Saturday, April 30, 2011


I sometimes drink bottled water instead of tap.

I sometimes eat fast food.

I use a plastic throwaway straw once a week or so.

I occasionally buy bags of chips, or plastic-wrapped candies.

Once in a while, I toss something I could've recycled.

I've been known to lose litter & not retrieve it.

I've bought "cheaper" instead of "more eco."

I fly in airplanes long distance for fun.

I drove an oil-dripping muscle car.

I then drove an oil-dripping rust-bucket V8 pickup truck.

I then drove a 4-wheel-drive SUV.

I shun our local public transporation because it's inconvenient.

I sometimes judge people who pollute more than I do.

I sometimes judge people who pollute less than I do.

Now and then, what I crave most of all is an ice-cold Coke.

The past couple of years for me has been a slow wake-up. A chance to realize that there is such a thing as sustainable, sensitive living. That it matters -- that it's imperative. I realize now the level of damage that comes with some of the choices & options of modern life. Both to my generation and to the next. I see it, and pick it up, every week. Washed in, left behind. I admire the people who bend over backwards to put a full stop to it in their lives. I read their blogs, and nod in appreciation.

Still, I also recognize that my world is one of baby steps. I find a new way to consume less here. Waste less there. Reuse here, recycle there. I pick up more of what I see, which helps me see more to pick up.

But I've never been the one to make the grand gesture, the bold pledge, the cold-turkey quit. That, I leave to others.

I take pride in the choices I make now compared to a few years ago. But as I write on the ills of waste & thoughtlessness, I do so with a sense of my own limits. With the humility that, for all my talk and efforts, I too have been -- and continue to be -- part of a mainstream culture that most highly values the impulse of the moment over all else.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Collection Report April 14, 2011

Bay View, on a bright, sunny April 14.
1:40PM. 60 degrees F. Low, low tide again
Wait. Something's missing from last week...
Where are all the rocks?
Those thousands of pebbles gathered into mounds? Gone. All in one week. Maybe in one tide? Whether reburied or rescattered or pulled out to the depths, almost nothing was left in their wake. In fact, in all of Bay View, one thing had floated in and stayed:
Behold: Sea lettuce!
Dull. Here's what I was able to "cobble" together for a collection of Zone N:
15 finds:
  • Building materials: 4 (asphalt chunks - likely leftover from April 7)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 3 (insulation, packing peanut, cup scrap)
  • Fishing misc.: 0
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (spoon)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 1 (sea glass)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 2 (bag scrap, sliver)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 4
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
And Zone S:
10 finds:
  • Building materials: 4 (asphalt, 3 brick bits)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 2
  • Fishing misc.: 0
  • Food-related plastics: 0
  • Food-related metal/glass: 1 (sea glass)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 1 (scrap)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 2
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
No commentary. Really, what would be the point? Clearly Saco Bay is in a pattern where, regardless of the weather, next to nothing (organic or otherwise) is floating in. So nothing (organic or otherwise) is beaching. Leaving a Flotsam Diarist without much to do except record local drops, and wait for the next week.

Still, it was a good day to linger a bit and admire nature's unmarred palette.
A new masterpiece with every tide
After all, warmer air and longer days means exchanging these shore-side companions:
For these:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Collection Report April 7, 2011

Welcome back to Bay View, Saco, Maine.
April 7, 2011, 9:10AM, 1 hr past low tide
"Welcome," I think?
Deadly algae aside, it was a beautiful, and odd, day. It had been another week of major storms, pounding surf, high seas. The beach slope had steepened noticeably. Big things had happened. Yet I found a grand total of 3 things floated in & beached.
This kelp is one of them
Storm, wave, wind -- nothing is bringing floatables into Saco Bay from the wider Gulf of Maine this spring. Compare that to the storms of Feb/March 2010 that got me started on this whole thing:
Ocean Park, Mar 19, 2010 - live clams & kelp
Back to the present, I've at least learned a key rule: Want to make the ocean laugh? Tell yourself that you know how it works. Prime example from April 7, 2011:
Zone S, the southern, more narrow area of beach
Now that's just weird. No kelp. No seaweed. No seashells. No plastic. Just tens of thousands of rocks & cobbles, neatly assembled into mounds. The northern stretch, Zone N, had lots of strewn rocks. But nothing like down here at Zone S, just 100 feet away. Massive, organized energy had to hit this stretch of beach to do this. And as I alluded in my last post, that energy isn't uniform. It crests & troughs up and down the shore. It's the same energy that carves out Bay View's sandy cusps. This time, it got a little more intense. (Oddly enough, these neat piles of rock didn't square up one-to-one with the cusps above them. Each tide seems to have its own frequency -- its own pattern.)

