1.26.2011

What moves when the engine stops.

Most days in the last week started with crepes (very thin pancakes). Yesterday started with oatmeal.

Crawling out of the galley, I eased in to a quasi-puddle of four crewmembers melted on portside deck of the boat, washed aglow with watercolor magic that the sunrise was painting across the sky. 6am… Smiling. Content. Glowing.

"Nine days left," Menzies laments to the ocean, without turning her eyes towards us. I nod my head and chew the last of my oatmeal.

It was one of those moments in which, retrospectively, I shoulda coulda woulda let my occasional belief in superstition prevail. But, the closest piece of wood to knock on was the dive compressor casing at the other end of the boat, and truthfully, nothing about Menzie's statement seemed off.

We're nearly through the gyre, and thus close to completed on the research front. Since entering the accumulation zone, we've trawled every 60 nautical miles to conduct sampling on the presence and characteristics of plastic organic pollutants in the ocean. Every sample we've pulled has been plastic-positive, and the last few days have been particularly prolific. That said, in contrast with the other 5 Gyres South Atlantic expedition from November, the presence of large macro debris – pieces like bottles, milk crates, etc. – has been largely absent from this voyage.

Part of the reason we're able to have such successful and accurate trawling is because we've had NO wind. It's not a surprise… we're cutting through the center of a high-pressure zone that most boats blatantly avoid. However, no wind equals a calm sea state, which equals minimal disturbance of plastic buoyancy in the water column, which equals good research… BUT no wind means adding the boat's engine to the sailing equation to optimize timing – both of the trawls, and of getting to Uruguay. We've come to know the engine as a necessary evil, and the sails – though up – are itching for some autonomy.

And then we had today.

First, we entered a down-welling – where two surface currents meet and the water gets pulled down in the seam between them, creating a visible line through the water. Both down- and up-wellings are indicative of conditions where macro debris collects.

In this particular one, there was a bolus… a massive mess of plastic nets and ropes that have collected and spun together, catching other plastic and debris as it floats. It's like gold in plastic hunting.

The next 5 minutes were a flurry of activity that we've yet to see on the boat.

"Shut the engine off! Pull up the trawl! Grab the hook from the fore peak!"

Lucky for us, we have a South African artist on board whom – I kid you not – brought a handcrafted spear with him for slaying plastic pieces from the sea. With practiced grace and I would imagine a bit of channeling to a video game of his youth, Simon launched it over board and stuck the spear straight through the bolus's heart.

As he pulled it closer to the ship, crew rushed over to examine and document, and…

Then we heard a really bad noise.

Snapping of guard wires. No one actually saw it happen, as by the time we looked over, there was just an opening across the railing directly out to the sea. And no trawl. Our beloved high-speed trawl was now dangling not-so-dramatically under the boat, having been ripped off the deck by its haul line that had stealthily slid off the deck and wrapped around the propeller.

And it broke the engine.

And there was no wind.

I suddenly remembered a definition of plankton that had come up sometime in the last few days – "organisms that lack the ability to self-propel." It seems, just like that, we'd been reduced to plankton in the sea. Great.

Here's the thing though - what I love about this boat is that no one stopped for a second to complain, question or be melodramatic. Our skipper and first mate had nothing but measured leadership and great communication to get us through the rest of what is, to date, my most favorite day of the trip.

When there's no wind, what do you do? Dive down and clean the line off the propeller. Free dive to get images of the bolus… and find an entire ecosystem of crabs, feeder fish and barracuda that had colonized this floating monument of plastic as their home, shelter and South Atlantic taxi. Learn that a dive tank and regulator unit can be used to inflate a buoy and lift up the engine inside the boat (as the trucker's hitch didn't work). Make art out of plastic debris. Jump off the ship and swim after dinner, doing synchronized aerial tricks off the after guy spinnaker line as the sun sets.

And as with most things in life, it could be worse. This could have happened in the very center of the gyre, where the hope for wind would be days away from where we are now. Or worse, we could be on a motorboat. But, lucky us, we have sails and we're going to learn to use them really well now. (All we need is some wind!)

