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FOLLOWING FLOTSAM. Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion, by Loree Griffin Burn, follows Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer and a team of mostly amateur ocean observers from throughout the world as they learn more about the ocean and whatís bobbing out in the big blue.

From The Asian Reporter, V22, #08 (April 16, 2012), page 13.

Sneakers and ghost nets

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion

By Loree Griffin Burns

Houghton Mifflin, 2007

Hardcover, 56 pages, $18.00

By Josephine Bridges

The Asian Reporter

Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer didnít always track trash. "His early work with ocean currents was quite ordinary." But then, in 1990, the scientistís mother showed him a newspaper article describing "a landfall of sneakers ó hundreds of them ó on beaches near Seattle. No one knew where the sneakers were coming from." You could say it was because he didnít want to disappoint his mother that the man referred to simply as "Curt" throughout Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion is now considered a leading expert on flotsam and jetsam.

Tracking Trash follows Curt and a team of mostly amateur ocean observers from throughout the world as they learn more about the ocean and whatís bobbing out there in the big blue. In 1992, "a cargo ship en route from Asia to North America hit a storm in the North Pacific Ocean and lost twelve containers overboard. One of those containers held 28,800 floating bathtub toys: yellow ducks, blue turtles, red beavers, and green frogs." By the way, "a sneaker and a rubber duck float very differently," as a photo in Tracking Trash demonstrates. Years later, bathtub toys from that 1992 spill are still occasionally recovered.

Other floating debris under investigation includes hockey gloves, LEGO pieces, computer monitors, and plastic soap dispensers, but thereís also something disturbing out there between California and Hawaii called the Eastern Garbage Patch, "a floating garbage dump that is as big as the state of Alaska." Should you want to see for yourself, Tracking Trash includes photos of a sample of seawater from this locale, the carcass of a bird found on a Washington beach with 59 pieces of plastic inside it, and a "litter-strewn beach ... on Kure Atoll, a remote, uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean." Fortunately, these dramatic depictions are followed by a sidebar titled "What You Can Do."

Ghost nets get their name from their "eerie ability to continue the work they were designed for ó that is, to catch fish ó even when they are no longer attached to a fishing boat." But they donít catch just fish; they also collect turtles, seals, birds, sharks, whales, and even trash. Tracking Trash introduces readers to the people looking for and cleaning up these menaces.

"Although tracking ghost nets with satellite equipment is much fancier than tracking sneakers with a network of beachcombers, the end result is the same," author Loree Griffin Burns points out as she wraps up Tracking Trash. But thereís plenty still to come: a glossary, books, websites, and bibliographic notes, where you can discover how to track Curt Ebbesmeyer while heís tracking trash.

Editorís note: The global impact of marine debris following the tragic tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011 is already being tracked. Earlier this month, the U.S. Coast Guard sunk the 164-foot Ryou-Un Maru, a Japanese ghost ship. The vessel, set adrift by last yearís tsunami, floated across the Pacific Ocean and ended up in the Gulf of Alaska.





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