So, on to the collection. Zone N:
31 finds:
  • Building materials: 20 (15 chunks of asphalt, 3 brick pieces, wooden block, tile with rubberized backing)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 2 (styrofoam scrap, blue sticky-back foam shape)
  • Fishing misc.: 0
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (chewing gum)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (bottle cap, seaglass)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 0
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 4 (all recently smoked)
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 2 (leather shoe sole, scrap of rubberized soundproofing/watershield)
And next, Zone S:
61 finds:
  • Building materials: 57 (40 asphalt chunks, 15 brick pieces, worn flowerpot base scrap, fence post)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing misc.: 0
  • Food-related plastics: 0
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (seaglass)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 1 (tennis ball)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 0
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 1
By any angle, this blows the roof off of 10 months of trends. Only the shoe sole floated in. Everything else was local. Even the asphalt & brick. I don't think it was recently dredged up deep at sea. If it had been, the shore would be littered with clams, mussels, snails -- seafloor stuff. My hunch? It's material that's collected over the years down at the low-tide terrace, and is usually buried lightly by sandy outwash. This week, the storms blew away the sand, and blasted the rocks up the slope. In Zone N they scattered willy-nilly. In Zone S, they massed together into little islands. Same beach, same weather, two totally different worlds.
Zone N, low-tide terrace
I love this stuff.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Interference Patterns

The other day, I watched a Smithsonian Channel show about the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The Great Lakes freighter, heavily laden with iron ore, was overtaken by a November storm on the eastern side of Lake Superior in 1975. All her crew were lost.
The official report blamed human error -- latches that weren't closed well. Later scientists weren't so sure. The Smithsonian show suggests that she was struck by a rogue wave, broke apart, and sank in two pieces.

For a long time, the idea of "rogue waves" was dismissed as legend. Not anymore. Simply put, a rogue wave is a large wave that comes seemingly from nowhere. It happens without warning, and can toss a 26,000-ton ship around like styrofoam. Where do they come from? A leading theory is "diffractive focusing" -- regular waves coming from different directions that meet up briefly. If their waves are in phase -- cresting in the same place at the same time -- they multiply. The result is, well, a nightmare.

So what's this have to do with a Flotsam Diarist? Well, as winter has dragged into spring, I've spent some days just lingering, watching Bay View's waves. And I noticed, they're not all coming from one place. In fact, they roll in from the east-northeast & the east-southeast, bashing into each other near the shore.
My daughter patiently awaiting a ditch-filler
That, and the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald, got me thinking. I hadn't really thought about the ocean being made up of different energies, propagating from many different directions. But once I knew what to look for, I couldn't miss it. Turns out, all that interference may be causing Bay View's weird cusps -- the ridges that can be seen running up and down the shore.
Crest, trough, crest, trough, crest...
After all, a beach is just the result of the energy of the ocean. The ocean creates it, sculpts it, erodes it. And that energy doesn't just move sand and shell. It moves kelp and plastic too. If the energy hitting a shore has highs and lows, does that say anything about how -- and where -- one might find the flotsam it carries?

Worth a thought.
I'll never look at a ripple the same way again.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Collection Report March 31, 2011

Back to Bay View!
1:45PM, 45 deg, gathering clouds
With the snow gone, the scene isn't changing much from week to week. Except for this.
A rare straight shot
Can't remember seeing a straighter tide line. Or a lower one. This weakling barely made it up the slope, stopping just below the curious ridges/cusps Bay View is known for. Significant that a weak tide meets the starting edge of the cusps? Another question for the books.