Last night, I watched the last golden fingers of sunset retract back over the horizon from the same spot on the boat as where I'd sat at sunrise… the boat facing the opposite direction from its proper course, but happily bobbing north nonetheless. And then, for the first time in my life, I saw stars shine so bright on an ocean so flat, that there was a mirror image of sky to sea. The deepest, darkest sapphire blurred out the edges that differentiated water from air along the horizon, smoothing the view in to one blanket of diamonds that wrapped us in to the moment.

I don't know when we'll trawl next, or when we'll get to Uruguay… but life, my friends, is not so bad.

(** Brief update – it's the next day and by the grace of our good whistling, the wind we requested is starting to come in… after watching it read "zero" for 24 hours, we're up to a 5 nautical miles per hour! Good ol' Sea Dragon.)

1.25.2011

Soul Glow.

Today I dove off the bow of the ship and plunged headlong in to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

I'm too excited to write about anything else!

More soon... excitement going down over here.

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1.23.2011

Haikus at 6:00

Every day around 6:00pm, our skipper puts down his bowl and spoon, and edges himself to the top of a winch or the top of the stairsso that his voice is heard over the rest of us still chattering away.

"Well, it's Groundhog Day," he says.

The humor doesn't escape us… looking out over the rolling blue backdrop to our "Clive at 5" news segment (the fact that it's really at 6 is largely irrelevant), we can all give a knowing smile to that analogy. It's been well over a week since we've seen another ship, and as we're well past the half-way point of the voyage, the daily rigmarole is just that – a smooth (most of the time) motion of sail up, sail down, trawl in, trawl out, etc. The days, the shifts, the meals roll one in to the next, marked with the passing of each pastel sunrise and neon sunset.

The other piece that doesn't escape my purview is the fact that – to be honest – I hate that movie. I think I really felt sick after watching it. I can understand the final moral to the movie, but watching the repetition and feeling Billy Murray's dismay as he woke up to the same day, over and over again, was truly excruciating.

What happens on a boat, however, is anything but mundane. I'm learning that the longer you spend at sea, the more you start to find the beauty in the things that you would otherwise pass by. Time to think breeds clarity in the waves, magic in the stars, awareness of process, and appreciation of the little things – like dancing on the spinnaker pole, laughing till your sore in the side, or staring with disbelief at the large heap of plastic that you just pulled up out of the trawl… artificial, yet teaming with colonized life.

Lucky for us, once a day, we all get together to have "family time." It's a bit like Kindergarten Show-And-Tell, where one crewmember takes the time to talk about whatever they want to the rest of the crew. Some are serious, some inspirational, and some just for fun… but the diversity of this crew shines through in these moments, and we have time to push our minds in ways outside the daily routine.

Last night, I led the boat in a haiku writing exercise. Not because I'm particularly addicted to haikus, but because I feel like their simplicity has the capacity to hold so much more – much like the structure of this boat filled with the potential of so many amazing people. We each took 5 minutes to write as many haikus as we could, and then took an additional 5 minutes to write just one. With so many innovative people on the boat with end projects in mind, it's important for us to keep in mind the dynamic between forcing creative space and giving it room to flow.

From our crew to you, here is a snapshot of what's going on in our heads. Enjoy!

Ebb and flow bouncy
Come on wind, blow your hardest
Give a gentle push

Check out the sunset
I'm sorry friends and family
I ain'tcomin' home.

Check out the sunset
Salt and sun run through my veins
This is my new life.

Waves bring clarity
Hope and smiles inspire
Over the engine.

Land ho horizon
Our last water dreams quicken
Angst now for land found

Little monsters drift
In the waves they cannot hide
To the gyre, they conspire.

Looking yonder far
Bits of people dreams so dear
Wasted nature gone.

Clive and Dale captains
Rest of us plastic hunters
Together we sail.

Where are we going?
Let's go back to Africa,
Back to the big dunes.

