News Stories

Sea Junk

Amanda Onion writes in abcnews.com that due to falling cargo and illegal dumping, a lot of junk ends up in the ocean. Beachcomber Curt Ebbesmeyer says a lot of loot has recently blown in due to strong southwesterly winds. He's looking forward to finding some of the thousands of rubber duckies that fell from a Chinese cargo ship 11 years ago.

"The winds started last June and kept up through the winter," he says. "That only happens about once every 10-20 years and things that have floated around and around the ocean for decades are turning up."

29,000 bathtub toys packed in 20 giant containers fell off the ship in January 1992 and are expected to wash up on New England beaches soon. So far, they've floated 15,000 miles along the Alaska coast through the Bering Strait and along Labrador to Nova Scotia.

On the West Coast, giant glass balls have been washing ashore. These date back to before the 1950s, before plastic buoys, when fishermen attached them to their nets to keep the nets afloat. Ebbesmeyer also expects to find some Nike shoes from a 1999 spill that dumped 50,000 pairs of running shoes into the Pacific.

There's also something known as the Eastern Garbage Patch, which is a giant mass of old tires, Styrofoam, plastic bottle caps, old toys, sneakers and tiny plastic bits which is as wide as Texas and floats on the Pacific Ocean between Oregon and Hawaii. Most of this junk comes from illegal dumping at sea and is made of plastic, since it doesn't biodegrade. "As long as we consume more plastic, then the patch will keep growing," says Ebbesmeyer.

He estimates approximately 10,000 containers fall overboard every year, mostly due to storms. Each 8-foot-by-40-foot container can carry up to 58,000 pounds of cargo, and the North Pacific's loop of currents and calm winds keep all the junk in one area. Most of it's too tiny or colorless to be detected from space.

Charles Moore has visited the Eastern Garbage Patch three times. It?s not easy to get to, since the middle of it's about 1,000 miles offshore and there are no winds in the vicinity that can power a sailboat. "When you look over the bow, it's as if you emptied out one of those kaleidoscope telescopes," he says. "You see all these little plastic bits and when you pull up a net, you realize they're everywhere?I've seen cigarette lighters, kewpie doll heads, plastic coins," says Moore, about the items he has found in albatross nests. "It's like the shelf at a 99-cent store."

When are we going to start taking care of our poor old Earth?

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