Monday, September 24, 2012

Curtis Cove Report - Sep 13, 2012

Thursday September 13. 1:00PM, an hour before low-tide. Clean, bright, crisp, dry air, low 70s. High-tides low the past week, no storms, no energy. In fact, a little "stonework" our family made the week before still stood proudly:
This was a day for itinerant algae farmers:
Many gull prints
Feisty armor-clad warriors:
3" green crab defending its turf
And mislaid well-wishes:
Happy birthday, the gift keeps giving
Complicating things from a flotsam standpoint, it was also day of this:
Slumping muddy sand looks just like a lava flow
Very little new stuff came in this week. It had been another scouring week, but a slow-burn scour. Super-saturated sand and mud at the high foreshore slumped and oozed its way far downslope, dragging and burying debris with it. (The balloon above was almost completely buried when I first saw it.)

It was also a week of "poor sorting." Cobbles, pebbles, gravel, sand, and wrack were mixed up and smeared up and down the foreshore. Leaving practically no distinct bands of collected debris.

With so much slumping, burying, and tumbling back into the sea, this collection was bound to be limited. And it was.
18 pcs of rope, about 20 ft total
86 pcs of non-rope debris
104 finds:
  • Bldg material/furniture: 0
  • Foam/styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing rope/net: 18
  • Fishing misc.: 56 (48 trap vinyl coating scraps, 2 bait bags, 6 trap parts)
  • Food-related plastics: 7 (6 cup scraps, 1 straw)
  • Food-related glass/metal: 2 (1 brand-new aluminum can, 1 sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 9 (mylar balloon, balloon string, old non-food bottlecap, cigarette tip, worn bucket handle, old lego, 2 non-food packaging, baggie)
  • Scrap plastics: 10 (5 > 1", 5 < 1" )
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Non-plastic misc./unique: 2 (cords)
104 finds, the "smallest" so far. What did manage to wash in was generally very old and abraded. Like this bucket lid:
Brittle, faded, abraded. Old.
Or this squirt-bottle cap:
This one has a long story
So a day of jumbles, slumps, buried debris, hidden debris. And an ever-changing coast abutting an ever-changing sea.
What will the next week bring?

Running YTD counts:
  • Total pcs of litter -- 9228
  • Pcs fishing rope -- 1876
  • Vinyl lobster-trap scraps -- 4340

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Blinded by Science

Two and a half years ago, I sorted my first bag of beach debris -- categorized, photographed, tried to make sense of what I was finding. I then came up with questions to ask, and tried to come up with ways to test those questions.

In short: I tried to bring science to the problem.

But the trouble with science is, there's always more, deeper, better science that can be done. Questions can be revisited, looked at from different angles. Newer, more precise tests can be devised and performed. Even the best, most-tested scientific theories today are only approximations of reality. Newton's laws of gravity work on Earth but completely fail to predict where Mercury should be. Einstein's gravitational theories get Mercury right, but don't play well (or at all) with quantum mechanics. Meanwhile, quantum mechanics doesn't work in black holes, or the Big Bang.

Every question "answered" just brings still more questions.

It is an endless loop.

And the plastics industry knows this. They refuse to put any real skin in the plastics pollution game, claiming that there needs to be "more science" done on the problem first. "More science" can always be done on a problem; at some point a responsible society has to act against a problem before all the "science" is in.

This happened in 1969:
The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, on fire
This happened in 1972, just three years later:
The Clean Water Act
In the US, when there was public & political will, it took only three years to go from a river on fire to the Clean Water Act. Three years.

Ironically, 1972 was also the year that plastics were first extensively studied in fish populations (link opens as PDF file). Yet 40 years later, where is the Plastic Pollution Act? It keeps getting pushed back and off the plate, as there's a need for "more science." Across the US, this very day, industry lobbyists have stymied plastic bag bans/fees. They insist that cities pay for costly scientific "lifecycle analyses," or they try to ban towns from choosing less pollution on fuzzy -- or junk -- science.

Sometimes you don't need a lifecycle analysis. You just need to look up into the trees:
or gutters:
or inside the bellies of sea creatures:
100 plastic bags pulled from stomach of dead sperm whale
Sometimes you just have to say, "This is wrong, it doesn't have to be this way, it should stop."

I enjoy the scientific approach to my beach collections. I like being able to look at the problem, learn to ask questions, make hypotheses, test those hypotheses, ask better questions.

But for me, the biggest questions were answered long ago: What is the biggest source of physical pollution in the ocean? Consumer plastic. What is the way to clean the ocean? Use much, much less plastic.

