Tuesday, August 31, 2010

After the Storm - Collection Report August 26, 2010

You might think, from the past several posts, that most of the "flotsam" arriving in Maine is just litterbugs at the beach. Week after week, same things -- food wrappers, broken toys, cigarette butts. Sad, maybe, but pretty predictable.

Then comes a morning like Thursday, August 26.

You see, for weeks -- months -- my part of the world coasted through one of the sunniest, warmest, most peaceful summers on record. We had an incredible run of beach weather, which came to an end on Wednesday, August 25. It rained all day, the winds whipped the trees, the heavy clouds dimmed the skies.

The storm system dumped several inches, and only finally moved out to sea after nightfall. When I arrived at Bay View beach at 7:30 Thursday morning, for once I wasn't looking at a vista shaped by beachgoers, but by the forces of nature.
What, doesn't look different? How about this angle:
This was going to be a busy morning. Because, as I've recorded in posts like this, and this, and this, thanks to modern life and modern products, the sea is no longer just home to marine life. It's home to the refuse of our life too.
On to the details of Zone N. And this one blew the usual curve to bits.
232 finds:
  • Building material: 6 (including various waterlogged burned bits of unknown provenance)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 17 (inc. chunk of painted pot? and Sam's Club coffee mug scrap)
  • Fishing misc.: 28 (21 rope bits, 5 claw bands, 2 bits of flare shell)
  • Food-related plastics: 26 (inc. Swiss Chard twist-tie, Twix, Butterscotch, Coke bottle cap, Turkey Club Wrap wrapper, M&Ms, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, Slim Jim, and Quaker Caramel Nut granola bar)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 3
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 65 (inc. ancient bit of duct tape with kelp growing through it, 20 shreds of brittle hard plastic bits, 4 balloon pieces, security bar from a book, plastic seal reading "Hygienic Protection" (eww), tire valvestem cap, plastic sleeve to deck chair or railing, 2 badly worn & abraded bandaids)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 65 (52 local, 13 likely floaters)
  • Paper/wood: 15 (including Dunstan School Buffet brochure, Worcester Dunkin Donuts receipt dated 8/20 (which survived the storm intact), 2 bits of Clorox bleach label, tag from some kind of textile/pillow, London Underground ticket scrap dated June 16)
  • Misc./unique: 7 (bungee cord scrap, little bouncy ball, dog's waterlogged tennis ball (probably washed in), firework bit, flipflop, 2 mismatched socks)
See what I mean? 28 pieces of fishing material, when usually it's 3 or 4; 65 bits of nonfood plastic -- mostly scraps and twisted, abraded bits, likely seaborne. And this all in a stretch of 270 feet. The coast of Maine runs 3500 miles.

Plus, I have no illusion that I got everything. I spent a full hour and a half in Zone N, kicking & picking through the kelp. I tried my best. But Wednesday's storm had tossed up over a foot of new sand, burying kelp and everything that rode in with it. Who knows how much is still there, or when it will come to light.

On to some of the standouts.
Maine's lifeblood has its downside
Out of one, many
As I hinted in this post, it's hard to know how far some of that commercial fishing gear traveled. But at least one piece of it took quite a journey:
Left - maybe local; Right - not local!
(And that's not the first "Wild Canada" lobster claw band to have made the 200+ mile swim from Nova Scotia's waters - scroll down in link for editorial.) But it's not just fishing gear that the waves brought in.
Event balloons from another day, another place
Duct tape w/ kelp running through it
Brittle, battered, old, and likely seaborne
Amongst the mess were a couple neat treats:
Who doesn't love a bright yellow starfish 
An Englishman in Saco?
(Probably -not- washed in!)
And lastly, how on earth did this survive the deluge?
Oh yeah, because it was coated in plastic
I decided to save Zone S for the next day, because it was already late in the morning. Sadly, when I returned on Friday, the scene in Zone S had changed:
Somebody had judiciously raked the entire length of the beach, leaving just about nothing to find, and making it rather pointless to try. I'll never be able to compare how much washed into Zone S, and I was really looking forward to the comparison. So I'll just have to wait for another storm.

Still, this was the wake-up day. Sure, litterbugs foul the beaches they wander. But the problem is so much larger than careless beachgoers. It has become a plastic world, nourished by a plastic ocean. And it just takes a bit of a storm to bring that point home.

Speaking of the storm: how bad was it? Well, the tide charts showed a 9-foot high tide. The high-tide mark on the beach Thursday morning was typical of an 11-foot high tide. The "squall of the summer" barely brought a two-foot surge. Countless plastic scraps were hurled up and down the shore by a pitiful rainshower that barely made news in Thursday's paper.