In the confusion
We will always find the light
And choose to ignore.

Steak, shroom sauce, red wine…
Homemade bread and apple pie.
Sometimes we eat well.

Die littering scum.
Ocean suffers so bad.
Fish and birds die, too.

We are here now,
We were there before.
Where do we go?

Plastic riddles us.
Floating monuments of waste…
Must change. Let's start now.

Manta Manta Trawl –
You fly in the blue water
Eating plastic. Yum.


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1.19.2011

A magnified sample from the Manta Trawl.

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Sarah Menzies and Megan Ponder Filming

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1.17.2011

St. Helena Pit Stop

My newly found land legs floundered briefly below me, and I grabbed for firmness, plopping down on a wooden log bench next to three islanders. Overlooking the harbor of Jamestown, St. Helena, the tanned and elderly men looked back with amusement from under their bright yellow hard hats at the creature that had just washed up on their bench… I was definitely not an endemic species to the island. Regardless, this is not Manhattan, and there was a sweetness sent through their eyes… sweetness, mixed with story, mixed with island calm and a twinge of hardship.

I liked them instantly. It was a split second deduction I'd made with a handful of other characters on the islandwithin just hours of landing.Like the woman at Napoleon's Hotel who taught me that the rainbow sprinkles I requested for my icecream are in fact called "hundreds and thousands." Like Genevieve from the welcome office, who touched my arm with a laugh when I fell asleep in her lobby with a book of St. Helena marine life open on my lap. Or like Dave, whose words of advice were "don't drive off a cliff" as he trustingly gave me the keys to his car that I drove on the left side of the road and operated the manual gears with my left hand for the first time in my life. And just like Susan at the St. Helena National Trust, who'd yacked it up with me for a quarter of an hour, calling her girlfriend who worked down at the Castle who was Jonny's girlfriend, and told me to find him at the docks.

"Good afternoon," I smiled.

"Hello there," said the dockworker closest to me, tipping his hat. "You must be from the yacht." Everyone in town knew we were here. It had come in on the radio the evening prior.

I came to look for "Jonny at the docks."
"I am." For some reason, it felt good to be known… like coming home after a week at sea. Pointing to the Sea Dragon, that was anchored on the perimeter of all the working ships, bobbing bright blue in the sapphire water, I acknowledged, "That's her over there. You guys wouldn't happen to know Jonny, would you?"

Moments later I was hearing strains of a conversation with the alleged Jonny over Channel 16 on the old man's radio. Jonny, as it turns out, was not at the docks, but rather out on a boat doing maintenance and wouldn't be able to take us diving that afternoon. A 1901 shipwreck, the stern of which was just visibly poking through the water, teased from about 20 yards away. Tomorrow, maybe.

I turned back round to face the island – rugged, jagged cliff's rose straight up out of the sea, the waves working their cave-cutting magic on their eroding faces. Jamestown ran a rainbow vein of rooftops and Georgian architecture up the middle of the valley, and at the top, the faint hint of rainforest hung like a canopy to the island in it's own right. Trophy birds swooped gracefully from one dramatic ridge to the next, their long tail feathers flashing through the flax, cactus and eucalyptus.

Where to then?

It's a funny thing to wash up on land for just 36 hours, a week into a transoceanic expedition. Odd, in that we've only just gotten in to the rhythm of boat life and our worlds, in a sense, have shrunk to 72 feet in length coupled with endless horizon. It's beyond sensory overload to all of a sudden be on land with other people, currency, backwards cars and a whole new geography. But the kicker is a suspended reality of sorts… the weight of what's to come once we leave St. Helena.

It's funny to be on the hunt for plastic. Teetered just 400 miles north of the gyre, St. Helena feels like a funny rest stop where I get to get out of the car and evaluate what the heck is going on. In days time, we'll sail due south and turn a hard southwest in to the South Atlantic Gyre, stopping every 60 miles to trawl for plastic marine debris on the surface of the ocean. On the one hand, I'm stoked to be involved with research that is unveiling the seldom-seen truths of our world's oceans, and the "plastic monsters" that lurk within. On the other hand, I really don't want to deal with the heart sinking truth that I'm holding a plastic reality of overproduction, gluttonous consumption and artifacts of a plastic era in my hands every time I clean out the trawl.

