Thursday, November 29, 2012

Curtis Cove Report - Nov 10, 2012

Saturday, November 10. 1:45PM, just past low tide. Beautiful slack water, with barely a ripple kissing the soft mud at the lowest foreshore.
A week now after Superstorm Sandy, and the high foreshore was still a cliff of wrack, wrack, and wrack.
But much of the storm's cast-up sand and mud was oozing back toward the sea. Burying many of the low foreshore cobbles, and leaving ephemeral beauty in its wake.
Higher up the slope, other things were left.
This was a week of high-energy waves meeting a steepened beach face, and the two trying to work out some new meeting of minds. Most of the debris had been dumped & pushed high up onto the foreshore, and was big & bulky like that SOLO cup. Very little small stuff managed to settle out, high or low.

Here's what I found:
124 pcs of rope, about 250 ft total
57 pcs of nonrope debris
181 finds:
  • Bldg material/furniture: 1 (toilet seat rim)
  • Foam/styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing rope/net: 124
  • Fishing misc.: 21 (10 bait bags, 5 trap tags, 3 trap parts, vent, bumper, vinyl coating)
  • Food-related plastics: 14 (old, dragged bottle, bottle cap, cap o-ring, cap seal, cap scrap, 3 PS cup scraps, 3 food wrappers, cookie tub, spoon)
  • Food-related glass/metal: 1 (bottlecap)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 11 (7 baggies/scraps, sleeve/grommet, 2 strapping, crate seal)
  • Scrap plastics: 9 (6 > 1" , 3 < 1" )
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Non-plastic misc./unique: 1 (fabric scrap)
This is the signature of a beach still in the grip of Sandy's aftermath. It's not the amount of debris, but the size of the pieces. And it's not the usual dense seabottom flecks, but lighter, bulkier, buoyant material hurled over the distant rocks at the head of the cove. 77% directly related to the lobstering industry. More of the Gulf of Maine's lasting legacy.

Running YTD counts:
  • Total pcs of litter -- 10667
  • Pcs fishing rope -- 2487
  • Vinyl lobster-trap scraps -- 4564

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

For a sunrise on the cove.

For my beautiful daughter who inspires me every day to be a better person and make a better world.

For my patient wife who supports my work, puts up with bags of garbage in the livingroom, bathtub, bedroom, basement.

For my mom & dad who have always loved me unconditionally -- and been proud of me even during those times when I haven't felt terribly proud of myself.

For friends old & new, real-life and Web-only, a constant stream of inspiration, joy, and hope.

For my heroes -- John Muir, Robert Frost, and JRR Tolkien -- who have shaped my world and my thought.

For all of those glimpses of Eden, as Tolkien once wrote to his son, that put the "Why?" into perspective.

For every small victory, and every heartbreaking setback. Memories and lessons for a lifetime.

For every grain of sand tumbling through my fingers, every blade of dunegrass waving on a seabreeze, every golden leaf falling in a sun-kissed woodland, every smile.

And lastly, for all the adventures yet to come.
Tynedale, Northumberland, UK
"Still round the corner there may wait /A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today, / Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run / Towards the Moon or to the Sun."
-- JRR Tolkien

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Curtis Cove Report - Nov 2, 2012

Friday, November 2. 8:00AM. 3 days after Superstorm Sandy. The historic storm blessedly left Maine's coastline un-destroyed.
"This is the morning of creation" - John Muir
But not unscathed:
Wrack, ruin, and signs of an angry sea
Sandy's huge waves & winds pummeled the seafloor, ripping up seaweed and blanketing the cove. In places 2-3 feet deep. And of course amid seaweed there's always plastic. So much.

Strikingly, the manmade wreckage at Curtis Cove this week wasn't caused by Sandy. It had been swirling out in the Gulf of Maine long before. Sandy just brought it to the doorstep.

