Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten

When Alma and I went down to the beach Thursday, almost all the garbage was gone from the sand. The same Pacific Ocean that washed the garbage onto the beach three days earlier scrubbed almost all the evidence of it away. Alma and I took plastic garbage bags with us Thursday and yesterday, but there really was very little garbage left to pick up.

So, on one level, it's a relief not to have to see the garbage on the beach (and not to have to pick it up). And yet we know that no men in little blue HazMat suits came down to clean the beach. And that means that garbage is somewhere in the ocean, either on the ocean floor or floating around. Our colleague Josie says there are floating islands of refuse somewhere out in the ocean. (Alma has read about this independently of Josie's account, by the way.)

I did find a couple links that suggest where this garbage may have wound up:

Apparently, this "vortex of trash" may stretch across the breadth of the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Japan. Here's an interesting passage from the second article referenced above:

Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer and leading authority on flotsam, has tracked the build-up of plastics in the seas for more than 15 years and compares the trash vortex to a living entity: "It moves around like a big animal without a leash." When that animal comes close to land, as it does at the Hawaiian archipelago, the results are dramatic. "The garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic," he added.
So Alma and I were not hallucinating or imagining how bad it was.

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