Tuesday February 05, 2013 | 08:37 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

A curious thing happened when I was still new to the world of oceanic plastics. In November 2010 I got an e-mail from a man in Wales, Rik Bennett. He had found this stamped plastic tag on his beach:

Searching the Internet, he found my “Flotsam Diaries” site, where I showed pictures of the same kind of tag. He had found a Maine lobster trap tag, washed up some 3,000 miles and an entire ocean away!

I was amazed. It seemed incredible that such a tiny object could traverse such a huge world. One in a million.

Then in 2011, I got another note and picture, from Andy Goodall at Newquay, Cornwall, UK:

He too had found a North American lobster trap tag on his beach. This time from Newfoundland.

Two in a million?

In late 2011, Rosemary Hill from County Kerry, Ireland found a trap escape vent from an American lobster trap washed up on her shore:

She had also found the name tag from a lobster trap lost in the 1991 “Perfect Storm” -- a story that made news on both sides of the Atlantic!

Then there’s the Newfoundland tag found by the group "Don't Inflate to Celebrate" in Dorset, UK in September 2012:

And the trap name tag from Dorset found by Steve Trewhella in December 2012:

It was becoming clear that this wasn’t actually rare. That the buoyant plastic that we’re generating – and losing – on this side of the Atlantic is making the 3,000-mile journey to foul distant shores a lot more often than we think.

Then just a week ago a friend pointed me to a story of one woman in Cornwall, UK, a collector of North American debris. She hasn’t collected 1, or 5, or a dozen lobster trap tags. She’s got hundreds:

(Full-sized image here)

Add to that collection trap vents, buoys, and other floatable debris, she has a 20-year collection into the thousands now of North American plastic fishing gear.

One woman, one beach, 3000 miles from us. How many similar stories just haven't been told yet?

Combined, the US and Canadian lobster industries lose tens of thousands of plastic-laden lobster traps into the Gulf of Maine each year. That’s a -lot- of plastic debris being unleashed into the environment, each year. And that’s only from one industry. Never mind the countless tons of other consumer and industrial plastics that work their way from our hands into our waters.

As the stories and photos above show, what happens in the Gulf of Maine doesn’t stay in the Gulf of Maine. Not by a long shot.

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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.

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