Instead of the usual two bags, this haul doubled that. And then some.
And I know I couldn't find, much less get, it all
In the end, the volume of debris this week was predictably fierce.
215 pcs of rope, about 600 ft total!
163 pcs of nonrope debris
381 finds:
  • Bldg material/furniture: 3 (chair leg, 2 flanges)
  • Foam/styrofoam: 3
  • Fishing rope/net: 215
  • Fishing misc.: 63 (15 trap vents, 3 large trap parts, 3 bumpers, 3 vinyl scraps, 17 trap tags, 14 bait bags, aperture net, fishing line, claw band, 3 shotgun shells, 1 wadding, "Live Lobster" tag)
  • Food-related plastics: 23 (3 very old bottles, 3 bottlecaps, 1 cap seal, 10 cup scraps, 4 food wrappers, fork scrap, straw)
  • Food-related glass/metal: 2 (2 can scraps)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 44 (4 bag scraps, 2 intact bags, 8 balloon strings, 6 latex balloons w plastic string clumped together, 1 huge mylar balloon, cigarette lighter, 3 beachball parts, decorative tassel, floating lizard (???), cord, polyfill chunk, bucket lid scrap, thick plaque/sign scrap, gear case, vinyl-coated wire, 2 Hooksett sewage disks, razor case (?), 2 strapping, cable tie, pen, pen cap, toaster oven label, umbrella base, fitting cap)
  • Scrap plastics: 24 (20 > 1" , 4 < 1" )
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Non-plastic misc./unique: 4 (3 fabric scraps, long leather harness strap?)
215 pieces of rope, 600 feet in length, is shocking enough. But that's just the start of the story. Striking amid this debris is both how large the pieces are, and how light. Usually the debris that comes into Curtis Cove is sinkable plastic, washed in from the sea floor. But Sandy's waves and power brought buoyant plastics in -- in huge numbers. Just look at the number of trap vents: 15! The next highest number for the whole year was 6 vents back on June 7 (scroll down for image). And that was also after a large (unnamed) storm.

Also striking is just how old some of this plastic is, and its varied sources. Of the 17 lobster trap tags that washed in, one was from 1997, another from 1998! 15 years floating & swirling around the sea.

Here is juat a small selection of the more interesting & odd pieces that washed in.
Very banged-up trap vent
Frayed & long-dragged water bottle
"Eastern," a Massachusetts bank
Leather harness??
This next one goes into the top 5 bizarre beach finds:
Notice the fish bite marks
We put our plastic garbage into trash bags, and put them out at the curb, and assume that they've gone "away." But there are so many places between curb and landfill/incinerator for your plastic garbage to escape. This toaster-oven label escaped. And was nibbled by some kind of fish. I wonder if that fish ended up on someone's plate?
Strange plunger-y thing: Thoughts?
Pocket protector, bitten/poked to heck
The lesson from this week is clear and stark: Sandy did not ravage Maine's coast or foul her ocean. We've done that plenty well all by ourselves.

Running YTD counts:
  • Total pcs of litter -- 10486
  • Pcs fishing rope -- 2363
  • Vinyl lobster-trap scraps -- 4563

Monday, November 12, 2012


In the life of the earth, 2 1/2 years is nothing. In the life of a blog, 2 1/2 years is an eternity. During my time writing & researching for The Flotsam Diaries, I have seen many budding writers, ecologists, litter-pickers, and nature lovers come and go. Life overtakes, the passion subsides, health interrupts, different avenues of expression open.

For me, I love reading the thoughts that other people put down. Regular people, like myself. Those struggles & victories, new ways of looking at old problems -- I find it all inspiring. So today I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge and tip my hat to a few steadfast souls. People whom I met in my earliest days, and who are still treading their paths to this day. Their words flowing every week like a stream down a mountainside. Toward the ocean.

Sara Bayles of Santa Monica, CA started The Daily Ocean back in May of 2009.
The Daily Ocean gets sunsets like this as a perk!
Often I'll take a picture of a sunrise on my coast that becomes a sunset on hers. Same day, same sun, two coasts, two blogs. It's eerie, and perfect. Sara set a goal of doing a simple 20-minute cleanup 365 times, to see how much garbage she could pull from her beach in the equivalent of one year. Since then her work has taken her far outside her comfort zone -- as far as sailing the deepest blue of the South Pacific for weeks on a research vessel studying plastic in the sea! She's now coming to the end of her 365-day marathon, and I'm excited to see what's next.

