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Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

Previous entries

April 2014

March 2014

February 2014

January 2014

December 2013

November 2013


October 2013

September 2013

August 2013

July 2013

June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

Tuesday April 22, 2014 | 08:22 AM

On a day like Earth Day, it’s usual to see lists here, there, & everywhere -- things to do to save the planet.

I’ve never been a big fan.

Cutting the top off a plastic bottle to make a bird feeder is nice, and kind of a fun craft. But for planet-saving it’s just a gimmick. Unless you want to add 300 bird feeders to your yard. Every year. And then watch them one day all get blown away by a storm.

The history of the mass environmental movement has been a history of trying to creatively re-use the enormous mounds of “stuff” we create and throw out every day. It’s a hopeless quest. As long as we’re a culture of “stuff,” that stuff will create litter. Through accidents, carelessness, pettiness, storms -- whatever.

Tuesday April 01, 2014 | 01:07 AM

Looking back on a year of posts, two themes weave their way throughout “Undercurrents.” First, the only species capable of flat-out destroying the beautiful & vital places on earth is man. But second, the only species that can actually appreciate and value the beautiful places of the world is man.

As a writer, and a dad, my moods tug me toward the one theme and then the other. I’ve studied enough of our shortsightedness to see how easily we bury our heads. We claim that grocery bags are immensely valuable, yet balk at paying 5 cents for them to fund anti-pollution efforts. We pull fish out of the sea at an unsustainable rate and know it, yet balk when conservation efforts try to stave off disaster.

Yet we are also the only species that can marvel at a misty sunrise on a deserted shore, clean dewy sand under our toes. We’ve learned how interconnected and interlocking the world actually is — how our rivers churn the seas, bloom phytoplankton in spring, which becomes food for the fish we eat and oxygen for the air we breathe. How the ocean is a huge conveyor belt of nutrients and heat that covers the globe and connects us all. Here in Maine we're fighting to protect our waters and wetlands, and return fish to our rivers. In our hearts, we "get" it. We’re the only creatures on the planet who do. And we are, at our best, in awe of our world.

It would be very easy for “Undercurrents” to beat a constant drum of waste, pollution, excess, gloom, industry lies. There’s enough in the world to choose from. We can’t find a downed plane for all the derelict fishing gear and other huge debris in the distant ocean. Madness.

Monday March 24, 2014 | 08:24 AM

12-degree dawn aside, spring really is here. The hopping sugar house at Harris Farm’s Maple Sunday was proof of that.

But spring is happening offshore too. In the coming weeks, something magical -- and completely ordinary -- will start happening. Spring phytoplankton blooms will begin all along the shallow coastal waters of the North Atlantic.

These two stock NASA images show blooms in the Atlantic, the first off Newfoundland, the second off of western Iceland.

Tuesday March 18, 2014 | 08:43 AM

After a short break to catch up on a laundry list of other responsibilities, a return here to the blogosphere.

I’ve been reflecting on four years of flotsam fighting. I picked up my first bag of beach debris in early March 2010. My then-toddler daughter and I had visited Ocean Park just after some big storms. The beach was littered up and down with shells, wrack, and a shocking amount of plastic.

I resolved that day to do "something," though I didn’t know what.

Today, four years later, I still don’t know what. I do know now how naive I was. I had hoped I could do my part to keep the world’s beautiful places from getting fouled. But that’s already happened.

Monday February 24, 2014 | 08:59 AM

The Press Herald broke news last week that seven square miles of the Penobscot River were being closed immediately to lobster fishing thanks to mercury poisoning.

Arms were raised, people were shocked, accusations of coverups flew. The usual.

What else is “the usual”? Fishery closures in Maine because of pollution. If you've visited beaches in Maine, you've almost certainly seen one of these: