7.25.2011

moby duck: "that's the difference. there are things afloat now that will never sink."

I've re-started reading Moby Duck. I don't know if this ever happens to you, but sometimes if I pick up a book at a particularly busy time when I don't have enough uninterrupted time and concentration, I end up reading in tiny dribs and drabs, a page here, two paragraphs here. It's very unsatisfying, not to mention difficult to remember who's who and what's what. So I'll wait for a quieter time and begin again from page one. That's what I've just done with Moby Duck.

From my reading today, I want to share this passage with you, a bit of elaboration on a comment deang made when I wrote about Moby Duck last week.
"There's nothing new around," he said. Take Osiris. Even today, when the Nile floods, flotsam follows that same route. Not even pollution is new. He told me to think of volcanic eruptions, of the tons of pumice and toxic ash an eruption throws into the sea. No, when you studied the history of flotsam long enough you realized that only one thing was fundamentally different about the ocean now, only one thing since the time of the ancient Egyptians had changed. He took a sip of coffee from his mug, which was decorated with a painting of a cat. "See, pumice will absorb water and sink," he said. "But 60 percent of plastic will float, and the 60 percent that does float will never sink because it doesn't absorb water; it fractures into ever smaller pieces. That's the difference. There are things afloat now that will never sink."

. . .

"High-seas drift nets were banned by the United Nations in 1992," his version of the story began. "They were nets with a mesh size of about four inches, but they were, like, fifty miles long. The Japanese would sit there and interweave these for fifty miles. There were something like a thousand drift nets being used every night in the 1980s, and if you do the math, they were filtering all the water in the upper fifty feet every year. Well, they were catching all the large animals, and it clearly could not go on." . . .

According to Ebbesmeyer, those high-seas drift nets had not gone away, and not only because pirate drift netting still takes place. Before the ban, fisherman had lost about half their nets every year, and because the nets are made of nylon, which can last at sea for as long as half a century, those lost nets were still out there, still fishing. "Ghost nets," they're called.

. . .

A ghost net may not kill everything that crosses its path, but it sure can kill a lot. News reports describe nets dripping with putrefying wildlife. Just three months before I showed up on Ebbesmeyer's doorstep, NOAA scientists scanning the ocean with a digital imaging system from the air had spotted a flock of a hundred or so ghost nets drifting through the North Pacific Garbage Patch. When they returned to fetch them, they found balls of net measuring thirty feet across. . . . A few years earlier, Coast Guard divers had spent a month picking up 25.5 tons of netting and debris - including two four-thousand-pound, fifteen-mile-long high-seas drift nets - out of reefs around Lisianski Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Archipelago. They estimated that there were six thousand more tons of netting and debris still tangled in the reefs when they left.

In Ebbesmeyer's opinion ghost nets may post a still greater danger once they disintegrate. While we were conversing on his patio, he handed me the oldest of the drift-net gloats. "Hold this a minute," he said. It weighed almost nothing. "Now put it down and look." On the palm of my hand, the float had left a sprinkling of yellow dust, plastic particles as small as pollen grains in which, Ebbesmeyer believed, the destiny of both the Floatees and of the ocean could be read.

2 comments:

deang said...

That is awful about the drift nets! I knew a little about that, but not that the entangled animals drifted around putrefying.

And I finally saw "Plastic Planet." At one point, the film showed someone scooping up seawater in one of the ocean's plastic concentration areas, revealing that the plastic is all sizes, densities, consistencies, and textures of goop and bits. It didn't look like it could ever be removed or cleaned up. But the narrator/presenter is the Austrian son of a plastics magnate who is now campaigning to make people aware of the dangers of plastic, so it's still somewhat hopeful.

laura k said...

Hohn also gets into how the plastic breaks up into tiny particles, and how those particles are becoming more dense (accounting for currents and everything else) in very short periods of time. I don't know if he finds potential solutions and feels hopeful yet. I'm hoping that coming later in the book... but I don't know.