Friday, March 7, 2014
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.
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:
Today’s Press Herald has a fascinating story of the wreck of the RMS Bohemian off Cape Elizabeth 150 years ago. It’s a poignant reminder of the turbulent history of Maine’s rocky coast. And it’s also a window into the mystery and lure of shipwrecks.
According to the article, $1 million (in 1864 value) worth of goods went down with the ship -- pottery, cloth, buttons, pewter, gold-embroidered silk. As well as sacks of mail. Much washed up or was salvaged (and perhaps scavenged). But of course much never surfaced. There are surely still pieces of that tragedy rolling around the seabed in Casco Bay and the wider Gulf of Maine today.
The story of humanity was turned upside-down last week by a report out of England.
Storms late last year along England’s east coast (the county of Norfolk) eroded back a ton of sediment, revealing ancient footprints. Human footprints. Found in layers dated to some 900,000 years ago!
They probably belonged to an early human known as Homo antecessor, and are by far the oldest ever discovered outside Africa.
And there they had lay at the seashore. Year after year, as the millennia wore on. As fishermen toiled above them, children played in the sand over them, lovers strolled along the beach hand in hand. Unaware of the stories under their feet.
As the Press Herald reported on January 28, the city of Portland is considering a 10-cent fee on disposable shopping bags.
No surprise, the issue is contentious. The plastic bag industry and its supporters have rolled out the usual bromides about “government intrusion,” “education,” and “recycling.”
These arguments are all baseless, in this writer’s opinion.
Education? Who needs to be educated not to toss a plastic bag on the ground? Of those souls who somehow don’t get this, how many will “education” reach?
Britain and Ireland have had an awful winter so far, with storm after storm battering the coast.
All that energy has brought up and beached a ton of plastic debris, including a cornucopia from the Gulf of Maine.
In the past month or so, folks across the Pond that I’m in touch with have found: