|Every year, up to 10,000 steel containers snap loose from the decks
of storm-tossed cargo ships, scattering their contents at sea. Curtis
Ebbesmeyer tracks all that junk, with the help of beachcombers
worldwide. By plugging the coordinates of lost and found items into a
computer-modeling system, he can trace the path of ocean-swept
debris — and in the process measure the previously unknown size
and speed of gyres. Ebbesmeyer chronicles his technique in the new
book Flotsametrics and the Floating World. This map shows the 11
gyres he has studied (including Melville, the one he discovered),
thanks to flotsam, jetsam, and a little volcanic pumice.
|FLOTSAMETRICS AND THE
FLOATING WORLD: How One Man’s
Obsession with Runaway Sneakers
and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized
by Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Eric
ISBN 13: 9780061558412, Hardcover
The American Plastics Council could boast of a 200- or 300% increase in the recycling
of plastics. But that would mean that plastics recycling would could go from the
present 1% all the way up to 2% or maybe even a whopping 3%. We have a message
for the APC; That's nothing to write home about. Plus what they call recycling isn't that
at all. It's more appropriately called down-cycling, which is when a plastic is melted for
reuse, it must be used for products with lesser material specifications. For most
plastics, it is but a few steps from its first product to the landfill or incinerator.
More to the point, the APC has not responded to the comments of either Curtis
Ebbesmeyer or Charles Moore. The news that plastics will be made into lawn chairs is
hardly compensation for the destruction of all ocean life.
Also read: Plastics in the Seas and Lakes
pioneer in the study of floating debris was in full swing.
Today, Curt presides over a network of thousands of beachcombers. These volunteers
and hobbyists walk the beaches of the world, snatching up shoes, hockey equipment,
surveyor stakes, bowling balls, Lego’s, tobacco jars, utility poles, fishing gear, survival
suits (with and without body parts), and the occasional message in a bottle, and report
their findings to Curt. Curt studies the information, thinks about what it all means, and
compiles these stories into a newsletter, Beachcombers Alert, which he mails to his
subscribers four times a year. If a new cargo spill occurs, Curt alerts his network
about what to look for. Read more.
you do?". He says that from this he saw the opportunity to monitor ocean currents
from the distribution of the shoes washing up on the coasts of Oregon and Washington.
However, in a 1999 article, Ebbesmeyer credits the discovery by Richard Strickland, a
colleague at the University of Washington School of Oceanography, of a Chinese
message in a bottle, which Strickland opened in 1991 having found it in June the
previous year. Ebbesmeyer and his team calculated that the bottle had been released on
the other side of the Pacific in 1980.
Ebbesmeyer says that when investigating the paths of ocean currents, he uses every
tool available. He studies satellite images and data from buoys. He tosses objects into
the water to see where they go.
Then in May of 1990, his toolbox grew a lot bigger. A storm south of the Alaskan
about the items he has found in albatross nests. "It's like the shelf at a 99-cent store."
The plastic not only causes digestive problems, it may also leach toxins into the
animals. A 2001 study by Japanese researchers found that plastic debris can act like a
sponge and attract chemical compounds such as PCBs and DDE (a breakdown product
of DDT) from polluted water.
So why not just clean up the mess? Easier said than done, says Moore. The fragments
are suspended in the water down to 30 meters deep and, due to the small, sometimes
plankton size of the debris, are very difficult to collect without disturbing natural ocean
"It would be easier to vacuum the entire surface of the U.S., Canada and Mexico," he
A better solution, he says, is to stem the flow of trash into the ocean and allow the
ocean to clean itself out over time as it is now on the western shores.
Recycling: Room to Grow
Every year about 100 billion pounds of resin beads are made for the manufacturing of
plastic products. Moore says about 5 percent of this bulk plastic is returned for
recycling, 45 percent go to landfills and the rest remains as products or is unaccounted
"We've become so dependent on plastic from the tags on our clothes to the wraps on
our sandwiches that all of us are guilty of polluting the ocean with this stuff," said
The pieces become smaller, but the debris sticks around thanks to a circle of currents
that all meet at the patch's center and to sluggish winds that keep the region still.
"As long as we consume more plastic, then the patch will keep growing," said
By poring over shipping data, Ebbesmeyer estimates approximately 10,000 containers
fall overboard every year, mostly due to storms. Each 8-foot-by-40-foot container can
carry up to 58,000 pounds of cargo. The North Pacific's loop of currents and calm
winds keep the junk pooled in one area.
