Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Curtis Cove Report - Aug 15, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2:30PM. A couple hours before low-tide. Upper 70s, seabreeze, bright sun. Bright green algae on the lower foreshore. A tumbled line of pebbles and seaweed mixed together halfway up toward the berm lip. The last remnants of June's wrack high and dry on the backshore.
Sand, cobbles, rip-rap, and wrack
A weak week, energy wise. So what would it bring? Well, this 30-gallon garbage bag for once. Having seeing too many mobster movies, I was a little hesitant to peek in.
Thankfully free from anything... untoward
It just held sand. As did this Luvs bundle of joy:
Also thankfully free of anything untoward!
This week the new wrack & pebble line held the most debris. Last week, 10, 20, 30 feet down the slope were other smaller wrack lines, each with lots of vinyl scraps. Probably remainders from the receding tide, dragging back as much as it could before giving up for the afternoon. This week it was all heavily compressed into one tiny zone of pebble & algae "carpeting" choc-a-bloc with plastic bits.

The haul:
9 pcs of rope, about 9 ft total
486 pcs of non-rope debris
495 finds:
  • Bldg material: furniture: 0
  • Foam/styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing rope/net: 9
  • Fishing trap gear: 334 (10 trap parts, 10 bumpers, bait tin, bait bag cord, entry net, 311 vinyl scraps)
  • Fishing misc.: 42 (40 claw bands, Perfect Fit glove, buoy)
  • Food-related plastics: 25 (3 bottle caps/o-rings, 18 cup scraps, 2 bread tags, food wrapper, straw)
  • Food-related glass/metal: 6 (2 can scraps, 3 sea glass, bottlecap)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 28 (large trash bag, 3 bag scraps, cigarette packaging, 3 cigarettes, diaper, 3 bandaids, 4 cable ties, 2 plant tags, contact solution label, name tag, o-ring, attaching plate, 2 black tape, 4 vinyl upholstery)
  • Scrap plastics: 48 (18 >1", 30 <1 li="li">
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Non-plastic misc./unique: 3 (2 bits of cord, fabric scrap)
All in all, what's become a fairly typical summer signature here at the Cove. Finding 300+ bits of lobster trap vinyl is hardly a shock anymore. Which is itself a little shocking.

Most everything else was also dense, sinkable, small material. Including many scraps that spoke to a long, tortured existence at sea.
Scrap of hi-tech super-insulated glove
Seat cushion? What's its story?
With one nice head-scratcher. NICK 975, who are you, what was this, and do you want it back?
"NICK 975" - Not a lobster tag, so...?
So as the summer wears on and the energy wanes, rope becomes rare and little vinyl bits proliferate. This makes sense. A beach is largely just a physical expression of the nature of the energy that hits it. Whether it's made of cobbles, sand, mud... Whether it runs for 20 miles or occupies a small niche at the bottom of a cliff -- the energy of wave crashing against land molds it. Makes it what it is.

A beach changes over millennia, and it also adjusts to the annual rhythm of storm and calm. It's a privilege to explore the same coast week after week, and learn the rhythms of energy that make Curtis Cove truly unique.

Running YTD counts:
  • Total pcs of litter -- 8164
  • Pcs fishing rope -- 1776
  • Vinyl lobster-trap scraps -- 3835

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Plastics News" Misplaces Comments?

On Friday I discovered a plastics-industry puff piece in Plastics News online. The author, a "sustainability coordinator" at a plastics thermoformer, wrote that the problem of ocean plastics is overplayed.
Source:  http://www.plasticsnews.com/headlines2.html?id=26207 
Heavyweights fighting against ocean garbage had weighed in at the comments: Wallace "J" Nichols of the California Academy of Science,  Stiv Wilson of 5 Gyres, Nick Mallos of the Ocean Conservancy. I added mine at the end, being passionate about this problem. And having just written the Scientific American article illustrating how what we see on the surface is the tiniest fraction of what we're doing to the ocean. A small paragraph illustrating that it's time to kill the rhetoric, wake up, look at the "pristine" beaches of the world, and open our eyes.

Imagine my surprise this morning to find that comment mysteriously gone. It had no links and its architecture was just like the other comments, so there was no obvious reason to flag it.

