By: Dianna Parker
A Maersk container vessel off the coast of France reportedly lost hundreds of containers in the ocean on February 14 when it encountered high winds and 30-foot waves. Maersk says 85 percent of the containers were empty and told news reporters that the others housed non-hazardous dry goods, including frozen meat.
When containers spill, it’s an interesting reminder that there are many, many sources and types of marine debris. For the most part, it is almost impossible to tell exactly where marine debris originated. No one can say for certain if one plastic bottle on a beach came from a careless sunbather, from an overflowing trash can, or from a fisherman sailing off the coast. In some cases, regular monitoring can help identify local sources if shoreline surveyors see the same type of debris over and over again.
There are those occasions when we can tell almost immediately, and often times they involve container spills. The containers themselves become marine debris (and a hazard to navigation, if they don’t sink to the sea floor). Sometimes the goods inside are so bizarre or unique that they are traceable when we find them, as is the case with sports-themed fly swatters that litter some Alaska coasts. Other notable spills of the past have involved rubber ducks, sneakers, and bags of chips. It’s hard to say whether we’ll ever see the result of this recent spill on beaches, but if frozen meat (or more realistically, the packaging) washes ashore, it’s a safe bet that we’ll know why.
UPDATE — An interesting question: What happens to the containers that sink? We’re reminded that scientists at NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary spent a week last December finding out when they sent an underwater robot 4,000 feet down to check out a container that sank in 2004. They made some interesting discoveries! Check out their photos and mission logs.