So as far as St. Helena's concerned, it's one foot in front of the other… pause on questions, and move forward with gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to visit one of the most remote islands in the world. Literally, one foot in front of the other 699 steps high – up Jacob's Ladder, an old staircase that leads to the rainforest plateaus above Jamestown. Accelerated steps down to the beach, to do my first beach plastics transect and hold my first nurdle (a 5 mm plastic pellet) in my palm. Two steps forward to feel the rush of the waves over my feet, and 15 quickly back as the wave crashes up over me. One broad step off the side of the boat to submerge in an underwater world for an hour of blissful diving, finding flight and weightlessness.

And a final step on to the water taxi after an amazing 2 days in St. Helena – refreshed, amazed and ready for the next leg of our journey. As we ferried back to the ship, excitement among us to get in one last sunset swim and dive before setting sail, I notice there's another man on the boat, smiling at me."You must be Sara,"he says. "Sorry I missed you, I'm Jonny."

Go figure. Jonny at the docks. "Great to meet you," I said. "Maybe next time around."

Guess that timing just has a way of working itself out. Island time, working time, discovery time, boat time… As I sit here writing this, we've just turned in to the gyre, and the ocean is still as a lake. I'm flanked on either side by some of the most amazing women I've ever had the privilege of knowing. The sunset burning behind us has turned in to a road of silver behind the boat, cascading down from the nearly full moon. The stars shine, SigurRos plays on the deck speakers, and a tear for much of the world hangs in more than one of our eyes. May it reflect where we're coming from, where we're headed, and the beauty of the moment that. Is. Now.

Where We Are And Where We Are Going And Where We're Sampling

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Pulling In The Trawl

1.10.2011

Finding my groove.

Remember that game as a little kid… there was a wooden box and the surface of it had a raised maze built on it with holes cut out to the interior of the box. The goal was to navigate the maze with a marble by negotiating the use of two nobs on either side of the box to control the axes and the tilt of the marble in the maze.

A turn of the knob too far on the right, or not quick enough with the left hand to send the marble down the corridor to the left and not to the right, and the it would drop with a disheartening thud in to the bottom of the wooden box.

I've found the real life version of that game, and it's called Life on the Sea Dragon.

Except instead of holes in to the bottom of a box, there's a mix of other obstacles to not fall in to… of which we've all become quite the connoisseurs. Ping ponging down the hallways of the boat is a careful game of don't fall in to a crewmate's bunk (especially the captain's!). There's also how well can you get from behind the table in the salon area, turn a hard left, then a hard right 5 feet later through a 2 foot opening in to the kitchen and an immediate hard right to the sink. Another good one is how quickly can you extract yourself from your stretcher-esque bunk, dodge the teetering 4-tiered stack of veggies and fruit, and run to the heads (the toilets) at the opposite end of the boat to lose dinner. Or my personal favorite, don't fall off the boat.

You have to understand that I'm laughing as I'm writing all of this, and 24 hours and 7 puking sessions after leaving port in Walvis Bay, I'm really enjoying my time on the boat. It makes me laugh to have to walk up hill in the kitchen. I'm getting a kick out of pretending I'm surfing a wave on the deck as the boat rocks back and forth. There's already a joke on the boat to just dance it out… stumble, fall, trip, but recover with some grace and some groove. That I've found so far, the best places for dancing are on the spinnaker pole that shoots out perpendicular to the boat of the main mast, and also the front area of the boat that we call the "beach," where there's plenty to hold on to and swing around on. The dancing ends up looking a little erotic, but I'm sure we'll get more style as we go!

