Originally posted on National Geographic 6/11/2013: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2013/06/11/gyre-expedition-day-3-monday-june-10/
In late morning we head toward Wonder Bay on Shuyak Island. On the way we run across a huge, nearly blond Brown Bear foraging on the beach. The world’s largest Brown (Grizzly) Bears live in this area and nearby Kodiak. As we approach, it gets concerned enough to amble away, easily hopping over some heavy timber drifted ashore. As it tops the berm into tall grass, it spooks a deer that had no idea there was a bear coming its way.
Wonder Bay is a black gravel and rock beach, bookended by low rocky bluffs and topped by short spruces. There’s a lot of drifted wood here, but this beach isn’t too cluttered with trash. There’s netting, buoys, buckets, jugs. Several big styrofoam cylinders are sleeved in netting.
This is all adult trash. No toys, no dolls, no action figures. Half the trash tonnage here is fishing gear.
Peter Murphy has his clipboard out. He and Dave Gaudet are categorizing and counting pieces of trash. In his years of trying to understand ocean trash, he’s learned that a lot of trash gets into the ocean; that we know it causes harm because we see animals tangled and killed, but that no one can say how much because many animals die without being counted; that it goes where it’s hard to remove but many groups are dedicated to trying to remove it, even in some hard-to-access places; and that the problem is greater than the resources available to deal with it.
A kingfisher rattles as an eagle passes overhead. From somewhere inland behind the trees, a loon calls.
A float plane approaches, lands in the bay, and taxis to shore. Out comes Andy Schroeder, a former marine and a former kayak guide whose organization Island Trails Network is organizing cleanups all over the Kodiak island group. He’s finding a trend to more foam, more consumer products, more stuff from Japan. I don’t hear the word “less” in his list of trends.
Andy has been organizing volunteers and fishermen to help remove ocean-going trash from the beaches. But it’s important to remember that once the trash comes off, it still has to go somewhere. Many landfills don’t want it, because their space is too limited as is. It has to be taken far away. It all costs more money to do.
Andy is looking for buyers. He says more than 70 percent of the debris could be recycled into other products. In a sense, that means that even this garbage is another wasted resource.