No more amount of science is going to change that. It's time to stop letting industry play the "needs more science" card. It's time to change the game.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Curtis Cove Report - Sep 6, 2012

Thursday, September 6. 9:40AM. Low tide. Bird-watchers and artists ringed the parking lot, admiring at the mists coming in from the sea, the strong low sun peeking through. It was the kind of morning where you just want to walk the beach.
Fortunately, that's why I was there!
And it was an interesting beach to walk! Even though recent tides hadn't been that high, they had done a number to the foreshore. For starters, by removing much of it.
Sand cliff with "erratic" still precariously lodged
One high tide had slammed the upper lip of the foreshore, scooping away more than a foot of fine sand. Receding, it left tumbled pebbles and once-buried debris sticking out of the cliff face. That or another high tide then ripped July's green algae from the cobbles and smeared it all up and down the long slope of the low foreshore.
A feast of life amid wrack = fat, lazy gulls
With the wrack spread out over such a large area, it was going to be hard to collect everything. Though a few things were pretty hard to miss.
Mylar balloon scrap
Bait bag
Gnarled mass of fishing rope
Coffee cup lid
So, the finds:
23 pcs of rope, about 42 ft total
194 pcs of non-rope debris
217 finds:
  • Bldg material/furniture: 2 (wooden stake, plastic tent stake)
  • Foam/styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing rope/net: 23
  • Fishing trap gear: 113 (96 vinyl coating scraps, 11 trap parts, aperture ring, 3 bumpers, 2 bait bags)
  • Fishing misc.: 12 (claw bands)
  • Food-related plastics: 14 (11 cup scraps, 2 food wrappers, bread tag)
  • Food-related glass/metal: 1 (can bottom)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 20 (5 mylar balloon scraps, PE "Made in USA" balloon, balloon string, 2 bag scraps, cigarette lighter scrap, toy shovel handle, 3 nonfood packaging, 4 cable ties, tube, old hook/coathook)
  • Scrap plastics: 31 ( 11 > 1", 20 < 1" )
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Non-plastic misc./unique: 1 (gear shift plate)
217 pieces of manmade garbage off a small section of an unvisited, deserted beach  counts as a light day.

Ours is a strange world.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Curtis Cove Report - Aug 31, 2012

Friday, August 31. 7AM. Already a bright, bright day. Crisp cool air, but the promise of a hot afternoon, following a delicious week in the low 70s with no humidity.
New tracks in the fine sand high on the backshore brought a reminder of the changing season, the fast aging summer.
Sandpiper highway
Places like Curtis Cove are vital to thousands -- millions -- of annual migrators. As these sandpipers picked through their own finds on the beach, I wondered how well they could tell food from flotsam.
One of these is a slipper shell, the other a coffeecup lid
And I wondered how many birds, fish, and sea mammals would think this bright green confetti -- dragged and smeared down along the low foreshore -- a feast:
Found the lobster-trap vinyl scrap motherlode
And I wondered, how many places left in the world can truly be called protected?

On to the week's finds:
42 pcs of rope, about 35 ft total
402 pcs of non-rope debris
444 finds:
  • Bldg material/furniture: 0
  • Foam/styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing rope/net: 42
  • Fishing trap gear: 216 (204 vinyl trap coatings, 7 bumpers, name tag, vent, 2 trap parts, buoy rod)
  • Fishing misc.: 43 (39 clawbands, 4 fishing line)
  • Food-related plastics: 25 (20 cup scraps, 2 food wrappers, cutlery handle, old straw scrap, cooking-temp stick)
  • Food-related glass/metal: 7 (6 aluminum can bottoms, sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 33 (baseball cap visor insert, long stapled strap, shoulder strap, 2 cable ties, vinyl carrying bag neck, 3 anchors, 3 plant pot tag bits, 2 o-rings, 2 tubes, sticker, screw-top neck, carabiner, large garbage bag, 5 bag scraps, cigarette, gauze patch, rubberband, comb, shovel handle loop, teacup handle, 2 nonfood packaging scraps)
  • Scrap plastics: 70 ( 26 > 1", 44 < 1" )
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Non-plastic misc./unique: 8 (2 fabric scraps, 6 cords)
A few strange things this week. First, lots of fishing rope after a lull. And after a similar drought, 6 aluminum can bottoms scoured up from the deep! I wonder what has changed in the currents or the sea floor to let them finally land again. Each week brings new questions.

The only other real oddities were this:
Baseball cap brim insert
and this:
Intact -- though gnarled -- comb
Somehow all of the fabric of that baseball cap got left behind, leaving only the plastic brim insert to beach at the cove. And it's rare to find a comb still intact -- even if this one shows some signs of banging around on rocks & debris.