Still, in a way it's good. It gave me a chance to reframe my comment and post it again. For the moment, the comment is up. But in case it gets "lost" again, here it is in full:

How exciting to have found this post. I just published an article for SciAm last week describing the massive amounts of sunk plastic washing up at a tiny deserted cove in southern Maine. What floats on the surface is literally the tip of the iceberg, and what sinks does persist, and is real. Despite whitewashes.

It's not a surprise that the plastics industry continually comes back to SEA's 2010 report and completely dismisses other work like that of Miriam Goldstein just a few months ago.

It's not a surprise that the industry helps scupper ideas like bottle bills and switching to reusable bags. These represent a cost, and the industry can't have that.

It's not a surprise that the industry still uses the word "recycle" shamanistically while holding a recycling bin as a talisman. Even though recycling plastic just adds -more- plastic to the world instead of less.

And it's not a surprise that the industry puts the blame squarely on the end consumer. As Stiv above says, even in nations where the industry has rooted itself before there were any form of modern waste-management systems in place.

What is a surprise is that the industry is still taken seriously as a concerned actor. As though people still believe it is working in good faith to solve a growing, worsening pandemic of garbage, and the loss of economic, ecological, and emotional vitality that such garbage causes.

It's time to cut the copouts and the rhetoric, legislate industry responsibility since it won't act responsibly itself, and start to change the game.

Please feel free to add your own thoughts & comments. I'm sure the industry would love to have respectful & honest opinions about how to build trust and make a difference.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What Floats... and What Sinks?

We hear and see so much about floating garbage patches and Pacific wash-ins. By now most everyone has seen, at least in passing, this iconic image from Kamilo Beach in Hawaii:
It's easy to forget that this is only a small part of the plastic story.

At Curtis Cove here in Biddeford, Maine, 95% of the material that I find washed in has actually come from the sea floor, not the surface. Of all the varieties of consumer plastic out there, only polyethylenes and polypropylenes float. All the rest sink. #1 PET bottles, vinyls, nylons, toys -- which are mostly made of styrenes, related to #6 plastics.

I've just written a new article for Scientific American online, "Plastics in the Ocean: How Dense Are We?" that lays out a bit more of what I've found.

Globally, the mass of hidden, sunken plastic now raining down onto the floor of the deep ocean is a huge chunk missing from the bigger picture. For all we've learned about what plastic is doing to our environment, there's the devil we know -- and the devil we don't.
Image from the Rozalia Project of a plastic bag found on
the New England sea bed recently
Buy less plastic. Waste less plastic. Make less plastic. Change the game!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Curtis Cove Report - Aug 8, 2012

Wednesday August 8, 10:25AM. Low tide. Bright sun, some offshore wisps of cloud, hot inland but delicious at the coast. Along the rip-rap armoring protecting the roadway, the beach roses were in full bloom. Reds, pinks, and this dazzling snow-white beauty.
Rosa rugosa 
The cove itself was its usual tumble of fine gray sand and rounded pebble. Old wrack and fresh bright green algae mixed in bands.
Each receding wave marked its own line
It had only been 5 days since my last visit. But the mass of pebbles piled high up the foreshore near the lip of the berm spelled one thing: energy. The result of that energy was easy to find in some cases:
Fisherman's heavy-duty glove
In other cases, it meant poking a bit more between the rocks:
Lobster trap vinyl... so much of it
Some finds made a little bit of sense in an ocean context:
Ancient snorkel tube
Others less so:
Plant pot base/stand
All of which to say, even after just 5 days, a fearsome collection:
50 pcs of rope, about 40 ft total
831 pcs of non-rope debris
881 finds:
  • Bldg material/furniture: 4 (industrial carpet scrap, 4" furniture base, window screen mesh scrap, plant pot bottom)
  • Foam/styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing rope/net: 50
  • Fishing trap gear: 549 (515 trap vinyl scraps, 5 trap parts, 27 bumpers, property tag, bait bag)
  • Fishing misc.: 87 (84 claw bands, glove, bait tin, fishing line)
  • Food-related plastics: 52 (bottle scrap, 4 bottlecap o-rings, 36 drink-cup scraps, 7 small food wrapper scraps, 2 silverware scraps, 2 straws)
  • Food-related glass/metal: 11 (2 sea glass, 6 aluminum can bottoms/tops, 2 can scraps, bottlecap)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 22 (large baggie, 5 baggie scraps, finger from plastic glove, 3 bandaids, 2 molded "house" toy/dollhouse parts, rubber belt, snorkel, composite block, 2 'silk' circlets, plant tag, t-shirt tag, 2 cable ties, alarm clock scrap)
  • Scrap plastics: 98 (36 >1", 62 <1 li="li">
  • Paper/wood: 2 (fence slat, post)
  • Non-plastic misc./unique: 6 (4 fabric scraps, leather offcut, hairband)
Wow! Everything but the kitchen sink. (Maybe I should have stuck around for another tide?) A lot of very old & heavy stuff too (much of the rubber was brittle and cracked, e.g.) A couple of the odder bits:
Somebody missed their wake-up!
Is that puncture from a fish tooth?
Yet another plant tag
With all the plant tags and plant-pot bases, it seems likely that some storm in the past several years took the entire contents of someone's back porch and dumped them all into the sea. Now they're coming back, one piece at a time.

