This morning Sarah and I went back to one of our previous sites, a small beach in Fort Smallwood Park that borders the Patapsco River. Our main goal was to test out a new device that was built by a co-worker (thanks Jason!) for the purpose of quickly sieving a LOT of sand. Going back to this site seemed like a good idea since we recently did pelagic* trawls nearby in the Patapsco River, and the park is accessible and doesn’t seem to be heavily trafficked. Ft. Smallwood has several little pocket beaches, one of which we chose as our first site to sample for marine debris. Today the weather was cool and misty… if you didn’t know better, you might think you were in coastal WA or OR (which was fine by me!). After politely explaining to the gate guard that we’re with NOAA and just wanted to check out the trash on the beach, the older gentleman let us pass with no entrance fee and a smile! That doesn’t happen very often in the DC metro area…
Sarah and I made it to our pocket beach, marked off our four sections as determined by a random number table, and got to work counting debris. We sieved part of each section to save for further analyses, mainly to look at the really tiny debris. I imagine we will send some samples to a group at the University of Washington that is looking into analytical methods for figuring out the total amount of plastic in a sand sample, focusing on the microplastics (that is why we sieved through a 5 mm mesh screen first).
Surprisingly, several people drove up and parked nearby even though it was 50°F and misty… we even saw some brave (or something) souls fishing in the Patapsco River! As this site is just downstream from a major wastewater treatment plant, fishing is not an activity that I’d suggest. Judging by the amount of debris we saw on our sections of beach, this isn’t the cleanest of places to fish in terms of solid debris OR chemical pollution! Maybe they were fishing for plastic??? That might be a safer bet! Among the typical food wrappers, hard and foam plastic fragments, pieces of glass, and fishing line, we found some HAZMAT. That’s right, a SYRINGE. And just next to it was (likely) a drug bag! Very close by, we found a small bottle of brandy… I think we can all fill in the missing parts of THIS picture.
Who says debris doesn’t tell a story? Some of it may be conjecture, but our goal is to start putting more pieces of the puzzle together with this monitoring project: where debris is found, where it aggregates, what composes debris, what amounts are present.
(Yes, Mom, I only touched it with my gloved hands and a stick.)
*Pelagic: of, relating to, or living or occurring in the open sea.