As I write this, Hurricane Earl is a Category 4 monster down near the Caribbean. It's expected to reach New England by the end of the week. You want to know what's in the ocean? We may all know soon.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Collection Report August 18, 2010

A bit late getting this one up. But at long last!

August 18 greeted me with a few breaking clouds & a coolish breeze, the first reminder that our summer is winding down.
It's that time of year where there's a tension in the air -- an expectation. More people are on the road, trying to squeeze out the last bit of vacation. Folks are getting to the beach earlier, lingering longer. Minds are focused on anything but the return to school, layers, jackets. Which might explain how someone could forget this:
Cushy chair, cold drink, tasty snacks... *POOF* Just walked away. Confession: I did not put this into my bag & record it.

Second confession. I also didn't count everything I did pick up. I took a moment from bagging to dump several dozen jagged remnants of a Bacchanal into the metal trash bin on-site:
Always comforting what people will leave in the sand.

On to the finds. Zone N (which I really thought was going to be small):
It wasn't small. 266 finds:
  • Building material: 3 (sawn blocks & part of a plank/clapboard)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 9 (inc. another part of the airplane that I started finding back on July 27)
  • Fishing misc.: 2 (claw bands, one fresh & one a bit jagged)
  • Food-related plastics: 37 (inc. 5 water/soda bottles plus 3 burned bits of bottle)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 13 (inc. a piece of what was just starting to turn into worn-down seaglass)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 32 (inc. 5 bandaids, balloon, shovel handle, action figure arm, packaging reading "Toys $2.99", orange plastic nozzle)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 112 (101 fresh, 6 floaters, 5 packaging - including cigar pack with 7 wrapped cigars still inside)
  • Paper/wood: 44 (inc. piece from Spanish-language magazine, fireworks packaging (still from July 4th??), business card, pail & shovel label, umbrella tag, bath towel tag)
  • Misc./unique: 14 (inc. size XS ripped shorts, sock, 3 wads of gum, several tattered string/rope scraps)
Another colorful, if mostly predictable, collection. A few standouts:
Somebody's ultra-army is a tad sadder now
Four "Huh?"s
Foam from same original objects every week
Moving on to Zone S, which, as usual, was rather subdued:
54 finds:
  • Building material: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 10
  • Fishing misc.: 0
  • Food-related plastics: 3 (inc. two burned things)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 5 (inc. very aged/brittle little capsule holder?)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 31 (27 fresh + 4 floaters)
  • Paper/wood: 2
  • Misc./unique: 1 (sea glass)
It's funny, sea glass always seems to be a Zone S thing. And as an example of what happens when plastic sits out too long:
Photodegradation, in all its glory!
Big takeaway from this week: People at the beach just can't seem to help burning stuff. And a second takeaway: You can toss that plastic bottle or wrapper into a roaring fire pit, but when the party's over and the embers die, it hasn't gone away.

I'll end this week with a teaser. If you're getting tired of the same old beach trash week to week, you're not alone. (People go to beach and litter, dog bites man.) But I was back there this morning. Yesterday (August 25) it rained all day, with some pretty serious winds too. Here's what I saw at 8:00AM:
A hint: It wasn't just kelp that washed up

Saturday, August 21, 2010

You Are(n't) What You Do

A few years ago, visiting Hadrian's Wall Country in northern England, I was talking with the landlord at the local pub.
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/45501032@N00/3726553037/
(Twice Brewed Inn -- a must-visit if you're in the area, especially for Tuesday Quiz Nights.) Something he said stuck with me - when Americans first meet at the pub, invariably they ask, "So, what do you do?" He said, "Whereas we Brits, we don't care!" And it's true. You can sit at a table full of Englishmen and women, share pints, tell stories, build memories, have a blast -- and never have a clue what half the people's day jobs are.

What "I do" to earn a living is copyedit college-level computer science texts. A new graphic design suite, the new version of Office, or of Windows itself -- the textbooks that teach these things to students, I make sure the words are right.

It's good work, and often interesting, though I've been at it for years. It's nice to be a fly on the wall, to get a sneak-peek at new software, to learn a little bit better how my own computer works.

But I am not a copyeditor. If someone asks me "What do you do?" the answer won't get them much closer to who I am.

Which is why the past few months of The Flotsam Diaries have been so eye-opening. Because I'm finding, this is who I am. Wherever I wander, I see bits & bobs lying in the gutter or the side of the road or a sand dune. Today our family visited a few state parks in Mid-Coast Maine. I couldn't leave Reid State Park without collecting all the jagged pieces of someone's water gun lying near our beach towel.
Before going to bed I noodle ideas for the Diaries, new posts I want to make, ways to try to make a difference. I want to learn how stuff gets on the beach, how long it will stay, what kind of damage it's doing -- both in my lifetime and in my daughter's and her descendants'.

Friends and family now always ask what I've found, what the most interesting piece was, something Flotsam Diaries-related. I'm awful at answering; whatever eloquence (or even basic literacy) I muster on the page evaporates when I open my mouth. But I'm working on it.

Like I've mentioned, I'm an archaeologist at heart. It's my first love. And a surprising lot of the Flotsam Diaries is still the archaeologist that courses through me. Archaeology is the study of the physical remains of human activity. Well, what else is flotsam?

But it's funny how life happens. How it pulls you.

When I first held my little newborn girl now almost 3 1/2 years ago, I was just a scared guy with a kid. Now I'm a dad. I don't know how or when it happened -- it just did. In the same way, when I picked up my first bag of flotsam at Ocean Park in March this year, I was just a guy with a trash bag. Now I'm a Flotsam Diarist. I still have no idea what that actually means in the long-run. But I know that I'm viewing the world now in a completely different way than I once did.

And I like it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Collection Report August 11, 2010

Before I start, a quick shoutout to Sara Bayles of Santa Monica, CA, who clearly stole my idea of a walk at the beach... a year before it came to me! (I've always been a little slow.) Starting back in May 2009, she resolved to hit her beach 365 days (not in a row, sanely) and collect & count the trash she found. (As of this post she has removed some 567 lbs of trash from her beach!) She posts pics of the beach, some of the trash, and some shots of breathtaking beauty along the way at The Daily Ocean. She's inspired many others to do their own "community collection," and she maintains an ever-growing network of folks who are making a difference in their own communities -- and in the wider world.

While I go out first thing before the crowds hit, she does her collections in the evenings in the waning light. As I mentioned to her, there's something great about the fact that the sunrises captured on my blog become the sunsets on hers. Awesome to have found you Sara, thanks for all the work you're doing!

On to the local scene here in Saco, 7:30AM Wed August 11:
Whoops. Camera was set on "close-up"
Still, you get the idea -- another beautiful day, and week. High tide had happened just after midnight, and at 11.1 ft was the highest of the month. Which always bodes an interesting day for a Flotsam Diarist. How much trash do you see in this picture? (Mouse-over and click to see what's really there.)
This was going to be a busy morning. Especially when something like this just magically appears:
This floor joist (with nail holes) is some 15 feet long. Did the waves bring it? Really can't say for sure, but it was lying, unmolested and with no footprints, at high-tide line.

On to finds. A crazy-colorful day in Zone N:
And a big one. 275 finds:
  • Building materials: 2
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 9 (inc. another piece of Aug. 4 airplane)
  • Fishing misc.: 1 (frayed bit of rope)
  • Food-related plastics: 40 (inc. Granny Smith & Empire apple labels, and burned sandwich bag - beachgoers & inappropriate fire, a weekly phenomenon)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 13 (inc. possible bit of aluminum can scrap)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 24 (inc. amusement park wristband, button, shovel, 4 bandaids - one unopened)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 146 (128 local + 17 possible floaters + 1 wrapper)
  • Paper/wood: 30 (inc. 3 beach towel tags, McDonald's french fry bag, and bank receipt)
  • Misc./unique: 10 (inc. cheap dangly earring, lid to glass bowl, cellphone chip, velcro tag, "ESCORT" clothes label)
A few fun ones:
Cell phone chip
A tad fancy for the beach?
Happiest collection of food bags yet
And my favorite:
This will be used again
Which looks an awful lot like a little plastic shovel The Daily Ocean just found in Santa Monica on August 13.

It would be hard for Zone S to top such a vibrant & varied act. And it didn't.
55 finds:
  • Building materials: 1
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 1
  • Fishing misc.: 0
  • Food-related plastics: 6
  • Food-related metal/glass: 5 (inc. another small scrap of aluminum can - they keep showing up randomly, what's that about?)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 2 (rubberband & bit of electrical tape)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 37 (32 local + 5 possible floaters)
  • Paper/wood: 2
  • Misc./unique: 1 (golf tee - or maybe truck-stop "peg jumping" game piece?)
In this one morning, on two stretches of a small, lightly-used Maine beach -- that I had picked clean just a week before -- I found 182 cigarette butts, 55.2% of the 330 pieces of trash overall. There are towns in Maine that are seriously looking at banning smoking on the beach. I'm beginning to understand why.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Look What the Current Dragged In, Part I

As always, the finds that are the most fun are the ones that get you asking questions.

On an early trip to Bay View, back in June, I uncovered this...
...which looked vaguely like a lobster trap tag. (Probably the word LOBSTER put that thought in my head.) But this was totally different from the ones I was used to, issued by the State of Maine:
In fact, it was printed in English & French. Could this be a Canadian tag? This far south?

A quick Google search proved that "DFO" is Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans. But could the tag have been from a U.S. boat that had permission to fish in Canadian waters? I asked the good folks at the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation. And they confirmed that a Canadian tag could only be issued to a Canadian fishing boat. The farthest south that this lobster trap could have been set would have been shared waters off Machiasport (far Down-East Maine).

So this little white lobster trap tag really had traveled south along Maine's coast for some 200 (or more) miles, eventually coming ashore at Bay View Beach, Saco. And into my black garbage bag, where it now lives in my condo's basement.

Which is pretty flippin' cool.

But wait... All I've ever heard of currents is "Gulf Stream" -- the current that starts far down south and travels north up the eastern seaboard. So how did this tag travel south for some 200 miles?

If I wanted to know about what was winding up on my beach, maybe I should figure out how things floated in the ocean.

Here's a shocker: Turns out, the ocean is a complicated place.
from www.oceanmotion.org/html/resources/oscar.htm
More to follow.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Collection Report August 4, 2010

Wednesday, August 4, 7:30AM. Seems the gulls had a late-night party of their own. (Being scavenged, I didn't record these, just put them back in the bin.)
Oh, if anyone wonders why someone can get jazzed about picking up garbage week after week, three words:
Location, Location, Location
Anyway, on to business. Most recent high-tide: 6:04AM, 7.6 feet (the gentlest of all August, say the tide charts). This week's haul was a pretty typical lot, back to big numbers after a quiet couple of weeks. Here's Zone N:
246 finds:
  • Building materials: 6 (inc. section of aluminum framing, reminding me of my languishing soda can experiment)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 15 (inc. 10 disintegrating pieces from same cup/plate)
  • Fishing misc.: 1 (claw band)
  • Food-related plastics: 37 (inc. my first Lunchables tray find)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 9
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 22 (inc. small blue peg, piece of rotting woven totebag, a label reading "pull straight")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 116 (107 local + 5 possible floaters + 4 wrapper scraps)
  • Paper/wood: 33 (inc. 2 beach towel tags, seedless watermelon label, pepper packet, Funtown Splashtown waterpark receipt, burnt kindling, strip that reads "Fold and Tear Here"
  • Misc./unique: 7 (4 bits of twine, firework piece, hairband, stretchy cord)
Only a couple things stuck out:
Frame's been in the elements a while
Out of one.... many
Zone S was equally pedestrian:
46 finds:
  • Building materials: 1
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 2
  • Fishing misc.: 0
  • Food-related plastics: 9
  • Food-related metal/glass: 6
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 8 (pirate "gold" coin, brittle bit of electrical tape, 2 beach chair feet, 3 bandaids, plastic hang tag)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 17 (12 local + 4 possible floaters + 1 wrapper)
  • Paper/wood: 1
  • Misc./unique: 2 (firework parts)
OK, I like the little pirate coin. And the beer bottle -- so the owner downs the beer, conscientiously puts the cap back on... then leaves the whole thing behind?

And of course it's not always going to be "Whoa, look at that!" I know that's not the point. Still, I'm struggling to find a takeaway or gem this week. So, please feel free to insert an enlightened outro riiiiiiiight.... here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Supermarket Bay View

For a lark I just went through all my Bay View collection pictures. I looked at all the plastic wrappers / labels / stickers / lids, and started a list of all the brands & foods that I've found. Here's the litany, all found since mid-June:

Fruit Candies:
* Walmart Fruit Smiles - Raspberry
* Fruit Rollups
* Kellogg’s Fruit Rolls - Wizards of Waverly Place
* Yogos Crashers - Berry Melon Mania
* Welch’s Fruit Snacks - Mixed Fruit

* Austin - Peanut Butter
* Lance - Smoke House Cheddar
* Ritz - Peanut Butter

* Kettle Brand - Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper

Grain/Granola Snacks:
* Rice Krispies Treats - Original
* Walmart Granola - Peanut Butter & Choc Chip
* Nature Valley Granola - (Unk. variety)
* Quaker Chewy Granola - Chocolate Chunk

