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.


  1. Hi! I've come here from Sara's blog... love what you're doing-- tallying EVERYTHING... now that's dedication!! HIGH 5!!! :D Wanted to comment because Earl will be offshore here late tomorrow... we're hoping to get out to the beach (have a sick son) and see what he stirs up and spits out... it'll be interesting the difference between here and there.

  2. Hey Danielle, great to "meet" you! I've been checking out "It Starts With Me" also through Sara's site. Total High-Five! 2171 cigarette butts in 7 days? 427 in 20 minutes? That's just... I mean, that's just not right.

    I did the post-Earl visit this morning. We got such a light hit (if you can even call it that). Yet still about an hour into the morning the tide started bringing up some really churned kelp/grass "soup." And I got some amazing shots of plastic bits materializing after waves receded. It's one thing to pick them up and figure they must be from the ocean. It's another to stand there and watch the ocean deliver them up right in front of your eyes. What have we wrought?