If you were ever to stop by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offices in Silver Spring, Maryland, you would see two artistic things. One is “The Hand of NOAA”, so titled by its sculptor, Raymond Kaskey, symbolizing NOAA’s stewardship of the environment.
The other is a wave pond. The pond has a wave generator that creates a crashing wave that is a good example of the dynamic nature of waves in the ocean. Unfortunately trash routinely gets into this wave pond, just like trash or marine debris in the ocean.
I pass the pond twice daily during my walking commute and have noticed recently that it’s full of little white bits of something. Closer inspection shows little white bits to be what look like Styrofoam fragments (Styrofoam is the tradmarked name of polystyrene or foamed plastic). These fragments are not from a cup. They have been swirling about in the air like snow, I think due to some nearby construction. Regardless, this wave pond has become an unofficial laboratory showing what can happen when polystyrene meets wave action. It breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces. Today, the pond was not making waves when I passed and I was able to see remnants of a plastic bag in the pond as well. I know this pond is cleaned regularly and seeing how persistent these bits are and how long they have been in the pool is a great example of how difficult a task it is to remove similar little bits that are spread over the oceans.
I am not sure exactly where the little bits came from or how the plastic trash ended up in the pond, particularly when there are garbage cans nearby, but I know one thing for sure: It would have been so easy to put that plastic in the trash and contain whatever caused the white bits from flying around like snow instead of letting it get into the pond. It would seem to be so much easier to prevent this mess than fish out a mass of little polystyrene bits.
The answer really is prevention. Make sure your trash gets where it needs to go and doesn’t end up in a stream or creek that leads to a bay that leads to the ocean.