Sunday, March 27, 2011

Collection Report March 9-10, 2011

March 9, 9:20AM. Sunny, not warm. But the bitterness of deep winter was breaking. The ice packs were quickly melting back, revealing the high backshore once again.
Impending spring
And, like in February, the beach was utterly scoured. Nothing washed in -- organic or otherwise. I wondered why. I also paused to enjoy the beautiful scene.
Tiger-eye maple?
No, just low tide artistry
Then, amid this clean-slate beach, I noticed:
9488 0402 ME 01 EEZ
An entire trap washes in, but almost no smaller flotsam? Why?

This one actually isn't too hard. You see, the surface of the ocean -- where plastic things float -- is NOT the whole ocean. On the surface, northerly or westerly winds can push the upper layer of water out to the open sea. (Surrounding seawater then rushes in to fill the void.) Meanwhile, on the sea floor, currents and tides can be dragging heavy objects like lobster traps the exact opposite direction. A few feet at a time, for years & years. Check out the Gulf of Maine Observing System's website. On some buoys, you can see real-time readings of current direction & speed from the surface all the way to 250 meters down! Sometimes they align; sometimes they're vastly different worlds.

Anyway, intrigued, I decided to carve some follow-up time the next day. Welcome back to Bay View, March 10, 9:00AM. Low tide, and winds had been from the east all night, strong & blustery. Was this a flotsam-maker?? Well...
Yes and no
Wow. That's new. A whole slew of cat-tail reeds washed in overnight. I've never seen any wash in before. There are no cat-tails at Bay View, or within sight of it. But two marshes do empty into Saco Bay from the north: Goosefare Brook a mile away; Scarborough Marsh about 4.5 miles. Dead reeds from one (or both) seem to have entered the bay and drifted south overnight. The easterly winds then blew them up onto the beach.

So. What would that mean for other flotsam? Still almost nothing! No kelp, seaweed, or plastic. Really intrigued, I made one more check at the afternoon high-tide. Welcome back, yet again, March 10, 3:00PM:
The wind remained strong from the east all day. The sea was a shaving-cream froth. I spent a half-hour mesmerized, just watching each wave splash in, the foam blowing away. Still no flotsam. The morning's reeds had been kicked up onto the backshore, and a big chunk of driftwood rolled in, but little else.
Seen better days
How little? Here's Zone N, after 3 visits in 2 days:
28 finds:
  • Building materials: 1 (asphalt chunk)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 1 (bit of styrofoam)
  • Fishing misc.: 4 (2 rope scraps, claw band, lobster trap coating)
  • Food-related plastics: 3 (corner tag, 2 bottlecap o-rings)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 5 (Twisted Tea bottle, can scrap, 3 bits of sea glass)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 11 (inc. tub-surround scrap?, o-ring, Wal-Mart bag, half a pair of goggles, tampon applicator & its accompanying package, latex glove scrap?, upholstery scrap)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 1
  • Paper/wood: 2 (tissue, stick from small firework)
  • Misc./unique: 0
A remarkably low count. Some, like the bottle, clearly a recent local drop.

And what about Zone S?
16 finds:
  • Building materials: 2 (asphalt, fence slat)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 1 (styrofoam bit)
  • Fishing misc.: 4 (2 rope scraps, shotgun shell, clawband)
  • Food-related plastics: 0
  • Food-related metal/glass: 1 (can scrap)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 7 (including bandaid, thin pipette, wristband)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 1
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
Again, next to nothing. See the claw band wrapped around the bit of driftwood? I find them a lot like that. Usually remove the wood, but wanted to show it this time. Mostly because it's about the only thing of interest that washed up this week.

So. Roiled seas, a lot of beachcombing, easterly winds. And almost no flotsam. It's not like Saco Bay has been magically freed from all its debris. Reeds -- and a large, rotten log -- floated in from somewhere to the north. But not kelp, or seaweed, or plastic debris. A week before, 212 bits of junk washed in. This week, a fifth of that, even with a day of helpful winds.

With Weather Underground & NERACOOS's excellent archives, I might be able to make some sense of it. Til then, nothing to do but enjoy the mystery & wonder of the sea. And however many strolls along a clean beach I can get.


  1. Intriguing. I love the mystery of found trash/litter. Although I do my litter picking on sidewalks and streets there is still some mystery about the ebbs and flows of litterbug activity and amazement about what gets discarded on public streets.
    Bernie Paquette
    My litter eradication blog is,
    Ck out my litter field guide (Sept 2009 blog)

  2. Hi Bernie! It's great to "meet" you and learn about your blog. I love the field guide! The mystery and the chance to figure out something new is definitely a draw for me. Not to mention the simple joy of getting to walk a clean stretch of beach from time to time. Thx for all you're doing!