(preface to a poem to navigate with a magnifying glass)


Excerpts from Flotsametrics and the Floating World, by Curtis Ebbesmeyer, with Eric Scigliano (Harper, 2009):


“The eleven gyres cover as much area as all the land on earth.  On average they are as large as the United States. . . .They tend to be oblong—three to six times as wide as they are high. . . . The gyres are not simple circles but rather wheels within wheels. . . . Some, such as the suborbit around the Azaores Islands, collect flotsam; for these I coined the term ‘garbage patches.’” (166, ff.) 


“[I came to appreciate] how much washed-up flotsam could tell us about the vast watery world around us; it could reveal the rhythms of an ocean gyre. . . .  My article ‘Tub Toys Orbit the Pacific Subarctic Gyre’ opened provocatively, noting that scientists today did not believe what oceanographic pioneers had deduced more than a century ago: that flotsam could orbit an entire gyre. And it proceeded to show how the tub toys had done just that.”  (165)


“I might find trashier beaches, but I could hardly hope to observe them in such eloquent company as the pair of illustrious exiles who strolled Los Angeles’s Hyperion Beach one autumn day shortly before the start of World War II: Aldous Huxley and Thomas Mann, two literary giants enthralled and appalled by the brave new world they had landed in while the old world tore itself apart. 'Between the breaker and highway stretched a broad belt of sand, smooth, gently sloping and (blissful surprise) void of all life but that of the pelicans and godwits,’ Huxley afterward wrote. ‘. . . Talking of Shakespeare and the musical glasses, the great man and I strolled ahead. The ladies followed. It was they, more observant than their all too literary spouses, who first remarked the truly astounding phenomenon ‘”Wait,” they called, “wait!” And when they had come up with us, they silently pointed. At our feet, and as far as the eye could reach in all directions, the sand was covered with small whitish objects, like dead caterpillars. Recognition dawned. The dead caterpillars were made of rubber and had once been contraceptives.”' (191)


“You can hardly blame seabirds and turtles for mistaking plastic fragments and pellets for food; researchers in oceanographic laboratories have misidentified nurdles as fish eggs. Albatrosses, scooping up whatever glimmers on their long glides, are especially vulnerable. A 1969 examination of one hundred Laysan albatross carcasses beached in the Hawaiian chain found an average of eight indigestible items in each stomach—about 70 percent pumice and 30 percent plastic fragments. Three decades later plastic predominated. In 2005, the nature photographer David Liittschwager asked me to examine a shot his colleague Susan Middleton had taken of the stomach contents of an albatross chick found dead on Midway at the chain’s north end. It had swallowed more than five hundred pieces of debris, including sea beans [various seeds riding currents to new lands], Bic lighters, shotgun-shell cups, toy wheels and the plastic tubes used as spacers in Japanese oyster farming.” (211-212)

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