- Name: Lonnie Bruner
- Location: Washington, DC, United States
I live in DC, sail the Chesapeake Bay, have a lovely wife who's a web designer, a young son, an unruly hound dog, and am interested in most everything in the world. Oh yea, and I love the smell of burning trash in the Third World. That just gets me going.
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Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Flotsam & Jetsam & the Pacific Trash Gyre
Below, I've listed the things the sailors wrote they'd seen floating around the world:
- "20' inflatable swim pad complete with a slide"
- "Dead body"
- "Water skiied into a dead cow. Stunk sooooo bad I have never been out of the water quicker - swear to god I could still smell it a month later."
- "20 or so years ago i worked a passage across the pacific on a container ship. When i was on deck and just gazing at the ocean the 1st thing i was likely to see was discarded evian bottles."
- " On three different occasions, I had to yield to moose. One was about 2 miles offshore. They are excellent swimmers"
- "100 miles west of Bermuda - a refrigerator."
- "NY Harbor - What looked like Archie Bunker's couch came floating by."
- "Northern Chesapeake Bay - A barge load of telephone poles. At night (we hit a few, they are invisible in the dark)"
- "A dead guy. In the Sausalito marina, submerged but kept afloat by his foam-lined laptop case. Some guys on a sailboat were heading out and saw the floating case. They snagged it with a boathook, and discovered the attached victim. They brought him back to the dock, where I helped the police pull him out."
- " A tiger-striped full body pillow still in its plastic wrapper."
- "10's of thousands of mylar balloons. On some passages it starts out as a game to snag them out of the drink with a net, but after a while you realise that it's a waste of time as there are probably millions of those hideous friggin mylar plastic balloons floating on the ocean. I've never bought one, and I never will."
- "A couple of dead bodies and compressed-gas tanks of various sizes."
- "A very large and rather ramshackle toolshed (30 feet long or so), lashed to a set of equally large logs. South of Prince Rupert, 1982 ish. I'm guessing that it floated down the Skeena River."
- "A dead moose. Racing to Castine up East Penobscot bay. The thing must have been dead awhile as it was floating pretty high. It was huge."
- "Dead deer, a big screen TV, a sectional couch, a dead dog with a tennis ball right in front of it, too many telephone poles to count"
- "A 6ft flourescent light bulb, 160nm offshore."
- "A dead cow in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. As we approached we were upwind, but once we passed it the smell was incredible. Damn that shit smelled."
- "All kindsa crazy shit out in the Ches Bay after Hurricane Isabel.. large kitchen appliances, a coke machine, several large (100gal) propane tanks, the light cluster from atop a police car... the list could go on"
- "Dead body - jumper - 'fresh' - hit the water under the Forth Road bridge within spitting distance of a bunch of kids in sailing lessons"
- "Dead cow in tri cities washington. all bloated. we hit it on the starboard hull and it rolled the length. tongue hanging out, eyes bulging."
- "Dead body - Jumper off the Aurora bridge."
- "238 packs of Marlboro cigarettes in a box."
- " A plastic Wal-Mart shopping bag, in the middle of the Pacific, about as far from land as you can be."
- " One dead cow. One dead dog."
- " A German Shepard puppy in a plastic bag."
- "Cuban rafts (spooky) off Eastern Shore of VA coast"
- " A dead cow up near Eastport Maine. At first thought it was an unmarked rock."
- "1 dead body, 1 plane that killed said body, 1 cutoff head floating in Miami bay"
- "Saw a mostly submerged container just SW of Conception once. It was dawn or dusk (long race.. don't recall), pretty calm and it looked like we were coming up on the obelisk from the 2001 Space Odessey movie."
- "In SF bay once we saw a bunch of ballons tied together floating, we grabed them with the boat hook and put them in the cockpit, my buddy started to stomp on them to pop them, we found notes inside saying 'to grandpa in heaven, we love you'. my buddy felt bad about thrashing the ballons after that."
- "In the Hudson River near Tappazee I saw a Barn Door. Yep it was painted Red had the white trim and about 12 feet by 20 feet in size. Right off the farm."
- "An airplane. Rowing back from the mooring I saw what looked like a submerged capsized canoe. Getting closer it turned out to be two canoes - WTF? Closer still it was the floats of a capsized and sunk seaplane. I swam down to take a look and make sure no one was still in it."
"I used to sail as an engineer aboard containerships and tankers, and I was constantly amazed at the shit that was perfectly legal to dump overboard. We were transporting live cattle from Hawaii to Oakland, CA and every once in a while, espically in rough seas, one or 2 of the cows would die. The cattle were basically packed shoulder to shoulder in these special cattle containers, and the ones on the ends would sometimes get crushed to death from the pitching motion of the ship. In order to avoid spreading disease to the other cattle, the deck crew had to winch the dead cattle overboard.
We used to dispose of anything that was considered ‘biodegradable’ overboard - that included massive hunks of steel trash, wooden packing material and dunnage, empty 55 gallon drums (no longer legal since they have oil residue in them, however it was permitted as recent as 10 years ago), food waste, unruly Mass Maritime cadets, anything except plastic. And yes, that included the aforementioned 6 foot flourescent light bulbs, and they wouldnt always break."
The LA Times won a 2007 Pulitzer for a series of stories about the world's distressed oceans, including "Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas".
"When I learned of the trash gyre, I was equally skeptical, due to common misconceptions that get perpetuated in mainstream media articles. The most common misconception is that the trash pile is like an island, or a dense pile like this one in San Diego Harbor. It’s not packed in as tight as that - it’s more like a dense collection of tiny floating pieces of plastic, most of which are not on the surface. A big container ship or naval vessel going through there would probably not notice much out of the ordinary - after all, there is some degree of plastic trash floating on the surface all over the world.
To really get a sense of how much plastic is in there, you have to do a trawl, which entails dragging a net with a bucket on the end behind your boat. Here’s a photo of a bongo trawl taken off of southern California. (Thanks, Barbeau lab! SIO power!) And here’s a photo of what a normal bongo trawl should produce - lots of zooplankton, a few invertebrates, and the occasional small fish.
Now, contrast this with the results of a trawl from the North Pacific Gyre. Here’s the bongo net being hauled up - see how the ocean looks normal? But the contents - plastic, plastic, and more plastic.* When all that plastic collects somewhere, you get beaches like this one in the NW Hawaiian Islands.
For this reason, the trash gyre would be very, very hard to clean up. The plastic is so small, and so scattered, that it would take high-intensity trawling similar to that for shrimp. And shrimp trawling kills 10 pounds of non-targeted life (sharks, turtles, fish, you name it) for every pound of shrimp gathered. (Yes, Forrest Gump lied to you - for some reason they didn’t want drowned turtles next to Tom Hank’s angelic self.) The mortality caused by trying to remove all the trash in the gyre would probably be similar. We’re just going to have to live with it and try to prevent it from getting any bigger."
It still does not lessen my disgust of the situation or feeling powerless to do anything.