No matter how many beaches you walk, there is always something new to find.
Sherry and I re-learn this truth every time we survey shorelines for debris. Right now we’re almost finished with a project of monthly shoreline surveys around the Chesapeake Bay. The heavy rain events in September made for really interesting – if also somewhat depressing – surveys. Today I’ll share a story from our September field trips.
Luckily, our surveys were scheduled on a beautiful day after the rains came through. We were surveying a beach located on the western portion of the Bay, along a relatively quiet river. This site doesn’t typically have a large load of debris. The beach is very small and is bordered by a hillside, in which I saw the following:
A glass bottle and some polystyrene foam were actually imbedded in the hillside. The heavy rain and recent high tides had produced large wrack lines, and we believe these physical factors (in addition to potentially increased erosion due to the rain) led to the incorporation of this debris into the hillside. Yikes!
This is a good example of how specific field conditions can guide the writing of – for instance – a standardized monitoring protocol. Field conditions and realities change constantly. If we had walked a different beach, or if rain had not eroded this hill, we might not know to look for embedded debris in future surveys. The more information available before developing a standard protocol, the better. No matter how thorough we are, the real world likes to throw curve balls. That’s why we field-test protocols before finalizing.
This story also illustrates how the impacts of debris can reach farther than the human eye. If marine debris remains un-moved by human hands, it can become part of the local ecosystem. Sand and soil will cover the debris and a very lengthy breakdown process will begin.
We usually focus on the ability of debris to persist and travel long distances, but it can also become part of the landscape in ways that no one ever intended. This unintended consequence is why proper waste disposal and regular shoreline cleanups are so important.