Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Collection Report Sept 18-19, 2010

After a week hiatus, Saturday September 18 saw me back at Bay View beach, my journalist friend Rick with me. We got there about 9AM, and spent close to three hours wandering, collecting, and chatting through Zone N. Try imagining this picture in July or August:
View of Zone N at 11:00AM; summer is definitely over
Other than one sunbather (who had abandoned Kennebunkport's beaches due to the dog waste), we had the place almost all to ourselves. It was a great walk, and a great talk. And, strangely, really nice to be bagging debris again. Even the ugly and the stinky:
Post-season revelries
Chum-laced fishing net
In a turn that will surprise nobody, the cooler weather and end of summer vacation brought a change in the haul from weeks past. Zone N, laid out:
219 finds:
  • Building material: 0
  • Foam/styrofoam: 8
  • Fishing misc.: 6 (3 claw bands, 1 piece of lobster trap bumper, flare shell, plus large netting with rotted chum -- tossed out at beach, not brought home!)
  • Food-related plastics: 14 (inc. bottle with lid sawn off??)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 14
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 29 (inc. shopping bag & bag bits, bucket handle broken in two, rotted structural plastic chunk/end cap (?), nylon rope, small red rosette, multi-pin computer board piece (?), white leaf (matched one found September 4), claw-shaped thing like many found before)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 129 (122 local, 4 likely floaters, 3 plastics)
  • Paper/wood: 16 (inc. kite instructions)
  • Misc./unique: 3 (2 bits of firework and gum)
The food and beach plastics are way down. Sadly, the cigarette count -- and non-food plastics -- are just as high.

As always, there were surprises, plus a couple poignant moments.
Do I want to know why this was modified?
More irony
The next morning, I finally made a return to Zone S. I hadn't done a collection there for a few weeks (busy weeks at that, with a windstorm and a hurricane near-miss!). So it's hard to say much about the numbers here. But at least this will give me a new "autumn" baseline.

The goods:
104 finds:
  • Building material: 2
  • Foam/styrofoam: 6
  • Fishing misc.: 4 (3 claw bands, 1 piece of lobster trap bumper)
  • Food-related plastics: 11 (inc. Dairy Queen sundae cup and spoon, Slim Jim, Laffy Taffy, Wrigley Spearmint, GoGurt Strawberry Splash, Stringsters String Cheese)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (inc. aluminum can with spongy mass (fish eggs??) growing all over it)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 16 (VO5 Tea Therapy label, shampoo top, hard red lens/cap edge, small green cap from a mist bottle (?), bubblewrap with tape, orange toy chain (?) scrap, scrap of rigid gray wire sheath)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 58 (35 local, 23 likely floaters)
  • Paper/wood: 3
  • Misc./unique: 2 (faded & tattered flag, tennis ball)
The biggie of this? 23 "floater" cigarettes -- the paper stripped away, the filter mesh bleached white. After everything I've learned about the sheer scale of cigarette trash, it's not surprising. But it's still a wake-up to see it. How many more are polluting our waters right now? How many more are being added every day?

Here's a few of the other highlights from my return to Zone S.
Expecting a winter full of these
A long and tortured tale
Mmm. Life...
Colorful "Huh??"s
So, as Maine transitions from beach weather to decidedly -not- beach weather, the finds are shifting. I'm all set to watch, record, and catalog it. And, as always, try to learn a thing or two.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Last week, at a local restaurant in Portland, I had dinner with a friend I hadn't seen in 20 years.

We found each other on Facebook some months back. Through posts & notes, we learned that each of us has taken some twists and turns since high school. (He, wounded veteran of Gulf War I, far more than I.) And we discovered that both of us had been bitten by the environmental bug.

My friend, whom I'll call "Rick" (largely because his name is Rick), is an acclaimed reporter and journalist out on the West Coast. When he discovered the Flotsam Diaries, an article started taking shape in his head. And when timing worked, he found his way out to the Northeast. We had a wonderful al fresco dinner and three hours of catching up. (Which wasn't nearly enough.) The next morning Rick met me at Bay View, and interviewed me while I did my weekly cleanup on the beach.