Things are great, and the more used I get to the boat's movement, the more pulled together these blog posts will be, as it's still a tad nauseating to sit still and run fine motor tasks. But, the weather is gorgeous, the crew is fantastic, and we're eating really well (though keeping it down is another story). Oh, and the boat has a killer sound system.

1.07.2011

So yeah...

... I get seasick.

I'm on a boat.

January 5th. Simon, Sarah, Megan and I are lined up on the starboard side of the boat, seated and slightly gangly-oriented over a load of sheets and lines, slack-jawed and staring at the sunset of our lives. Bright hues of magenta and orange reflect like an oil slick and run toward where we sit on the boat, refracted by the shadows of 100 seabirds fishing for delicacies in the evening light. It's ocean for as far as we can see.

"You know, it's funny," Megan says, "that we're sitting here staring out at the ocean when it's all we're going to see for the next 30 days."

Insert irony, of the scene 180 degrees behind us - a mix of shipping containers, barges, oilrigs and merchant buildings. The exhaust from smoke stacks lining the harbour rises in to the sky and mingles with the approaching night. Smaller yachts and boats at anchor bob up and down in the harbour of Walvis Bay, Namibia. Slightly pink like alpenglow in the Rockies, dunes of the Kalahari Desert loom with authority behind the city.

Translation: it's the last sight of land we'll have for quite some time, and yet none of us can tear ourselves away from looking out over the endless ocean, brilliant sunset, and the impending adventure.

It's really emotional, and I struggle in the moment to find words to adequately capture what I'm feeling... why I'm so excited to go see something so tragic... why I'd like to live on a boat for a month when I'm claustrophobic... and etcetera on with the how's and why's and I wonders. So far, I've just got Polaroid moments of feeling coming through - inspriation, creativity, exhilaration, discovery, humanity, cleansing, collecting.

That said, there are some things I HAVE figured out already... like a whole sort of sailing euphemisms. After several tours through the deck and down below with both Stiv - my colleague with 5 Gyres - and Clive - the Skipper - I've found myself between states of half-smirking to full on giggling as I finally understand the consequences of NOT "battening the hatches!" or why folks have been wishing for us to "have the wind at your back." I even got a proper run at "swabbing the deck" in today! It's fun to infuse all the new vocabulary - and to date, it's all functional and not as much swearing as one might imagine from a bunch of sailors.

In addition to the sailing tutorials and orientations to the research we'll be conducting at sea (more to come on that in the next post), it's been just nice to settle in, unpack, and make some sense out of "home" for the next month. My bunk is a long swath of blue canvas loosely strung between two bars about 3 feet wide. There are fabric walls to the bed that wrap up around and strap over us in case of high seas. Much of the aft (back) area of the boat is a produce locker at the moment, and it's fragrant of pineapples, passion fruit, and oranges. All of my stuff is in a milk carton type box, strapped in with a buckle to the wall.

It's really quite a hoot to get down all the systems on the boat – the toilet included, and I'm fairly confident there will be a concise and emotionally-loaded post about that at some point in the future!

One last dinner in port this evening, and we'll shove off toward St. Helena. I'll most likely stay up to watch the land fade away from view and in to the darkness of night, then grab a quick nap before my night watch from 10pm – 2am.

1.04.2011

A drop in the ocean.


“So I want to know… what struck you the most?”

Ugh.  That question stuck in my stomach like bubble gum on cement.  Even writing about this now, the swirling about feeling of pre-puking, the tears that form and sting in my eyes, and simultaneously the sense that I’ve been touched by something so much bigger than me hasn’t gotten any easier to explain.

So, in the moment, I gave this woman the only thing I had: silence.  And respect… and I mean a lot of respect. 

Her name was Laura. 


Laura introduces us to her friend... Who asked her to marry him for the xxth time today... She's not convinced!
Three townships surrounding Cape Town… The smallest at 200,000 people – it’s the size of my home, Boulder, Colorado – and the largest over 1 million.  Sixty percent unemployment.  Three entire families splitting rent of 20 Rand per month for a room with three beds and one hot plate. The hospital serves 1.5 million.  There are 200 beds, and 10 doctors.  You must bring your own linens.  9 million in the country living with HIV… 150,000 are kids.  Each Saturday, 100 people are buried in this community.  

Langa Township, Cape Town, South Africa
Water.
This is Laura’s community, and I feel damn confident in saying she is – aside from my mom – the strongest woman I’ve ever met.  Born and raised, Laura’s engagement in and beyond the community to bring opportunity and growth to the youth of these townships would give any humanitarian a run for their money.

We’d been invited by Laura to visit the townships with her last Tuesday, where she still lives, to meet her family and see other notable buildings in this post-Apartheid phenomenon of human arrangement.  It was very far from a light and breezy day.
Entry way in to the Langa hostel, where generations of families have come to live under one roof, post-Apartheid.
A room in the hostel currently rented by three families (fifteen people).  It costs 20 rand per month.
But at the end of the day, I was surprised to find that what struck me the most” was not a specific experience, but the resurfacing of one image in my mind: a little girl I’d met in Senegal six years earlier.

I don’t know her name.

She work a pink, taffeta party dress, and she saw me coming from down the street.  Her feet scuttled in that quick pitter-patter way that little kids do… under themselves and scattered like a roadrunner before their excitement ultimately sends them careening forward.  Barefoot and jabbering in Wolof – the local dialect I had only just begun to learn – she raced up to me on this busy sidewalk of Dakar, and took my hand.  And she walked me down the street, eyes glistening and with such an intonation in her voice that there was no question she was saying something really exciting.
Beautiful.  Exuberant. Carefree deliverance of love.
The more I looked down at her, full of joy and excitement, the more I heard the warning voices of professors to avoid children beggars who might be raising money for their ‘generous’ Imam.  This was day five of my first trip ever outside the country.  I saw the bugs crawling in her matted hair.  I saw the crust forming around her piercingly dark eyes, crusting over their shine like dusty diamonds.  Fear in my body.  Threat. 

And just like that, I was torn away from the beauty of the moment. I pulled away.  And I fell over.  Literally, I actually fell off the curb in Dakar as soon as I wretched her hand from mine… then ran to the other side of the street to save face and quickly get away. Cultural adaptation fail.

Flash forward and I’m stepping out of the back of Laura’s van in the morning in front of the original township hostel – an abysmal yet hopeful place in which families stay to save enough money to live elsewhere in the township. There’s trash everywhere. The windows are barred and broken.  The streets are chaotic.  Having traveled quite a bit in recent years, this doesn’t seem like cause for concern at all and I quickly jump out of the car.
 
No sooner had one foot hit the dusty ground and there were two little arms wrapped around me.  Like, two of the tightest, most sincere little boy arms perfectly hugging my leg – beautiful smile and sincere eyes… He chirped “Hi!”, briefly rested his cheek on my thigh, and ran off about 10 feet to take me in.

This is China.  Those are brownie crumbs on his lips.
The guilt of having let go of a child’s hand all those years ago… It was all I could do not to cry in that moment, pick the boy up and swing him around.  He literally stopped me in my tracks, and set me up for a day that was filled with some of the most love, amazing children and indulgent fascination in the “other” that I’ve experienced in quite some time.  Such stark contrast.  Such different perspective.

Laura's niece was a BLAST.

Why the change?  What changed?

Somewhere amidst the in between years of experience, my trust in humanity changed.  I stepped out of books, away from college and in to experience.  In to all of it – the pain, the craziness and the uncertainty… and also the power of love, compassion and human touch.  We have the capacity to affect and be affected… to change and be changed.  In that regard, I guess it wasn’t so much trust in humanity, but trust in myself that changed.

I guess there is a vinyasa to it all.  Presence in the experience, noting life’s sequence, the increasing importance of each pose and life moment.  Knowing where to place your attention so that each movement forward is a progression that is uniquely you or me.


Which brings me to the present: I’ve made the decision to start a new job, and put myself on a sail boat with 10 other people, to sail across the South Atlantic for a month.  Narrowly, these people, this boat, 5 Gyres and this ocean will be my life for the expedition… but it’s so much more.  This research – of a truly global issue, in every sense of the word, that is occurring largely unnoticed in one of our world’s final frontiers – is about humanity.  In researching the accumulation and toxicity of plastic marine pollutants that are now covering 75% of our planet, this issue is not one for the books… it’s one for us.  Now.  It’s as much for me as for any kid in the township.


I’m terrified, really. But two New Years ago, I made a resolution with Jonny to do things out of love and not out of fear… and two years later, I’m still renewing this resolution, because it still unfolds for me daily.

I’m not ready to leave Africa, but I know that I need to.  I realize that every time I leave here, I leave behind a little more of my heart.  But that’s exactly the way I’ve felt about the ocean in the last few years.  And I know that I’ll give up a little more of it on this trip, but only in the most invigorating and amazing of ways. 

What’s the lesson?  Get on the boat, I suppose. 

And, really, if life’s a cycle, what’s the point in being a drop in the ocean of humanity, when you could drop in on the wave of your life? 

Playing with the camera.
Fascination with the fuzzy material of the microphone / boom.
Beer.  Seriously... in those two barrels.
Puppy.

1.02.2011

Addo Elephant National Park

The last few days have been a whirlwind of activity.  After about a couple of days in Cape Town, we ventured east out of the city along the country's "Garden Route."  This scenic byway along the southern coast is pretty magical - a dramatic and varying landscape of mountains, canyons, vineyards, and ocean.

Everyone in Cape Town said we were crazy to try and travel this far, but the main objective was to reach Addo Elephant National Park, an elephant preserve just north of Port Elizabeth.  In addition to a myriad of lions, zebra other game (oh my!), this nationally-protected land is home to over 450 elephants... a staggering number when you consider that there were merely 40 at the time of the park's inception.  Despite the park's success in allowing elephants to successfully mate and grow here, one of the main issues in this particular elephant community is that tusks are being genetically bred out of the female elephants.  Thus - they recently brought in 10 non-native males with tusks to try and reintroduce this trait in to the community.  So far, it's supposedly working.

The other interesting development with Addo Elephant National Park is the recent addition of nearly 300,000 acres of marine reserve, just south of the main park and encompassing a good section of the Indian Ocean marine coastal environment.  While we didn't have enough time to go to this particular section, I guess that means I've gained yet another proverbial dangling carrot to some day go back and check out the development.

Here are some shots from the day (low-res to accommodate the internet connection here), to give you a taste of where we were.  Enjoy!

This reads "Dung Beetles have right of way.  Do not drive over dung beetles or elephant dung!"  (It tickled my funny bone for some reason.  We had this dude sing to us in middle school a song about dung beetles to the tune of "Free Fallin'", and this is the first time I've ever seen a legit one!)

Zebras & Kudu silhouetted in the African sun.

Zebras at a drinking hole.  The trail behind them is the one established animal trail coming to this spot... as a former Leave No Trace employee, I got a kick out of this!

Takin' a walk.

Favorite photo from the day.

Da dum, da dum... da dum, da dum...

This is a Kudu.  They're fantastic to look at, and incredibly interesting animals.  The horns on their head actually start to curve like a corkscrew as they age... one turn for each year.  Full-grown kudu have a white tip at the top of the antler.  The white strips are actually a built-in mechanism for regulating heat and body temperature.

Kudus... Workin' it out.

This was actually just yesterday and not at the park... but a random set of circumstances involving a 23-hr layover in Windhoek, Namibia and a brightly-painted taxidermy farm in the middle of the bush led us to this rather outlandish venue landed us the opportunity to check out elephant skin.  Held above my Ms. Leslie Moyer (colleague & member of the 5 Gyres crew), you can see how thick it is!  Full-grown elephants have skin about 3-4 centimeters thick... also the size of a dung beetle!