Most of the floating debris is too tiny or colorless to be detected and measured from
space. But Charles Moore of Los Angeles County has visited the still, cluttered water
three times - no small feat since the patch's middle is approximately 1,000 miles
offshore and is devoid of winds to power a sail.
"When you look over the bow, it's as if you emptied out one of those kaleidoscope
telescopes," he said, recalling a recent visit to the zone. "You see all these little plastic
bits and when you pull up a net, you realize they're everywhere."
Moore, a retired businessman who has taken up the cause of monitoring the patch since
he stumbled across it in his 50-foot catamaran in 1997, says the floating debris is not
just an eyesore, it also poses a dire hazard to wildlife.
Mistaken for Food
Biologists have observed turtles, seabirds and fish gulping down large bits of plastic,
which are often bright in color and can appear as shrimp or other food. And Moore has
Giant Garbage Patch
A giant mass of old tires, Styrofoam,
plastic bottle caps, old toys,
sneakers, tiny plastic bits and other
flotsam, known as the Eastern
Garbage Patch, stretches as wide as
Texas on the Pacific Ocean between
Oregon and Hawaii.
The floating landfill has pooled from
decades of washout from land, illegal
dumping at sea or from cargo
accidentally tipping from container
ships. The bulk of the floating junk is
made of plastic since the material
|Why was a green frog in the news in 2003?
|If you have a picture you'd like us to feature a picture in a future quiz, please
email it to us at CFitzp@aol.com. If we use it, you will receive a free analysis of
your picture. You will also receive a free Forensic Genealogy CD or a 10%
discount towards the purchase of the Forensic Genealogy book.
|If you enjoy our quizzes, don't forget to order our books!
1. First Years, Inc.
2. To verify models of oceanic currents.
3. It was the first Friendly Floatee to wash up on the shores of the UK.
It gained its finder a 100 pound reward.
|1. What company manufactures this set of bath toys?
2. What clever scientific use have the toys been put to?
3. Why was a green frog in the news in 2003?
|This quiz was suggested by Quizmaster Emeritus Dr. Stan Read.
|Congratulations to Our Winners!
Arthur Hartwell Roberta Martin
Mary Fraser Margaret Paxton
Maureen O'Connor Carole Cropley
Joshua Kreitzer Sharon Taber
Joe Ruffner Dennis Brann
Carol Lemieux Joyce Veness
Diane Burkett Milene Rawlinson
Gina Hudson Donna Jolley
Barbara Battles Judy Kiss
Alex Sissoev JoLynn Pfeiffer
Gary Sterne Peter Norton
Alan Lemm Marilyn Hamill
Mary Fraser Margreet Brouwer
Daniel Jolley Sharon Cleveland
Sharon Mufferi Elaine C. Hebert
Rick Roof Jim Kiser
Collier Smith Robert W. Steinmann Jr.
|Comments from Our Readers
|"May The Tides Be With You"!, Absolutely amazing, what a fun puzzle, I had no idea!!!
I first took sort of a Muppets approach with this puzzle, learning about Kermit The
Frog & Jim Hensen, etc., with no luck. Then I just entered FROG BEAVER DUCK
TURTLE into Google and things started to happen...... I had no idea about this and it is
pretty cool! Robert W. Steinmann, Jr.
"Green frog bath toy 2003" gave me the MailOnline article and reversed picture. A
fascinating article. I was interested in learning the northern pack ice travels a mile a day
eastward. I had always assumed it never moved. Arthur Hartwell
What a fascinating story! Barbara Battles
Wow, i liked this one. It is a great story, i did never hear about it. And this time i had
the answer in 5 minutes ;o) Margreet Brouwer
This was a lot of fun to search for and the first I had heard of it. Truly interesting how
the toys travels are being tracked and the wealth of data it provides. Sharon Mufferi
Unbelievable - I had never heard of this story - and apparently, it's big news!!
Elaine C. Hebert
Fun Quiz. Jim Kiser
I googled BATH TOYS DUCK BEAVER TURTLE FROG and this topped the list of
returns:http://beachcombersalert.org/RubberDuckies.html Collier Smith
Where I live: there are beach cleanups and midsummer rubber duckie races. The first
numbered duckies crossing a line win prizes. It took a bit of time to find which island
that the green frog landed on in the Hebrides. I also wondered if the green frog turned
into a handsome prince for Ms. S. N. Mike Dalton
In reference to the right and left shoes landing at different beaches perhaps this is what
is happening with the feet washing up near Vancouver Island since 2007. I believe it is
currently 7 severed left feet and two severed right feet. Sharon Cleveland
|Kermit the Frog statue was erected at Jim Henson's alma mater,
University of Maryland in College Park. There was other news about
green frogs in 2003. I picked this one because I like Kermit!
