Henry Bell and Grant Bemis lead the
project and directed and produced
the film. All images and content credit
With the Winds unless otherwise noted.
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Research and Data Collection

We are in a fight to raise awareness and prevent the continued spread of plastic and other garbage that pollutes and degrades the Earth's marine ecosystems. After graduating college, we found ourselves a sailboat, brought along a couple of cameras, and set out to the Caribbean to make our own small difference.

 

Overview

Over the four-month period that we spent in the Caribbean, we conducted research and collected data for a number of international environmental organizations. For Adventurers for Science and Conservation (ASC), we took water samples to study the disbursement of microplastics. We also visited numerous beaches, collecting and recording types and amounts of marine debris for the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup program. In addition, NOAA provided us with fish tagging gear, which we used to participate in the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Apex Predators catch and release fish and shark tagging program. Finally, we carried aboard a small array of video and audio equipment to record the expedition from start to finish.

Motoring ashore at Maho Bay on St. John

Marine microplastic waste that has washed ashore at Playa Rincón, Dominican Republic

Microplastics

Beach Sampling and Cleanup

Starting in the U.S. Virgin Islands, we sailed to beaches as far east as St. Barthélemy, and continued to survey and clean beaches as we headed back west through Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas. Using the International Coastal Cleanup Data Card, locations were recorded, distance cleaned, weight collected, and every single item of trash marked down in order to indicate exactly what types of trash are winding up on Caribbean beaches. We were able to revisit and again remove garbage from a select number of beaches that we previously sampled in the Virgin Islands. By stopping at the beaches twice, we were able to document the amount of new trash that accumulated over the interim period.

Coastal Cleanup Data Card

Catch and Release Shark Tagging Program

Large fish and shark populations are experiencing huge population declines across the globe, and their marine habitats are also critically endangered by climate change, pollution, and other factors. The effectiveness of establishing protected areas that restrict fishing and other damaging activities is better assessed by catching, tagging, and releasing fish in order to track their move- ments. Additionally, we wanted to study and bring awareness to the important role of mega- fauna, such as sharks, in marine environments. For the first two weeks of

Grant reels in something big while sailing offshore

Education, Outreach, and Video Documentary

There's only so much data that two guys on a 37-foot sailboat can collect in the span of four months. Ultimately, the main goal of the With the Winds project is to raise awareness about the degradation of our marine environments and promote interest, excitement, and hope for real solutions to these problems. Specifically, we believe that we as individuals have huge roles to play in sustaining healthy ocean ecosystems.

Henry attempts to operate the glidecam

 

Tiny particles known as microplastics are contaminating our oceans worldwide. They attract toxins and are ingested by small marine life, making their way up the food chain where they accumulate in fish, marine mammals, birds, and people.  There are millions of square kilometers of ocean surface that are covered with floating garbage, including billions of plastic grocery bags and plastic bottles. Over time, these break down into tiny fragments called microplastics.

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Another source of microplastics is found in common cosmetics and scrubs that we wash down the drain daily. Using ASC protocol, we collected ocean water samples in ten separate locations along our route, recording GPS location, wind speed and direction, water temperature and tide information. Samples and data were shipped to ASC for

continued research. Our results, as well as the findings from samples taken by hundreds of other scientists and adventurers, can be found on the Global Microplastics Initiative page.

Beach cleanups were done in a regulated manner, following the protocol used by the Blue Ocean Society to ensure accuracy when comparing the amounts of trash found on our visits to the results of survey work done by other groups. The dirtiest beach we came across was at a remote location on Long Island in the Bahamas. Weather-beaten, decades-old plastic junk was strewn across hundreds of yards of shoreline and piled up in two and three-foot heaps in many places.

the expedition we were joined by a shark scientist, Walker Nambu, who previously worked with NOAA in South Africa on a similar initiative. He coached us on the most efficient and humane tagging techniques so that

we could contribute data to the NMFS Apex Predators Program. This was perhaps the most exciting initiative that we included in our project - and

definitely the most challenging - but we successfully hooked nurse, reef, and tiger sharks. We also spotted several bull and lemon sharks, although local fishing regulations prevented us from attempting their capture.

Throughout the expedition, Henry served as an alumni ambassador for Sea Education Association (SEA Semester), an undergraduate ocean education program that Henry has sailed with as both a student and teacher. Furthermore, we took aboard two interns - Kerry Daigle and Lizzy Reed - for the entire month of January. They learned how to sail and operate the film equipment, took part in our research, and conducted their own projects for academic credit through Middlebury College. We are proud to see how they have taken their own inspiration from this experience: Kerry continued to serve as our Outreach Coordinator (and web updater) throughout the rest of the expedition, and after graduating, Lizzy returned to the Caribbean to teach for The Island School on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas.

To this end, we did our best to capture as much footage of our adventure and findings as we could. The end goal is the creation of a short documentary (produced and edited just by us!) that displays the dire realities that we found but also provides a sense of hope, perhaps inspiring others to follow through with their own ambitious ideas. We will bring the story to the public by showing our film at a number of venues and film festivals.