What's Under the Water?

Marine life is battling an onslaught of trash. Find out what you can do to help.

Miller

I’ve always been disappointed when I see stray aluminum cans, granola bar wrappers, and plastic bags in the water when I’m sailing. However, I was shocked when I saw the graveyard of trash beneath the surface of the waves in Newport, R.I.

Rachael Miller and James Lyne, co-founders of the Rozalia Project and both avid sailors, used their VideoRay Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to unveil a very littered harbor floor beneath the 60’ cutter American Promise tied up at the Sail Newport dock. Watching the underwater video feed, we could follow their robotic trash-grabber in action.

The Rozalia Project’s goal is to clean up the water as much as possible in order to lessen the hazards to both human and marine life. Miller says, “We really feel strongly that we are action first, and not just saying, ‘Hey look, here’s trash.’ [We’re saying,] ‘Look here’s trash, and now it’s out of the water.’”

As we watched the ROV move over the harbor floor of Brenton Cove on the monitor, Miller exclaimed, “Look at all this crap!” Her tone still registered surprise, even though earlier that day, she and Lyne had already begun the Rozalia Project’s three-day stint at Sail Newport with groups from the youth sailing program.

With the kids, Miller demonstrated how she uses a joystick to control the ROV. Pincers that extend in front of its camera lens allow the ROV to latch onto each piece of trash. Miller then navigates the ROV up to the side of the boat, where Lyne waits with a fishing net. Miller coordinates her opening of the pincers with Lyne’s placement of the net to get the trash out of the water and onto their boat, where they deem it either reusable, recyclable, or officially trash.

In just 30 minutes with the kids, the Rozalia Project gathered a bucket full of trash including a fisherman’s glove, an old winch handle, a sanding pad, old rags, a golf ball, cans, bottles and some unrecognizable detritus.

As we guessed what each slimy item might be, I asked Miller about some of her strangest finds. The list included a gun (in the Charles River), an anchor (at the Herreshoff docks that will go into their museum), a 1950s Pepsi bottle, and an abnormally large shoe.

Miller also explained an unusual find from the day before: “We found a glass bottle with a crab in it that was way too big to get out. We think that it got in when it was a little baby crab, and grew up in the bottle. We smashed the bottle, and let him out.”

While I didn’t pull up any unusual finds with Miller and Lyne, we did capture the first of many derelict crab traps that litter the harbor floor. These traps aren’t attached to buoys, and Miller has found as many as 12 in a 50-square-foot. area. We located the first trap using sonar. Miller dragged a heavy-duty tether to the trap with her ROV, and when one end of the tether was hooked on the trap, Lyne used a winch to hoist it up. They carefully navigated the trap around the bow of the boat, and pulled it onto the dock.

After Lyne hosed the muck off the trap, we noticed that it had attracted lots of other trash, like cans and plastic. And, it was collecting marine life—a crab scuttled off from its hiding spot in one of the cans.

The Rozalia Project, launched in 2010, is a non-profit organization funded by a variety of individuals, foundations, and businesses. Named for Miller’s great-grandmother who immigrated to America on the SS Madonna, the Rozalia Project plans to use their technology and expertise to clean the oceans.

While Miller and Lyne are dedicated to this project full-time on the East Coast this summer, it doesn’t take an ROV or an entire summer to make a positive impact on the oceans. Miller explains, “Every little bit helps. Everyone knows if you put your sandwich bag down, it’s going to fly off the boat in any sort of breeze. When you’re out sailing, account for everything.”

You can find out where the Rozalia Project’s headed next at