Late in 2003, fliers were posted around a neighborhood in Seattle
asking for the return of 'Hopkin Green Frog'. The frog was a toy
from a McDonald's Happy Meal which had been lost by an autistic
child. The fliers he made became an Internet phenomenon.
I believe that some of the little darlings made a second trip around, so
I’m guessing that one of them was the little green frog. Either that, or
Kermit was sued by Ms. Piggy…
|Statistical Notes: time to drift around the
Gyre equals 6,800 nautical miles divided by
the speed between the drifter’s start and
ending observed time and position. Speeds
between start and end points: 20 estimates;
mean = 6.93 mpd; standard deviation = 2.06
mpd; coefficient of variation (standard
deviation/ mean) = 0.30. Time to complete a
single-circuit around the Gyre (6,800
nautical miles): 20 drifters; mean = 2.93
years; standard deviation = 0.86 years;
coefficient of variation = 0.29; 95%
confidence limits on the mean = ±0.40 years
(there’s 95% certainty that the mean lies
between 2.5-3.3 years); median = 3.0 years;
range = 1.9-4.5 years. beachcombersalert.
|Interesting Reflections on Puzzle-Solving by Peter Norton
|I have been trying to solve these quizzes lately with the smallest
number of searches I can manage, trying to distill an identifying
aspect of the quiz to a manageable search entry. It's rare to get it in
one search, but two is surprisingly common: either the first search
will give me an idea of the scope of the search I need to make (the
first was too broad or too narrow)or there will be some hint that
relates more or less directly at the answer. Of course, there are times
when I don't bother to maintain a count, because I run out of fingers!
This puzzle was a two because I dove in without really thinking, and
searched for "plastic bath toys," which was obviously
too broad; but "plastic bath toys scientific study, hit pay dirt.
My thoughts were already headed in the right direction after my false
start, and when I read the story I remembered it from the news. The
Scottish frog was new to me.
|Click on thumbnail to read a
copy of The Drifting Seed
A triannual newsletter covering
seeds and fruits dispersed by
tropical currents and the
people who collect and study
them. A fun article by Curt
Ebbesmeyer appears on p 2.
|Subpolar and Subtropical Gyres of the North
Pacific Ocean. Heavy lines, average drift
path; small arrows, local currents; dots,
Great Garbage Patch. Currents carry
drifters along the heavy lines around the
Subpolar Gyre in three years, and around
the Subtropical Gyre in six years. Flotsam
may circulate in the Garbage Patch for half a
They were toys destined only to bob up
and down in nothing bigger than a child's
bath - but so far they have floated halfway
around the world.
The armada of 29,000 plastic yellow
ducks, blue turtles and green frogs broke
free from a cargo ship 15 years ago.
Since then they have travelled 17,000
found the translucent tissue of the
filter-feeding, gelatinous animals
known as salps become clogged with
plastic bits. Fish then eat the jellies
and ingest the plastic as well.
In a recent survey of albatross nests,
Moore found that these birds, which
are known to be indiscriminate eaters,
have been gulping down large
quantities of plastic from the patch -
their normal feeding area. The birds
then cough up much of the plastic at
their nests, which they return to every
"I've seen cigarette lighters, kewpie
doll heads, plastic coins," said Moore,
Moore. "Somehow we've got to cut back our use."
But Rob Krebs of the American Plastics Council
[APC] points out the demand for recycled plastic
for products like lumber for decking and furniture
has spiked in recent years to the point where
demand exceeds supplies.
Right now consumers turn in about 80 million
pounds of plastic bottles every year for recycling,
according to the council. Krebs says there's room
for that number to grow.
"Recycled resin is a hot commodity now," he said.
"People like the idea of buying things made from
recycled plastic. I think that's a sign of progress."
Curtis Charles Ebbesmeyer is an American
oceanographer who, in retirement, has studied the
movement of flotsam.
Ebbesmeyer was born April 24, 1943 in Los
Angeles, California. Educated at the University of
Washington, where he gained a PhD in
oceanography in 1973, Ebbesmeyer monitored
ocean currents by tracking buoys and markers
dropped at sea. Stories vary as to the origin of
Ebbesmeyer's use of flotsam as markers. In May
1990 80,000 Nike sneakers were released from a
container washed off the ship Hansa Carrier. When
Ebbesmeyer's mother heard about those shoes
floating in the currents she said "Well isn't that what
peninsula knocked 21 containers off a ship
delivering goods from Korea to the United States.