Inspired by Sara's work, Danielle Richardet of It Starts with Me began clearing litter from the sand at Wrightsville Beach, NC in the summer of 2010.
It Starts with Me says this is NOT okay - and I agree
Danielle soon learned the the biggest scourge of her beach was cigarette butts. Thousands of cigarette butts seeping toxic filth into the sands. The documentary "It Starts With Me" -- following her story -- premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. At the time she had collected "only" 12,000 cigarette butts. Today that figure is 52,000+! But Danielle's story took an amazing twist just last week. After years of hard work & building support, citizens of Wrightsville Beach voted overwhelming to ban smoking on the beach. A mom & wife who cared about her family & community helped bring that community a huge victory for clean air and clean sands! Danielle, you rock!

"SuAsCo Al," The Trash Paddler, lives in Acton, MA -- an exurb of the Boston area.
SuAsCo Al has the best views of eastern Massachusetts!
An avid kayaker & naturalist, Al has been paddling the Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord (SuAsCo) Rivers for years. Back in 2005 he decided to stop simply paddling by the trash he always saw on its banks. Instead, he started picking it up, and has been blogging about his finds almost ever since! In his blog, Al shares incredible photos of Massachusetts scenery most never see, cool bits of history and architecture, and an ever-growing count of the heaps of trash that he removes from what should be pristine places. He is always a good read, and my hat is off for his persistence & the difference he makes every day.

In that same vein, meet Bernie Paquette of Vermont Litter with a Story to Tell.
Burlington, home of "Vermont Litter with a Story to Tell"
Bernie has a positivity that's hard to find these days. Keenly aware of the damage that trash & litter & plastic are doing to the environment, he approaches every situation as not so much a challenge, but an opportunity. A chance for people to see for themselves the beauty of their world, and their own power to keep it beautiful. Opportunities for businesses and citizens to work together for the benefit of everybody. All with the overarching theme that ours is a world worth fighting for. With a smile.

Last, but not least, a huge shout-out to Paul Sharp & Silke Stuckenbrock - founders of The Two Hands Project.

I admit, Two Hands is less of a blog than it is just a constant source of inspiration. It began with a simple belief: That anywhere, any time, any one of us can start making a difference with a bag or bucket, and our own two hands. That simple idea has now blossomed into an international juggernaut of reality-based environmental action, with a community of tens of thousands. I am so proud to call Paul & Silke friends and be even a small part of their work.
A "Two Hands" cleanup I did at the local post office

I know all too well the pushes, pulls, tugs, and currents of modern life. I know how disheartening it is to fight reckless corporate greed fed by political collusion. (See the recent -- and not yet dead -- attempts by the plastic bag industry to write legislation in Illinois, fought so bravely by Activist Abby.) When you see plastic trash above the Arctic Circle or read about it now in the Southern Ocean, you can feel so small.

Through the work they do, my friends above have always made me feel like the impossible is a little less impossible. And they do to this very day.

Thank you friends.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Curtis Cove Report - Oct 26, 2012

It's hard now to remember a time before Superstorm Sandy. Yet I was at the cove on Friday, October 26, just a few days before she arrived. Here's what I found.

1:15PM. Low tide. Bright sun, no clouds. Nearly 60 degrees, slight breeze blowing off the shore. A good day to be here.
Winds and tides had finished pushing much of last week's wrack high onto the backshore. The rest of the foreshore had a nice smooth profile with fine sand and beautiful striations from the last outgoing tide. This was a mixed day. One of beautiful rusty rocks:
Barnacle-laden medicine bottles:
Ephemeral wave-drawn artistry in the sand:
Rich textures created by wood & worm:
And a first -- my first lobster trap tag from Massachusetts:
Coastal currents travel south in these parts. The only way for this Massachusetts tag to have made it so far north is if it first floated far out into the wider Gulf of Maine. There it would have gotten caught in one or more of the counterclockwise drifts or rotations. It may have circled over & over for months or years before finally being spat out on the northern side of its rotation. From there, it rode waves & tides in, finally coming to rest in Biddeford, Maine. Wondrous thing, the ocean.

Still, with so much wrack to go through up on the backshore, it was certainly not going to be a light day.
94 pcs of rope, about 200 ft total
62 pcs of nonrope debris
157 finds:
  • Bldg material/furniture: 2 (carpet tile, grommet)
  • Foam/styrofoam: 6
  • Fishing rope/net: 94
  • Fishing misc.: 22 (6 vinyl trap scraps, 2 trap tags, 3 bumpers, 4 bait bags, 3 trap parts, 2 clawbands, glove, shotgun shell)
  • Food-related plastics: 8 (old scrap from 2-ltr bottle bottom, 2 bottlecap seals, 3 cup scraps, 2 wrappers)
  • Food-related glass/metal: 1 (aluminum can scrap)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 15 (2 latex balloons, 4 balloon strings, 3 bag scraps, plasticized writing card, pen cap, Geobra/Playmobil toy person, cable tie, caution tape, packaging scrap)
  • Scrap plastics: 6 (2 > 1" , 4 < 1" )
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Non-plastic misc./unique: 3 (3 fabric pieces)
A big rope day. A surprising find of styrofoam -- something that almost never shows up here at the cove. A ribbon that didn't take its own advice:
CAUTION: I may blow away
A plasticized/waterproof card with cryptic note:
Glad it wasn't "4 8 15 16 23 42"
And Flotsam Diaries' new mascot:
Not quite Harry Potter
The higher energy in the waves this week seems to have kept most of the lobster trap vinyl scraps at bay, while scouring & reshaping the whole cove and leaving much else behind. The calm before storm... wasn't so calm.

Running YTD counts:
  • Total pcs of litter -- 10105
  • Pcs fishing rope -- 2148
  • Vinyl lobster-trap scraps -- 4560

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Superstorm Sandy.

I've been struggling to create a coherent set of thoughts about this monster. The wreckage and sadness on my computer screen speak so loudly to the heart of The Flotsam Diaries. Of overbuilt coastlines, rising tides, plastic lives. Polluted lives.

Yet writing about what Sandy has wrought from the lens of the Diaries has seemed gauche.

Maine was spared her worst. Our condo was spared entirely. We even got the recycling bins stored away safely so not one bottle blew out and besmirched our lawn. Our family is all OK. Even those family members in the direct path of the storm -- inland southern New Jersey -- suffered no worse than power outages or nearby tree limbs down.

Meanwhile New Jersey's coast bore so much. So much loss. Not to mention New York City herself, Long Island, Connecticut. Beyond. And of course before all that, death and destruction in the Caribbean too.

I work on human-scale events. Ripped beach balls, a broken umbrella base, flowerpot scraps. A menu blown from a beachside restaurant. Occasionally household rubbish that blows out of a trash bin and goes down a storm drain.

I have collected & cataloged more than 25,000 pieces of manmade debris. Some of it thoughtlessly left behind, some accidentally lost. Surely, some of it the poignant remains of some greater disaster.

25,000 pieces. When Sandy struck, each single solitary wave that hammered each town pulled that much debris into the ocean. Up and down a coastline stretching hundreds of miles. For hours and hours.

The scale of what one storm has done to people's lives is shocking. The scale of what it did to the ocean is shattering.

But on Tuesday morning, I went to my part of the ocean. I had to see it. It was almost a compulsion. I thought I was going in order to look for erosion and debris. It turns out, I was going in order to see this:
That hole in the heavens opened up as I was wrapping up my check-in. It lasted in its glory for about 30 seconds.

On the way to the cove, I had stopped at a convenience store for some coffee. I even chatted with the owner for about 5 minutes. I have never had the urge to pull over and get coffee on any trip to the beach. If I hadn't this time, I would have been gone from the cove before seeing -- and capturing -- this.

It brought to mind a line from my hero Tolkien:

"In the end, the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach."

Tomorrow I'll be back at the cove, picking up debris like I always do. While folks 400 miles away do the same thing. On a different scale.

To them, my heart goes out and my hat is off.