* Hershey’s Bar - Original
* Airheads
* Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
* Tootsie Roll
* Tootsie Roll Pops
* Betty Crocker - Scooby Doo Fruit-Flavored Snacks
* Good Humor - Ice Cream Sandwich

* Ketchup - McDonald’s
* Ketchup - Heinz
* Generic - Pepper pack
* Salad Oil - generic

* Listerine Cool Mints
* Trident
* Wrigley’s
* Hall’s

* Sam’s Club - Water
* Capri Sun - Fruit Punch
* Capri Sun - Surfer Cooler
* Capri Sun Roarin Waters - Grape
* Shaw’s - Natural Spring Water
* Gatorade - Performance (Orange)
* Poland Spring - Water
* Price Chopper - Sparkling Water (Blackberry)

Drink Flavorings:
* Crystal Light - Green Tea
* Crystal Light - Fruit Punch
* Generic - Raspberry
* Totally Light - Lemonade

Fresh Fruit:
* Banana
* Apricot
* Nectarine
* Apple - Macintosh

Meats/Serious Foods:
* Little Caesar’s Pizza Heat Sheet
* Oscar Mayer - Lunchables w/cheese

That's just the labels that I can identify from my pics (which are inexcusably blurry). Eventually I want to swap out my pile of garbage bags for genuine storage containers. When I do, I'm sure I'll flesh the list out more.

We all know it's a plastic world. But when you start tallying the list of ordinary, everyday food packaging that winds up as permanent junk on a nice beach -- that's when you realize just how far down the rabbit hole we've come.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Collection Report July 27-28, 2010

Another hot, sultry week...
And another change to the vista...
By serendipity this sign was placed near the southern end of my Zone N; it seems I picked my zones well. (Not that it stopped early risers from roosting on the far side, down in Zone S. By the time I actually reached Zone S, 8:30 or so, it was hopping and I decided to save it for the next day.)

It all seems so clean, doesn't it?

Zone N this week was a varied haul, with a bunch of eye-catchers.
173 finds:
  • Building materials: 8 (inc. asphalt chunks, a bit of roofing, and some lathe)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 10 (inc. piece of model airplane wing, as well as tiny flecks off of a coffeecup)
  • Fishing misc.: 4 (1 rope, 1 fishing line, 1 claw band, and 1 one-inch piece of degraded vinyl coating from a lobster trap)
  • Food-related plastics: 28 (inc. the little label off a Macintosh apple)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 8 (inc. the first new piece of rotten aluminum can scrap in several weeks)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 20 (inc. radio (?) battery cover, shovel handle, scrap of ribbed rubberized thing, another chunk of the hard white plastic thing I found last week in zones N and S, scuffed & faded rim of orange bowl or pail)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 68 (64 local + 4 possible floaters)
  • Paper/wood: 26 (inc. a fun scribbling, a couple receipts, half-burned Bud Light packaging, and a tag from a beach towel)
  • Misc./unique: 11 (inc. burnt pair of glasses, piece of cut felt, 2 bits of sea glass)
A smaller haul by recent standards, even with a couple fresh bonfires. But probably the most interesting spread of beach archaeology yet. A few that strike me...
Really want to decipher this
Thinking there's a story here
Deconstructed coffee cup
Moving on to Zone S the following morning.
42 finds:
  • Building materials: 2
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 1
  • Fishing misc.: 1 (2" piece of lobster trap coating)
  • Food-related plastics: 10 (inc. the label from a fresh nectarine)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 8
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 9 (inc. part of a badly degraded bowl)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 10 (8 local + 2 possible floaters)
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 1 (athletic sock)
A couple weeks ago I posted a bit about rotting lobster traps. Just like a coffee cup can disintegrate into a thousand little floating Styrofoam balls, waiting to get eaten by sealife, a ruined lobster trap will eventually rust, and its vinyl coating will peel off, a little at a time. For years to come.
High-tide line at Zone S
More interesting to me is this, recipient of the Surely Traveled the Longest award:
Crumbling, degraded chunk of plastic bowl
This thing falls apart in my hands. Who knows what it once was. It's no doubt got a long and tortured tale. Wonder where the rest of it is.

So another week down. My big takeaways from this one: (1) High-season beachgoers stake their territory by 7AM. (2) Bay View denizens love their bonfires. (3) It's really nice to go a few weeks without finding a condom wrapper.