Another week of beautiful sights, and way too much garbage.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Plastic Recycling, China, and the Big Green Lie

The United States currently dumps more than 50% of its "recycled" plastic on China. China's record on environmental regulation of its plastic-recycling industry is, in a word, abysmal.
Chinese woman collecting plastic bottles from filthy river
After withering under a growing international spotlight, China has finally agreed to a series of regulations. The following list of newly banned practices comes directly from this September 5, 2012 "Plastics News" article:
  • Recycling activities in residential areas;
  • Using recycled plastic to make ultrathin bags (shopping bags less than 0.025mm thick and other bags less than 0.015mm in thickness) that have been banned since 2007;
  • Using recycled plastic to make food-contact bags;
  • Handling of hazardous waste (with chemical residues, pesticide or disposable medical packaging) without special operating license;
  • Processing activities without sufficient water treatment facilities, such as granulation of woven bags, washing of plated scrap, stripping of plating or coating, etc.;
  • Improper handling of waste from the recycling process;
  • Outdoor incineration of plastic scrap and waste from the recycling process.
  • Importing unwashed, post-consumer scrap;
  • Transferring imported waste to a company other than what is allowed by the import license, including sending the materials to vendors for washing services;
  • Selling unwashed leftover plastic materials after sorting and processing imported plastic scrap;
  • Selling unwashed leftover plastic materials after sorting and processing imported scrap paper.
Let that sink in. That's all just now being made illegal. Half of all the bottles and jugs that we have dutifully cleaned, sorted, and put into a curbside bin have been shipped to a country that had zero functional oversight on all of the above. All this time.

Something else to sink in: Industrial regulation in China rarely meets international standards. It's rife with corruption -- with sewage plants that only operate the one day a government official comes by, for example. Plastic recycling centers that never bothered to buy the government-required sanitation equipment. So it's great that finally there are some rules in place. Is there any real belief that they will be enforced?

We buy stuff from China because it's cheap. It's cheap because we send over countless tons of our used plastic to a nation that has so far been incapable of effectively or honestly overseeing how that material gets re-used.

Change the game.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Curtis Cove Report - Aug 22, 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012. 8:54 AM, just before low-tide. 69 degrees, calm air, bright sun, no humidity. And clean air. Late spring's decaying seaweed has given way to wholesome sea breezes and a fresh, salty scent. This was a gorgeous morning. Not least because of sights like this:
Can anyone help me identify what this flower is?
and this:
"Painted Lady" or "False Monarch", Vanessa cardui
and this:
Canada geese, swooping in
Two V-formations of these Canada geese soared in from the south. Apparently some non-migratory populations in the mid-Atlantic still fly up north to molt off their old feathers at the end of summer. Seems to be what these were doing. They splashed & foraged on the far side of the cove, their honking and rustling good company on a lonely shore.

So much life. So much of it depending on places like Curtis Cove as stopovers and havens.

Which is why stuff like this is so troubling:
Every week, more & more washes in. No matter how calm the weather. As I explored this week, I noticed that big clumps of freshly-dragged wrack lined the back "lip" of the foreshore. Bigger bits like this balloon scrap were left high and dry amid the tumbled mass. And the receding tide had dragged much sand & smaller plastics back down the slope, smearing it among the pebbles & cobbles.

The shore, yet again, was a hazard zone of brightly colored, poison-tinged, sharp-edged, deadly plastics.

17 pcs of rope, about 15 ft total
282 pcs of non-rope debris
299 finds:
  • Bldg material/furniture: 1 (plastic plank/slat offcut)
  • Foam/styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing rope/net: 17
  • Fishing trap gear: 167 (157 vinyl coating scraps, 4 bumpers, 4 genl trap parts, trap tag, bait bag)
  • Fishing misc.: 19 (18 clawbands, fishing line)
  • Food-related plastics: 21 (bottlecap outer seal, 16 cup scraps, food wrapper, JIF lid, silverware handle, old bread tag)
  • Food-related glass/metal: 1 (sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 24 (2 balloons, 8 bags/scraps, cigarette package, cigar tip, plastic glove, 2 bandaids, 6 cable ties, medicine blister pack, crate seal, bitten PUREX bottle bottom)
  • Scrap plastics: 45 (18 >1", 27 <1 li="li">
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Non-plastic misc./unique: 4 (ceramic shard, 2 cloth scraps, cord)
More of the usual. (Though "only" 157 pieces of trap vinyl this week.) With two standouts:
Badly worn & bitten PUREX
bottle bottom
Date: "08 10 06" -- Could this bread
wrapper be 6 years old??
Plastic is forever.

When I finished my collection, I wandered the usual rockpools at low tide. But then it occurred to me, most of the lower foreshore of Curtis Cove is a rockpool. Beneath its cobbled surface is a layer of poorly draining mud. When the tide goes out, it stays waterlogged & mucky. Turn over almost any cobble, and you'll find life. Like this:
Which is why it's so shameful that under -- or next to -- so many cobbles at Curtis Cove you also find plastic. Like the blue vinyl lobster trap coating scrap in the picture above.

Change the game.

Running YTD counts:
  • Total pcs of litter -- 8463
  • Pcs fishing rope -- 1793
  • Vinyl lobster-trap scraps -- 3992