I've never been interviewed for an article before. I have no idea if I said anything helpful, interesting, or important. But I've read Rick's writing. And if I gave him anything to work with, he's going to make it shine. Plus, the beach did its part, having dumped another "Wild Canada" lobster claw band in the sand, as well as a bit of plastic trawler net reeking of half-rotted bait still stuck to it.
This was unpleasant to pick up
My report of the week's cleanup is forthcoming. (I'm out of town again -- busy month!) But for the moment, I wanted to say here a big "Thanks!" to Rick for taking his time to come out and talk with me about what I'm doing, and why.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Collection Report Sept 4, 2010

Following on from this post about the scene at Bay View beach, Saco, Maine the morning after former-hurricane Earl barely missed us.

I knew when I got home I had a big haul. Both from the flotsam washing up right in front of my eyes and the remnants of late-summer fiestas.
42 individual sparklers... not that I counted
Overall, it was an astounding catch. Here's Zone N:
411 finds:
  • Building material: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 12 (inc. two pieces of Dunkin Donuts coffee cup)
  • Fishing misc.: 12 (4 claw bands, 5 pieces of rope, 2 trap tags, 1 trap tag scrap)
  • Food-related plastics: 59 (inc. Ritz PB crackers, Quaker Chewy oatmeal bar, Sunbelt Choc Chip cookies, Twizzlers, Reese's PB cup, Snickers bar, organic vanilla yogurt, label from Granny Smith apple, label from Fuji apple)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 12 (inc. 5 bottle caps: Mike's Hard Lemonade, Twisted Tea, Miller Lite, and 2 Blue Moon Brewing Co.)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 70 (inc. bits of plastic shopping bags, 4 bandaids, rabbit-shaped Silly Band, insole (?) labeled "RIVER", 4 rubber bands (maybe from sandwiches), beach umbrella base, "leaf" from toy or ornament, and 15 bashed-around scraps of hard plastic -- most likely washed in)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 168 (152 local, 10 likely floaters, 6 plastics)
  • Paper/wood: 26 (inc. burned Spanish-language magazine bits found at bonfire, label from plastic water bottle, Budweiser label scrap, pharmacy receipt, Reny's "Paid" sticker, two salt packets, ice-cream cone wrapper)
  • Misc./unique: 52 (inc. 42 sparklers, sock, towel tag, velcro scrap, 4 firework scraps, nylon seam reinforcement strip)
Just... wow. 411 finds shatters the Zone N record. It shatters the combined N/S record. 162 cigarettes shatters that record. The bashed-up, washed-in plastic scraps are sobering, the trap tags and claw bands ever-present after any storm. The food wrappers in their bright, happy colors...

Of all the bits & bobs, a few that caught my eye:
What "162 cigarette butts" looks like
Shards of mostly waterborne plastics
Two of the ~1 million tags lost annually
Nope, burning plastic still doesn't get rid of it
Which claw band's been in the water the longest?
Needs no caption
It just keeps coming.

By the time I'd finally finished picking up Zone N, there was again no time to check Zone S. And other commitments kept me away for the days afterward. So again, sadly no comparison between "busy" Zone N and "quiet" Zone S. But this coming weekend an old friend I haven't seen in a very long time will be visiting with me. And for some strange reason, he also thinks a nice way to spend a Saturday morning is picking up other folks' trash at the beach! So we just might have a Zone N-and-S post again soon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

After the Earl

My last report followed a windy rainshower, and the flotsam was amazing. My September 4th collection followed what could have been a monster. So it's with no small relief that former Category 4 Hurricane Earl (a) lost its gusto, (b) tracked far out into the Atlantic, and (c) passed Maine's coast at low tide.