And I can't end this post without one shot of those vinyl lobster-trap scraps.
I've collected 3,524 of these now here at the cove. That's just about enough to maybe put together -3- lobster traps. At least 38,000 lobster traps are lost by Maine fishermen in the Gulf of Maine each year. Some say the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean is exaggerated. I say that's not possible.

Running YTD counts:
  • Total pcs of litter -- 7669
  • Pcs fishing rope -- 1767
  • Vinyl lobster-trap scraps -- 3524

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Curtis Cove Report - Aug 3, 2012

Friday August 3, 8:30AM. Blue skies and the promise of a hot day.
8:30AM was a good time to be here this day!
A few splashes of fresh green rock algae and tumbled pebbles. Some energy hit the cove during the past week. New moon had just passed, and brought with it a very high tide.
Even without storms, a lunar high tide can pack a wallop
The deep soaking saturated the fine, mud-like sand. Pools of water stood amid the intertidal cobbles low on the foreshore, struggling to drain back to the ocean.
Amid the cobbles, a bog
Sadly, again the purpose of my visit was made clear quickly enough.
Lobster trap vinyl coating
Amid the wrack -- and even standing alone like this -- plastics glittered. So what did my collection bring, all told? A lot, again.
67 pcs of rope, about 45 ft total
314 pcs of non-rope debris
392 finds:
  • Bldg material/furniture: 1 (heavy cornerpiece)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing rope/net: 67
  • Fishing trap gear: 239 (230 vinyl trap coating scraps, 3 trap parts, 3 bait bags, 3 bumpers)
  • Fishing misc.: 20 (17 claw bands, bait lid? scrap, 2 fishing lines)
  • Food-related plastics: 15 (2 bottle scraps, 2 bottle-cap o-rings, 10 SOLO cup scraps, PE juice spout)
  • Food-related glass/metal: 2 (sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 15 (4 bag scraps, mylar balloon, latex balloon, 2 jug scraps, hairband fragment, tire scrap, toy barn? scrap, shovel handle, bowl bottom, sack scrap, "Bon Bon" plant tag)
  • Scrap plastics: 30 (12 >1", 18 <1")
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Non-plastic misc./unique: 3 (fabric scraps)
A couple standouts for the weird and wacky things that wind up in the ocean.
"Bon bon" plant/flower tag
Star-shaped mylar balloon, paint gone
Worn, rounded toy barn(?) pc
Battered SOLO cup
All of the above show different ways that plastics age in the ocean. The printing on the plant-pot tag has faded. The mylar balloon is yellowed & all the paint gone. The toy scrap's edges have been smoothed and rounded off by years of bouncing around the seabed. SOLO cups always tend to split vertically into slivers like the one above has. (One wonders where the rest of the cup is.)

Running YTD counts:
  • Total pcs of litter -- 6788
  • Pcs fishing rope -- 1717
  • Vinyl lobster-trap scraps -- 3009