South Portland, Maine!

On Sunday, January 12, I had the pleasure of spending a couple hours at the beach with Sarah Heeley and Meghan Pryor and their families.  Sarah and Meghan have just become our first Adopt-a-Beach group in South Portland, Maine! They adopted scenic Willard Beach, a place that was very busy with families and dogs on the nice, sunny day.

A beautiful day for a cleanup on Willard Beach!
Sarah learned of the Adopt-a-Beach opportunity through her mother, Susan DeQuattro, who adopted Cape Neddick Beach in York, ME nearly a year ago. Sarah is a licensed massage therapist who lives near Willard Beach. She said in her adoption application, "I love the beach and want to help keep it clean!  I also want to help educate our community, bring awareness about clean beaches, and set a good example for our daughter." In addition to other family members, Sarah and Megan's daughters Charlotte and Eden - both 2 years old - came along, showing that beach cleanups are great for all ages!

The Adopt-a-Beach program requirements are fairly minimal. All you need to do is download and read our brief handbook (available online here), fill out and send in an application, and we'll set up your first cleanup. A Blue Ocean Society staff member conducts the first cleanup with you and we'll bring you all the supplies you need for your cleanups. We ask for a one-year commitment to cleaning your site once per month. Most cleanups take only an hour - so really, it is a commitment of about 12 hours per year.
Cleaning the beach
At the first Willard Beach cleanup, we picked up about 12 pounds of litter. The crazy thing is that it was 12 pounds of mostly very small things - small pieces of foam, plastic and cigarette butts. But even these little pieces count, because they can potentially be swallowed by animals such as birds and fish.

Thanks to Sarah and Megan and their families for their commitment to a healthy marine environment!

Megan & Eden Pryor, Sarah Heeley

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cleanups Necessary, Even in the Winter

Volunteers at a foggy Jenness Beach cleanup - the first of the year!
Our first public cleanup of the year showed that cleanups are necessary even in the winter. Luckily, today felt more like a fall or spring day than a day early in January.  Nine of us trekked along Jenness Beach, picking our way around the ice as the fog hovered around us.

The beach was relatively clean-looking - we theorized that the recent heavy seas, winds and tides had washed a lot of debris clear across the beach and into the yards of the beach homes and roadways lining the beach.  Still, we managed to collect 25 pounds of litter in a little under an hour!

Plastic and foam pieces were prevalent, as were cigarette butts and bottle caps.  As is often the case in the winter time, we found lots and lots of dog poop - some even already bagged up.

Thanks to the dog owners who are diligent about picking up after their dogs, and thanks to the beach goers and homeowners who join in our efforts by picking up litter they find that has washed into their yards, or that is on the beach during their walks.  It's unfortunate that we have to pick up litter on the beach at all, but I'd rather pick up pounds and pounds of garbage than think about the effects that litter could have on marine life if it washed out to sea.

Our next cleanups are next weekend - on Saturday, January 18 we have cleanups at North Hampton State Beach at 9 AM, and at Cape Neddick Beach in York, ME at 10 AM. Both are small, beautiful beaches that could use your help! If you'd like to sign up for either of these cleanups, email or call the Blue Ocean Society office at 603-431-0260. We hope to see you there! Thanks to the dedicated volunteers who came out today!

Want to support our beach cleanups? Click here to become a member or adopt a whale!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy New Year! First Cleanup Jan 11

Winter is a great time to be at the beach!
Happy New Year!

This is a long-overdue post to this blog, but I'm happy to say that the New Year has brought new resolve to post more frequently...starting today!

This is just a quick post to let you know that our first public beach cleanup of the year will be this Saturday, January 11, at 10:30 AM at Jenness Beach in Rye, NH. All supplies will be provided, although you're welcome to bring your own gloves and reusable bags. We'll also have hot coffee available (you'll get bonus points if you bring your own mug!). To learn more about Blue Ocean Society beach cleanups, click here. If you'd like to see data from our Jenness Beach or other cleanups, click here.

The cleanup usually takes 1-1.5 hours, and is conducted rain, snow or shine (unless travel is unsafe). If it is canceled for some reason, we'll post a message on Facebook and leave a message on our answering machine at 603-431-0260.

RSVP'ing is helpful, but not necessary. If you'd like to RSVP, call 603-431-0260 or e-mail We hope to see you there!