The morning after revealed a beach looking little different from the week before. Well, with one exception.
Hmm, something's missing...
Dismantling & removing the lifeguard station ahead of Labor Day = respecting Mother Nature. Still, at first it seemed Earl barely registered on Bay View beach. Heck, it didn't even toss about the previous week's abandoned kelp forest.
So I began my collection for the day. And then a funny thing happened. Halfway through, I started seeing something odd.

A weird, pulverized, fiber-y mass started washing in as the tide rose. In all the months I've beachcombed I'd never seen anything like it. It seems Earl had indeed left a parting gift, an organic "carpet" washing up on my shore. Except it wasn't just organics.
Claw band
Over and over, the waves brought bits of floating trash right up to my feet. First a claw band, then a piece of foam. It was astounding.
Another claw band
Another claw band, a gnarled piece of green plastic, a burned piece of wood, a cigarette butt, a bright yellow shard of hard plastic.
Bit of green plastic scrap
For months now I've arrived at the beach "after the fact." My feet reach the sand, and what's happening has already mostly happened. And I have to make educated guesses about where the junk has come from. But to actually see it arrive -- to watch the ocean depositing bits of man-made debris with each wave -- was sobering. And a gift. It made it real. Garbage patches, persistent trash, plastic in seabirds... it's not some farce or fantasy. It's out there, and it washes in with each storm. Even if said storm blessedly spares your home in other, more direct ways.

I only wish I'd had more time to spend at the beach that morning. Who knows how much else I'd have found.
Tidal "carpet" by the time I had to leave
As it was, I already left with a full, and heavy, bag -- and heart. The full collection report is still forthcoming. But I'll close this post with a teaser:
This was no small haul

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Brief Intermission

Went to the beach on September 4 post-Hurricane/Tropical Storm Earl. An interesting -- and surprising -- trip. Alas, a funeral and car shopping post car-wreck took priority over posting collection report. And this weekend some nice family time with mom (aka "Grandma" to a certain little girl of mine) trumps Diaries too.

Will return to the post in a couple more days. To all who are reading -- and to all who are working, looking, blogging in your own corners of the world -- thx for your support and the wonderful work you're all doing!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not In My Back Yard, or "Who Cares, Part II"

You may recall a "lucky" encounter I had with rock snot a month ago. It set the stage for talking about why this all matters. Litter at the beach, trash bobbing in the ocean -- so what? Why should someone care?

As it happens, the deeper I dig, the more reasons I find to care.

"Who Cares, Part I" dealt with plastics as a carrier of invasive life forms that can devastate distant and isolated ecosystems. But that's just it -- too often it seems that marine debris is a problem "over there," somehow other, distant, unrelated to our day-to-day lives.

It's not. That's just a different strain of "NIMBY"ism. Instead of I don't want that so close to me, it's There's no way that's so close to me.

I get it. I mean, it's easy to see pictures from Indonesia or India and think that floating garbage is only a scourge of the developing world. It's a bit harder when you see it in:
Gutters in New York
A quick test-dredge of the Charles River, Boston
Rivers in Missouri
Baltimore Harbor
Beaches in San Diego
Sea floors off of Santa Barbara, CA
Seabird bellies on the paradise of Midway
The industrialized world -- our world -- is awash in persistent waste. It all wants to get to the ocean. The bits that don't make it all the way instead foul our rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, swimming holes, fishing holes, reservoirs, hatcheries, town docks, riverwalks, landscapes. The bits that do make it swirl in gyres and eddys for years, or decades, until finding their way into marine life or back onto our shores.

There may be places where you can still walk the beach and overlook it or pretend not to see it. But as I've found, it's there. More of it washes up each week. And it's only getting worse.

There is no technology for pulling plastic out of lake, river, or sea without destroying the ecosystem. You can't filter plastic -- especially the little photodegraded microplastics -- from plankton. If you pull up the plankton, you remove the base of the food web, and you kill the sea. What's swirling out there, and washing up, is going to keep doing it. In our lifetime, and our children's, and their children's.

"Not In My Back Yard"? Check again.