As the picture shows, a bit of energy reached the shore this week. A line of grotty, rotted organics, with a batch of grotty, rotted litter tangled up among them. Here's Zone N:
50 finds:
  • Building materials: 3 (brick)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 1
  • Fishing misc.: 22 (5 claw bands, 3 trap coatings, 12 rope fragments -- all badly frayed and worn, bait bag, monofilament twisted around rusted wire)
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (chewing gum)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (can scraps)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 8 (bladder/hot water bottle scrap?, rubber band, plastic bag scrap, cord, hard blue scrap like the edge of a recycling tub, 3 small hard scraps)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 10
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 3 (pair of Abercrombie & Fitch flipflops, bit of rope)
A close-up of the fishing gear:
Not recent
I've seen plenty of old rope wash in. But nothing quite this worn out. Some bits had turned shaggy, more like dreadlocks than rope. Probably a good story in there, if only I could decipher it.

On to Zone S:
23 finds:
  • Building materials: 6 (3 asphalt chunks, 2 brick, 1 tile)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing misc.: 6 (claw band, 4 rope bits, bait bag scrap)
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (freshly dropped spoon)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (scrap)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 6 (bottle stopper/lid, kite, tieback, 3 scraps)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 2
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
More shaggy rope, just like Zone N. (Though, as usual, less stuff than in Zone N.)

I won't pretend that 73 finds is news-worthy. Even the kite & flip-flops don't do much to make this week particularly interesting. But it is odd that so little floatable material is coming in, week after week after week. And curious that what washed in this time was so grotty and old. It just feels like, for whatever reason, since the Christmas storm nothing has floated into Saco Bay. What does that mean? Wish I knew. As always, a trip to Bay View brings more questions than answers.

But this time, it did bring closure to a lingering, doomed relic.
Bay View Convent. 1872 - 2011
The more things stay the same, the more they change.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Collection Report March 23, 2011

March 23, Bay View beach, Saco, Maine. Another beautiful sunny morning.
9:45AM, 32 degrees F, an hr past a very low tide
The sea was remarkably low. As on the previous week, live sand-dollars poked out of the terrace by the hundreds. And it was a thrill leaving footsteps on a strip of low sand I'd never even seen before.

Higher up, one of the high tides in the past week had lapped at the edge of the dunes, pushing the cat-tails of March 9 up with them.
High and dry
It takes power to send waves that far up the beach. But again, where's the fresh seaweed & other floating debris? Records show at least a couple days of winds blowing from the east. (That is, off the ocean toward shore.) Yet, as so often this winter, almost nothing floated into Saco Bay, or beached itself at Bay View.

Here's Zone N (the northern of the two zones I visit each week):
32 finds:
  • Building materials: 5 (asphalt chunk, 4 fence slats)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 9 (8 scraps, sponge)
  • Fishing misc.: 2 (lobster claw band, partial lobster trap tag "CANADA LOB")
  • Food-related plastics: 3 (#6 plastic cup scrap, popsicle wrapper, clingwrap)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 4 (sea glass)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 7 (tampon applicator, bottled water lid seal, 5 scraps)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 2
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
A tampon applicator three weeks in a row. That's just not nice. Otherwise, the most interesting piece was this trap tag fragment:
A journey of 150+ miles. But how
many months or years?
One thing that raised my eyebrow was the styrofoam. This was the first time in weeks that any significant batch of foam showed up.
A bit of everything
On to Zone S (the southern of the two zones I visit, separated from Zone N by about 100 feet):
13 finds:
  • Building materials: 4 (asphalt chunks)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 4 (coffee-cup base, 3 pieces styrofoam)
  • Fishing misc.: 1 (rail from lobster trap tag)
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (Poland Spring water bottle)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 1 (sea glass)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 1 (scrap)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 0
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 1 (ladies right size 4 "Liberty Brand" rubber shoe)
The bottle is grimy, but doesn't show sealife attached to it. The shoe is rotted and ruined, but can't tell whether it came from the sea or was buried in the sand for months/years. But look, more foam.
The orange chunks match the chunk
found in Zone N
Out of 45 pieces of litter, 13 were foam. Blowing the lid off that curve. So is that just a blip? Or does it mean something? I wish I knew.

Anyway, this week was a tiny haul. In two weeks at the end of December/beginning of January, I pulled up nearly 1,000 pieces of garbage, strewn among hundreds of blobs of seaweed. All of it, wreckage dragged into Saco Bay and heaved onto the sand by the Christmas storm. Since then, we've had nor'easters, we've had gales, storms, high seas, big weather. But there hasn't been another beaching -- of seaweed or plastic or both -- on anything like that scale since.

