Thursday January 17, 2013 | 11:53 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

 Welcome to Curtis Cove, in Biddeford.


A year ago the cove came into the hands of the National Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rachel Carson Natl Wildlife Refuge. It’s an unvisited, untouristed wildlife preserve. A habitat for all sorts of migratory birds on their journeys south and north.

It’s also a remarkable catch-point for trash washing in from the ocean, and the beach I most frequently visit. 

Here is a sampling of what I collected on December 24, following a week with a few rainstorms and a day or two of blustery wind:

I find balloons, both mylar and latex, washed up most weeks. They may be beautiful to watch going up and up. But after the moment’s gone, every single one comes back down.

These bizarre little 2” disks deserve -- and will get -- their own story. 4,000,000 were released by accident into the Gulf of Maine nearly two years ago. Several hundred thousand remain unaccounted for. Still look good as new, no?


How this scrap of old vinyl record got into the ocean is anybody’s guess. The ocean’s rubbed its edges smooth; it’s been out there a long time. What’s its story, and where’s the rest of it?


This fruit cup wasn’t opened to eat -- the seal was still tight. But somehow it ended up in the ocean, where sea creatures poked & punctured it and its contents oozed out.


This is the bottom of a bleach bottle. Bleach bottles/bottlecaps are frequent washups. “JAVEX” is a Canadian company, a reminder that the Gulf of Maine is a shared resource.


The remains of a hospital ID bracelet. I hope its owner found the healing they needed, but I do wonder how their bracelet ended up in the ocean.


Coffeecup lids also wash up frequently. Poignantly, most -- like this one -- have pokes and bitemarks all over them, as denizens of the deep try to make sense of this new manmade smorgasbord.


On this one day I pulled up 190 pieces of plastic fishing rope. In less than a year at Curtis Cove I’ve pulled up over 3,300. There’s no reason to expect that number to drop off any time soon.

All told, on December 24, from 150 feet of shoreline, I pulled up 367 pieces of trash. A fairly typical haul.

That trash hadn’t been there in early December. I know because I was there. I’ve visited the same stretch of beach nearly weekly for the past year. Each visit, I do my best to collect all the washed-in material that I can from the same zone. Each week, new stuff replaces it.

Notice that none of the material above is the kind of thing you could imagine a “litterbug” leaving behind on a nearby beach. While thoughtless litterers surely contribute to the fouling of our pristine places, the story doesn’t begin or end with them.

It’s a much more far-reaching tale.

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About the Author

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

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

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