Friday, November 25, 2011

Collection Report Nov 7, 2011

Nov 7, 1:30PM, an hour or so before low tide. Bright, low sun. Long, moody shadows. A beautiful day for a walk on the beach.
And all of 30 seconds into the day, I could tell some weirdness was afoot.
I've seen the ocean pull together these interesting mounds of rock & cobble down in the southern part of my walk before. But never up on the northern end. It's always a thrill, witnessing nature cull & arrange perfect piles of stone. Only to blow them all apart with the next tide.

Along with the stone was a colorful array of bone, shell, deep/coldwater coral shards...
And plastic cats?
This was an amazing day. Not just for how much debris washed up, but for where it washed up. Here's Zone N:
46 finds:
  • Building materials: 19 (9 asphalt chunks, 6 brick, 4 tile)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 1
  • Fishing misc.: 4 (trap vinyl coating scraps)
  • Food-related plastic: 2 (wrappers)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 8 (2 can scraps, 6 sea glass)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 8 (3 plastic hairbands, button, toy cat, vinyl scrap, 2 strapping)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 0
  • Paper/wood: 2 (paper scrap, wood firecracker stick)
  • Misc./unique: 2 (glass bead, leather scrap)
This is not the amazing bit. For that, we quickly turn to Zone S:
189 finds:
  • Building materials: 14 (4 asphalt, 3 brick, 3 shingles, 3 wood stakes, plywood chip)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 1
  • Fishing misc.: 72 (4 rope scraps, 30 vinyl trap scraps, 34 claw bands!, shotgun shell, 3 trap bumpers)
  • Food-related plastic: 13 (2 bottlecap liners, cup top, cup scrap, 3 gum, 3 silverware, 3 wrappers)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 11 (4 bottle caps, foil, 6 seaglass)
  • Non-food/unknown plastics: 59 (balloon, 3 hairbands, bandaid, 5 plastic wrap, 4 tape scraps, 4 strapping, 7 vinyl shards, bow, firecracker, clothes tag, 14 scraps >1", 17 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 9 (8 filters, 1 filter tip)
  • Paper/wood: 1 (paper air filter)
  • Misc./unique: 9 (crayon tip, aluminum scrap, 5 fabric pieces, 2 gloves)
Wow. Never has Zone S quadrupled Zone N. Not in 17 months. With a dizzying array of finds, mostly all tossed back from the sea, wrecked & ruined. From:
Ancient & grotty lobster claw bands
Fish-nibbled balloon
Truth in advertising
And the oddest thing about all of this junk (from both zones)? Look:
Minus a couple local food wrappers, it all sinks. Every piece that washed up this week is denser than seawater. It all once littered the seafloor. From there, currents & tides dragged it along rock, over silt, through weed. Until finally hurling the bits up onshore, along with shell & bone & stone. Crazy. Especially since Weather Underground's historical data for the week shows offshore breezes, the tide chart shows weak tides, and the local NOAA buoy also shows winds & surface currents moving offshore. What's happening on the ocean bottom often bears no relationship to what's happening just a few meters above.

One for the books, that's for sure. (And maybe a little background for why Nov. 21's walk put me in a more thankful frame of mind.) My takeaway? Whether the discarded plastics of our modern world float, or sink, they still pollute. And very rarely do any of them ever go "away."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


A year and a half into the Diaries, I admit that a certain gloom has been creeping in lately. So many bags of garbage, so many news accounts of declining seas & shores. Too much plastic junk, and still more being churned out every day.

So this past Monday when I hit the beach, a pall hung over my thoughts.

Which is why what I found was such a startling, beautiful surprise. Here is the grand total of debris from 500 feet of beachfront for the week:
Barely two dozen pieces. Take away the rock, glass (and of course the infernal cigarettes), and last week the sea washed up a grand total of 9 tiny things.

It was a clean beach. The kind my ancestors would have enjoyed -- probably never imagining any other kind. It was the brief vision of a future that my daughter and all of the next generations deserve. One that's worth fighting for. The kind of day where you truly could forget the modern world. See the gorgeous ripples of outflow at the far end of the low-tide terrace:
Study the beautiful striations running the length of sun-bleached driftwood:
 And admire the geometric artwork left behind by a few errand-running gulls:

I know it's fleeting. I know the challenges & the realities. To borrow Tolkien, "The land dreams in a false peace." But for the glimpse & reminder of what that peace could actually look like, I'm grateful. And thankful.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Captain Charles Moore's New Book, "Plastic Ocean"

I first learned of Captain Charles Moore in a Discovery Channel documentary in 2009. He was strolling the plastic sand at Hawaii's infamous Kamilo Beach, exposing the realities of a plastic society. Since then, he and the pioneering work of his non-profit, Algalita Marine Research Foundation, have loomed large in the back of my mind & in my efforts. It looms still larger, now that I've just finished his brand-new "Plastic Ocean" (with collaborator Cassandra Phillips).

"Plastic Ocean" is something of an enigma -- as I imagine Capt. Moore to be. It's part personal narrative, part adventure tale, part history/science lecture, part manifesto. It follows no real chronology. But it thinks big. In it, Moore cuts a broad (and occasionally deep) swath through the invention of plastics, methods of plastic production, international treaties on plastic dumping, scientific literature listing the ills of plastic, collaborations with scientists & artists, joint ventures, a walk-through of how a scientific paper gets into peer-reviewed journals. And he sums it up with a clarion call for a complete rethinking of what it means for a society to be prosperous and successful.

No small work, this.

Its 337 pages take the reader through turbulent swells, doldrums blazing with hot sun and heavy air, refreshing dips in clear lagoons. An occasional statement threatens to capsize the whole thing. (He cites the "100,000 animals killed each year" figure, which has been floating around as an untested number since 1984. He also raises the spectre of plastic pellets being used to fatten cattle, although various searches reveal only a grainy newspaper article from 1971 about this being tried.) Yet somehow it all works, and the pages keep turning.

In the end, this is a love story. A vision & memory of wide seas, roaring surf, sparkling beaches. Simpler times and tastes, before the throwaway world, when people made crafts -- and crafted things were built to last. Every good love story has its crisis. And of course the crisis here is plastic waste, and its attendant soup of toxic chemicals that foul seas, beaches, & marine life. But plastic itself is not the villain. Cheap, disposable plastics and the companies who shamelessly make, promote, and defend them in spite of mounting evidence of their harm -- these cast the shadow across this text. Moore has no love for the American Chemistry Council or bottling giant Coca-Cola. He has little patience for organizations who receive large checks from them and still profess to be seriously working on the problem of plastic pollution.

Moore also devotes many pages to exposing the still-growing destruction caused by fishing debris -- decimated coral reefs, dead & injured sea creatures, hazards to shipping & sailing. (The latter of which he experienced first-hand and recounts vividly.) He shows convincingly that international treaties such as MARPOL Annex V (1988) are toothless tigers, flouted by many rogue fishing fleets still today.

"Plastic Ocean" is literally chock-a-bloc with facts and figures. Sadly, with no footnotes it's hard for a reader to take further steps to delve into these figures themselves. (It does contain a well-stocked general bibliography at the back.) Moore notes this as a conscious choice, but his logic isn't exactly satisfying. Still, this book is a powerful wake-up call to a modern dystopia of our own making. It's a great introduction for people who are just learning of the problem. And even seasoned plastic-pollution fighters will find details & angles that they hadn't considered before.

As the pages turn, and solution after solution is vetted -- and shot down -- the scale of the problem and the need to change the game at the source becomes ever more clear. We cannot quickly clean up the mess we've made. There's no way to do it. We just have to stop adding to it.

Capt. Moore writes, "The seductive idea that the more we consume, the better off we'll be has timed out, and the Plastic Ocean is one of many witnesses to this fact... The ocean planet will thank you if you help end its plastic plague." I can't tell whether he looks to the future with optimism or pessimism. Either way, his words ring true.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Collection Report Oct 31, 2011

Monday, Oct. 31, 11:00AM. Sunny skies, calm (if chilly) air. Just one day after a very wacky storm.
We actually got off comparatively light here in coastal Maine. Seabreezes kept much of the snow at bay, and quickly melted what did land. But the storm still left its mark. The beach felt like quicksand -- saturated gravel squished underfoot; the heaviest of the gravel slumped down the foreshore and collected at the base of the low-tide terrace. Deep briny pools formed just in front.
Alien landscapes
The weekend's weather brought a carpet of odd flotsam, especially from the sea floor...
Razor clams, slipper shells, and wrack
Of course, amid the shell, wood, rock, and wrack, plenty of bits that had no business being there.
Somewhere, a lobster trap lies rusting 
More than plenty. A beach load. Zone N:

155 finds:
  • Building materials: 20 (8 asphalt chunks, 7 brick, 2 tile, 2 wood, roof shingle scrap)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 29
  • Fishing misc.: 25 (6 rope, 3 claw bands, 14 vinyl trap coating scraps, 2 rope twine)
  • Food-related plastics: 9 (bottle, 2 bottle caps, "Red Devils" cup scrap, 3 food wrappers, gum, knife)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 5 (bottle cap, 3 sea glass, foil wrapper)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 33 (cap, flip-flop, glove, 2 firecrackers, shoe-rack hook, Hooksett disc, 7 scraps >1", 19 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 28 (27 filters, Skoal pack)
  • Paper/wood: 2
  • Misc./unique: 4 (wire, cloth, leather swatch, sock)
The spike in asphalt & brick is telling. Usually deeply buried by sand on top, the week's weather left many chunks exposed. The flip-flop and soda bottle speak of local action. But this odd, discolored retail-store shoe hook doesn't.
This one's a first
Here's a wild one. A faded ketchup packet. Unused & unopened, just roughed up; the ketchup is long gone, replaced by wet sand. Surely washed in from the deep, where it had spent ??? months/years.
Would you like fries with that?
And any time dense vinyl scraps like this float in, you know the seas are agitated. Vinyl sinks, so this one spent plenty of time scraping along the seafloor before reaching Bay View.
Seat cover, maybe?

Zone S was odd this time. Usually void of much of Zone N's richness (both natural & manmade), this day it was chock-a-bloc with razor clams, snail shells, slipper shells, and a prominent wrackline. Here's what came out of it:

79 finds:
  • Building materials: 15 (6 asphalt, 4 roof shingle scraps, 5 brick)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 15
  • Fishing misc.: 10 (rope scrap, shotgun shell, 2 claw bands, 5 vinyl trap coatings, rope twine)
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (gum)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 4 (Schlitz can top, 2 sea glass, foil)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 20 (balloon w/ long string, 3 caps, 3 package scraps, tape measure case, glasses earpiece, tennis ball, o-ring, 2 scraps >1", 7 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 11
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 3 (leather sole fragment, 2 fabric scraps)
Still less than Zone N, but in a season where 20-30 Zone S finds is the norm, finding 79 is worth noting. Also worth noting is one particular piece.
Go for the gusto!
This is the aluminum top to a steel beer can, an old-style pull-tab Schlitz beer can. In fact, some research showed that this style was only used from 1972 to 1975. The Gulf of Maine harbored this little piece of the past for at least 36 years. Until finally releasing it back to the light.

What else awaits in the deep?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sown. Reaped.

I woke up this morning to an astounding video posted by my friend Danielle of It Starts With Me on Facebook. This is a canal in the vicinity of Naples, Italy, after recent storms/floods. Take the minute to watch it. And please share.

It's all plastic. Wrap, cartons, jugs, packing, foam, bags.

It's horrifying, but not unexpected. Merely the inevitable result of a plastic, throwaway world. Seriously, how is any other outcome possible? We wonder why plastic is now in all five major oceanic gyres of the world, or why there are no pristine beaches left anywhere on the planet.

Don't be told by the plastic industry that "plastic doesn't litter, people do." Every mudslide, hurricane, tsunami, and other natural disaster in the world proves the bald-faced lie of that statement. Lives & livelihoods wrecked in the moment. Far-flung ecosystems wrecked for decades or centuries afterward.

Change the game.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Collection Report Oct 24, 2011

Monday, October 24. Bay View beach, Saco, Maine. 1:25PM, a couple hours before low tide. The latest high-tide had been fairly weak, and there was little new wrack/seaweed. An overcast day, 60 degrees and deliciously fall-like.

The cooler days & quieter beach gave me a little time to reflect. On ephemeral rivulets:
A seagull's walk, interrupted
And the wealth of color & texture strewn about:
It's funny what you see, when you just stop & look at a handful of sand and pebbles. (After all, in Maine, that sand may have 600 million years of history behind it.) Even with a weak tide, this was a great day for wash-ins -- slipper shells, blue mussels, tons of crab, a few fish bones. A real treat. Of course, nowadays the modern world always intrudes, though often in colorful ways:
1/1000th of one of the ~1 million lobster
traps on the floor of the Gulf of Maine
Which, I guess, brings me back to the point of a collection report. So, on to it. First, Zone N:
82 finds:
  • Building materials: 7 (5 asphalt, brick, wood block)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 14
  • Fishing misc.: 7 (3 rope, rope twine, shell wadding, claw band, trap vinyl coating)
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (plasticized cupcake base?)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 3 (foil wrappers)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 11 (5 bags/scraps, tube, 2 scraps >1", 3 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 36
  • Paper/wood: 1 (paper scrap)
  • Misc./unique: 2 (fabric scrap, odd piece of paper with thin wires embedded)
A wide range, but mostly the usual suspects. (Why any of this should be "usual" is another question.) Sad to see so many cigarette butts, but hardly surprised. 5.5 trillion are used in the world each year. If even 90% of those were disposed of properly, that's still about 17,500 tossed on the ground every second. Every second. It's not sustainable, and change is in the air. Where that will leave smokers in the end is, largely, up to smokers to decide.

Over to Zone S:
31 finds:
  • Building materials: 2 (asphalt)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 6
  • Fishing misc.: 11 (4 rope, Plante bumper, 3 trap scraps, twine, 2 claw bands)
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (Gatorade label scrap)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 2 (scraps >1", scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 5 (4 cigs, 1 filter)
  • Paper/wood: 2 (firecracker sticks)
  • Misc./unique: 0
Nothing to see here. Except maybe the big black trap corner bumper, nicely stamped with the maker, "PLANTE" on the side. Also, curiously, there are two other words embossed: "CANADA" and "U.S." The "CANADA" had been X'ed out, making this seemingly meant for U.S. traps. Wonder what law/regulation is behind that. Such a regulated industry, yet still leaving such a legacy of debris.

As I was leaving, I noticed this scrawled on a drift-log up in Zone N.
I study the accidental ways we leave pieces of ourselves behind. Here's an intentional one. A hope for a little permanence in an ephemeral world. A reminder that Joyce was here. But a reminder to whom, again? Maybe it doesn't matter. She left, but for a while at least her presence is still at Bay View.