Wouldn't it be nice to believe that one big storm could rid a gulf of its man-made burden? I wish I believed that.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Buck: Passed

I was just surfing various ecology Web sites. And I came across a link for beach cleanups in South Africa. So I clicked. (Why not?) Here's the home page I saw:
Found at:
"Plastics don't litter - people do!" This is the marine debris prevention partnership that international plastics industries wish to create. Our products are not the problem, you are.

Let's look at that handy plastic life-cycle chart again:
Which steps involve you, the consumer?
There are at least a dozen transition steps from plastic formulation to ultimate burial/incineration. You, the consumer, are responsible for one, maybe two, of those steps. Yet the plastics industry wants to put the burden, blame, and responsibility of it all on you.

So, let's see what you've done.
  • Did you identify, clean, sort, & put out your recyclable plastics? Did the bin get blown over, scavenged, hit by a plow, poorly emptied by a recycling truck that's doing its best? Your fault.
  • Did you take your family to the park? Did your snack packages have tear-off tops? (Most likely.) Did a torn-off top blow out of your hand, or baggie, despite your good intentions? Your fault.
  • Did you try to point out that single-use plastic bags put an undue burden on our world? You may find yourself sued (Hilex Poly and others currently suing ChicoBag). And when that bag you tried not to use gets blown out of the recycling bin you put it into, it's your fault.
  • Have you ever been victim of a flood, a hurricane, worse? All that plastic material in your car, your office, your home -- it washed into the environment, and will stay there. By the millions of tons around the globe. Your fault.
The theme is clear. The plastics industry would like to shed as much responsibility and burden for the mess its products create as it can. And so far, they've done a good job of it.

But they do get one thing right: you can take responsibility. You can make a difference. As a very wise 17-year-old high schooler standing amid the plastic waste of Midway Atoll wrote last week: "There is always a choice."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Collection Report March 17, 2011

I re-read last week's tome. Realized I needed to keep this one much shorter! So, Bay View, March 17, 2:40PM, low tide.
50 degrees F, snow all gone, has spring arrived?
Gorgeous, and busy. Clam diggers, dog walkers, and metal detectorists all shared the beach. As well as a large cadre of live sand dollars.
A hundred-plus along the low-tide terrace
The week had seen some energy. There were lines of organics cast up on the shore. And that means flotsam. Zone N:
80 finds:
  • Building materials: 5 (plastic siding, 2 wooden blocks, aluminum strip, brick)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 3 (coffee cup scrap, styrofoam disk, pipe insulation foam scrap)
  • Fishing misc.: 34 (2 ropes, ball of monofilament, bait bag, 6 claw bands/scraps, 24 lobster trap coatings)
  • Food-related plastics: 4 (crazy straw, gum, Reese's PB cup bag, top from 2-liter bottle
  • Food-related metal/glass: 6 (can, 5 can scraps)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 22 (inc. black tape, Lego, o-ring, wristband, anchor, pen, tampon applicator, sock hook, bag of dog poo)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 3
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 3 (2 leather scraps, glove)
A tampon applicator two weeks in a row. Lovely. More interesting was the Lego. In July last year, I found a pristine one. I'd read of the Tokio Express, a container ship that foundered in a storm off of Cornwall, UK, in 1997. It lost 62 containers, one of which carred 4,756,940 brand new Lego pieces. At the time, I thought the one I found might be from the ship. But, knowing what I know now, 14 years of ocean bashing is far more likely to look like this:
From where and when have you come?
No way to tell the full story on this little generic white Lego. But I do know it's been out in the ocean a long time, and is now part of my "favorites" stash.

On to Zone S:
47 finds:
  • Building materials: 9 (all chunks of asphalt)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 1 (styrofoam)
  • Fishing misc.: 12 (rope, monofilament, lure, bumper, 4 claw bands, 4 coatings)
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (polystyrene cup scrap)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (can scrap, glass)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 18 (bubblewrap, shopping bag, umbrella base, 2 vinyl upholstery scraps, bottle cap, plug?, clasp)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 1
  • Paper/wood: 1 (tissue)
  • Misc./unique: 2 (leather shoe heel, stamped leather scrap)
The only thing of real interest was this old, battered, and thankfully hookless lure:
The one that got away
So, another week down. A quite typical ratio of Zone N to Zone S this week. And proof, after slow weeks, that there's still very much in the sea.