Monday September 09, 2013 | 11:27 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

At Curtis Cove, Biddeford, where I collect washed-in debris, an amazing thing happens in the summertime. That’s when the beach tells us exactly what we’re doing to the Gulf of Maine.

We think of brutal winter storms carrying wreckage to our shores. Waves foaming & pounding, dumping junk high on the backshore and into the dunes.

And yes, winter storms do bring big junk to Curtis Cove. Rope, lobster trap vents & bait bags, Coke and water bottles, car consoles!

But here at the cove, it’s actually the gentle ripple of summer waters that shines the hottest light on the gulf’s pollution.

Curtis Cove is a natural collection spot for the small, sinkable plastics that lurk out on the seabed. Elsewhere, waves may toss some up onto the shore. But the energy in those same waves then sucks them back out into the sea, leaving little trace. Even in the calm of summer.

The rock outcrops at the head of Curtis Cove are just exposed enough to buffer a summer ocean’s energy. They allow only low, quiet, steady ripples to nudge debris shoreward with each tide. And then leave them there.

That’s why I can find this on July 27:


(275 pieces of junk)

This on August 11:


(711 pieces of junk)

This on August 30:


(1030 pieces of junk)

And this just two days ago, Saturday, September 7:


(744 pieces of junk)

Each one of these collections comes from just 150 feet of shore. The same exact 150 feet I’ve walked over & over & over since January 2012. Each week, each visit, more has washed in.

You can go to a busy beach like Old Orchard or Willard’s or Popham -- where the surf pounds & splashes into the shore year-round -- and rarely see this in the sand. You may find broken shovels & cigarette butts & straws & candy wrappers -- things left behind by local beachgoers.

But not this scene:

It takes a quiet, deserted, “protected” place like Curtis Cove to get this. The daily trickle, rather than the extraordinary flood.

And I’m grateful for it. Otherwise, it’s all just out of sight, out of mind.

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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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