Junk Adrift Rubber Duckies, Sneakers, Umbrella Handles Expected to Wash Up on Beaches This Summer By Amanda Onion ABC

News, July 14 — One giant green glass ball worth $2,000. Several rainbowstriped sandals. One nine-year-old message in a bottle (written in Japanese and not yet translated). And expected soon: thousands of rubber duckies that were cast off a cargo ship 11 years ago. For beachcombers on both U.S. coasts, it's looking to be a bountiful summer. Curt Ebbesmeyer, a retired oceanographer and veteran beachcomber, attributes the bounty on the East Coast to an unusual spillage at sea while the West Coast loot has blown in thanks to a persistent stream of strong southwesterly winds. "The winds started last June and kept up through the winter," said Ebbesmeyer, who lives in Seattle, Wash. "That only happens about once every 10-20 years and things that have floated around and around the ocean for decades are turning up." Rubber Ducky Bevy Ebbesmeyer explains the bevy of 3-inch-high rubber duckies (emblazoned with the words "The First Years" across their chests and mostly likely faded from yellow to white) are among the estimated 29,000 bathtub toys packed in 20 giant containers that fell off a ship in January 1992. The ducks are expected to wash up on New England coasts soon, along with rubber red beavers, green frogs and blue turtles that also toppled off the ship. Computer models show the toys, which were being shipped from China to Seattle when they went overboard, have floated 15,000 miles along the Alaska coast through the Bering Strait and along Labrador to Nova Scotia. They're expected to wash up soon on U.S. Eastern shores.

On the West Coast, even older garbage has been washing up on the sand. The giant glass balls date back to before the 1950s when fishermen attached them to their nets to keep the nets afloat (now they use plastic buoys). The message in the bottle is actually not all that rare a find, he says, because Japanese schoolchildren often send notes afloat. Ebbesmeyer says the rainbow-striped sandal dates from a 1994 cargo spill that also left umbrella handles and hockey gloves bobbing in the water. He also expects to find some Nike shoes from a 1999 spill that dumped 50,000 pairs of the footwear into the Pacific. While the finds may be interesting, the source, he says, is disturbing — and likely growing. Giant Garbage Patch A giant mass of old tires, Styrofoam, plastic bottle caps, old toys, sneakers, tiny plastic bits and other flotsam, known as the Eastern Garbage Patch, stretches as wide as Texas on the Pacific Ocean between Oregon and Hawaii. The Eastern Garbage Patch resides in an area known as the North Pacific Gyre where currents pool and winds are sluggish. (ABCNEWS.com/ maps.com) The floating landfill has pooled from decades of washout from land, illegal dumping at sea or from cargo accidentally tipping from container ships. The bulk of the floating junk is made of plastic since the material doesn't biodegrade. The pieces become smaller, but the debris sticks around thanks to a circle of currents that all meet at the patch's center and to sluggish winds that keep the region still. "As long as we consume more plastic, then the patch will keep growing," said Ebbesmeyer. By poring over shipping data, Ebbesmeyer 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. The North Pacific's loop of currents and calm winds keep the junk pooled in one area. Most of the floating debris is too tiny or colorless to be detected and measured from space. But Charles Moore of Los

Angeles County has visited the still, cluttered water three times — no small feat since the patch's middle is approximately 1,000 miles offshore and is devoid of winds to power a sail. "When you look over the bow, it's as if you emptied out one of those kaleidoscope telescopes," he said, recalling a recent visit to the zone. "You see all these little plastic bits and when you pull up a net, you realize they're everywhere." Moore, a retired businessman who has taken up the cause of monitoring the patch since he stumbled across it in his 50-foot catamaran in 1997, says the floating debris is not just an eyesore, it also poses a dire hazard to wildlife. Mistaken for Food Biologists have observed turtles, seabirds and fish gulping down large bits of plastic, which are often bright in color and can appear as shrimp or other food. And Moore has found the translucent tissue of the filter-feeding, gelatinous animals known as salps become clogged with plastic bits. Fish then eat the jellies and ingest the plastic as well. In a recent survey of albatross nests, Moore found that these birds, which are known to be indiscriminate eaters, have been gulping down large quantities of plastic from the patch — their normal feeding area. The birds then cough up much of the plastic at their nests, which they return to every year. "I've seen cigarette lighters, kewpie doll heads, plastic coins," said Moore, about the items he has found in albatross nests. "It's like the shelf at a 99-cent store." The plastic not only causes digestive problems, it may also leach toxins into the animals. A 2001 study by Japanese researchers found that plastic debris can act like a sponge and attract chemical compounds such as PCBs and DDE (a breakdown product of DDT) from polluted water. So why not just clean up the mess? Easier said than done, says Moore. The fragments are suspended in the water down to 30 meters deep and, due to the small, sometimes plankton size of the debris, are very difficult to collect without disturbing natural ocean life.

"It would be easier to vacuum the entire surface of the U.S., Canada and Mexico," he said. A better solution, he says, is to stem the flow of trash into the ocean and allow the ocean to clean itself out over time as it is now on the western shores. Recycling: Room to Grow Every year about 100 billion pounds of resin the manufacturing of plastic products. Moore percent of this bulk plastic is returned for percent go to landfills and the rest remains unaccounted for trash. beads are made for says about 5 recycling, 45 as products or is

"We've become so dependent on plastic from the tags on our clothes to the wraps on our sandwiches that all of us are guilty of polluting the ocean with this stuff," said Moore. "Somehow we've got to cut back our use." But Rob Krebs of the American Plastics Council points out the demand for recycled plastic for products like lumber for decking and furniture has spiked in recent years to the point where demand exceeds supplies. Right now consumers turn in about 80 million pounds of plastic bottles every year for recycling, according to the council. Krebs says there's room for that number to grow. "Recycled resin is a hot commodity now," he said. "People like the idea of buying things made from recycled plastic. I think that's a sign of progress."