Four containers burst open, releasing 61,000 brand
new Nike sneakers and boots to the mercy of the
winds and surface currents. The following
Thanksgiving, hundreds of shoes appeared on
beaches in northern Washington. By spring,
beachcombers had collected shoes from Oregon to
the Queen Charlotte Islands off the Canadian coast.
The press picked up the story, and Curt was soon
on the case. Through some detective work he
learned the source of the shoes and the number
that had likely been set adrift. He also learned that
each shoe had a distinct serial number making it the
largest instantaneous release of numbered objects
at one time.
In January 1992, his toolbox grew even larger. A
storm washed several containers from a ship
bound from Hong Kong to Tacoma, Washington.
One container carried 29,000 bathtub toys. Ten
months later, plastic ducks, turtles, frogs, and
beavers began washing up near Sitka, Alaska. A
new experiment had begun and Curt’s career as a
miles, floating over the site where the Titanic sank, landing in Hawaii and even spending
years frozen in an Arctic ice pack.
And now they are heading straight for Britain. At some point this summer they are
expected to be spotted on beaches in South-West England.
While the ducks are undoubtedly a loss to the bath-time fun of thousands of children,
their adventures at sea have proved an invaluable aid to science.
The toys have helped researchers to chart the great ocean currents because when they
are spotted bobbing on the waves they are much more likely to be reported to the
authorities than the floats which scientists normally use.
And because the toys are made of durable plastic and are sealed watertight, they have
been able to survive years adrift at the mercy of the elements.
Boxes of the bathtime toys - made in China for the U.S. firm The First Years Inc -
were washed overboard in the eastern Pacific Ocean one stormy January night in 1992
10 JANUARY 1992: Somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean nearly 29,000 First
Years bath toys, including bright yellow rubber ducks, are spilled from a cargo ship in
the Pacific Ocean.
16 NOVEMBER 1992: Caught in the Subpolar Gyre (counter-clockwise ocean current
in the Bering Sea, between Alaska and Siberia), the ducks take 10 months to begin
landing on the shores of Alaska.
EARLY 1995: The ducks take three years to circle around. East from the drop site to
Alaska, then west and south to Japan before turning back north and east passing the
original drop site and again landing in North America. Some ducks are even found In
Hawaii. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) worked out
that the ducks travel approximately 50 per pent faster than the water in the current.
1995 - 2000: Some intrepid ducks escape the Subpolar Gyre and head North, through
the Bering Straight and into the frozen waters of the Arctic. Frozen into the ice the
ducks travel slowly across the pole, moving ever eastward.
2000: Ducks begin reaching the North Atlantic where they begin to thaw and move
Southward. Soon ducks are sighted bobbing in the waves from Maine to Massachusetts.
2001: Ducks are tracked in the area where the Titanic sank.
JULY TO DECEMBER 2003: The First Years company offers a $100 savings bond
reward for the recovery of wayward ducks from the 1992 spill. To be valid ducks
must be sent to the company and must be found in New England, Canada or Iceland.
Britain is told to prepare for an invasion of the wayward ducks as well.
and broke open.
In the intervening time an oceanographer, Curtis
Ebbesmeyer, has devoted his retirement to tracking
the little yellow ducks and their friends over 17,000
miles, and it is he who has predicted that this
summer they will land in the West of England. Mr
Ebbesmeyer said: 'We're getting reports of ducks
being washed up on America's eastern seaboard.
"It is now inevitable that they will get caught up in
the Atlantic currents and will turn up on English
"Cornwall and the South-West will probably get the
first wave of them."
2003: A lawyer called Sonali Naik was on
holiday in the Hebrides in north-west
Scotland when she found a faded green
frog on the beach marked with the magic
words 'The First Years'. Unaware of the
significance of her find she left it on the
beach. It was only when she was chatting
to other guests at her hotel that she
realised what she had seen.
In 2000, a freighter
dropped a shipment of 17-
inch CRTs, which
reappeared — thanks to
the Aleut Gyre — on
beaches from Oregon to
The Hansa Carrier lost
80,000 shoes in 1990
during a storm off
Alaska. Months later,
Nikes carried by the
Turtle Gyre began
landing on Vancouver
Just off Land's End,
England, 817,600 Lego
pieces — scuba tanks,
octopuses, and more —
dove off the Tokio
Express into the
Columbus Gyre in 1997.
In an 1899 drift
experiment, 50 casks
were released into the
Polar Bear Gyre off the
northern Alaska coast. A
few made it all the way
Porous rock that formed
during a 1962 volcano
eruption in the South
Sandwich Islands was
carried off to the
Antarctic islands by the