Have you seen one of these duckies? (May be bleached white by now).
If so, please report your find to researcher, Curtis Ebbesmeyer.
Image: Simon de Bruxelles.
If you live in Great Britain, you could earn a £50 (US$100) reward if you find a plastic duck on the seashore during your upcoming holidays.
It turns out that a flotilla of thousands of yellow ducks, green frogs, blue turtles and red beavers (all of which are bleached white by now), each branded with the logo “The First Years”, are headed your way after bobbing around the Pacific, Arctic and finally, the Atlantic oceans nonstop for the past 15 years. After wandering for approximately 21,800 miles, the plastic toys are expected to make landfall on the beaches in Britain very soon.
The plastic toys (I like referring to them collectively as “ducks”) began life in a Chinese factory and were being shipped to Tacoma, Washington, USA from Hong Kong when several 40-foot containers, one of which was filled with 29,000 ducks, fell into the Pacific during a freak storm on January 29, 1992.
“Twenty-nine thousand objects that all came from the same place — what an incredible opportunity!” Gloated Seattle-based oceanographer, Curtis Ebbesmeyer (pictured). Ebbesmeyer is the world’s expert on the yellow duckies.
Most of the ducks floated south through the tropics, washing ashore months later in South America, Australia and then in Indonesia. But a flock of 10,000 ducks were captured by the Subpolar Gyre and instead headed north. By the end of the year, some were washing up on Alaskan shorelines while the remainder of them were moving eastwards again.
“The ducks went around the North Pacific in three years — all the way from the spill site to Alaska, over to Japan and back to North America,” said Ebbesmeyer. “This was twice as fast as the water at the surface — so I began to call them hyper-ducks.”
After that, the ducks continued to move north to the Arctic Ocean, where they became frozen into the Arctic pack ice. Winds and currents pushed the ice eastward on a 2,000-mile journey over the North Pole before turning south, and moving past Greenland and Iceland. Those plastic ducks that were not squashed or otherwise permanently damaged were then freed when the ice melted, and they wandered into the open waters of the North Atlantic. The first Altantic landfall occurred in 2003, when a duck washed up in Maine and a frog was discovered in Scotland.
Oceanographers predict more ducks will wash up on the shores of southwest England, Ireland and western Scotland in the summer of 2007.
Between 2,000 and 10,000 containers are lost from ocean-going vessels every year. They are filled with everything from Nike sneakers (80,000 were lost into the Pacific in 1990) to Lego building bricks (five million fell into the North Atlantic in 1997).
Unfortunately, this constant infusion of refuse is filling up the oceans with tons of garbage and is killing millions of sea animals every year. This floating junk has transformed the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a gigantic rotating current that is thousands of miles across, into a trash-filled region is commonly known as the Garbage Patch. One researcher who sailed through the Garbage Patch in 1998 described it as a giant toilet, forever swirling but unable to flush.
“I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic,” he wrote, no doubt, in dismay.
The ratio of plastic to plankton in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is approximately six to one, which is harming marine life from the very beginning of the food chain, according to a 1999 paper published by Ebbesmeyer and a colleague, marine scientist Charles Moore.
To trace the movement of the plastic ducks, Ebbesmeyer collaborates with Jim Ingraham of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Ingraham developed the Ocean Surface Currents Simulator (OSCURS), which follows the surface currents of the North Pacific. OSCURS studies the effects of currents on fish eggs, larvae, and plankton and on the behavior of migrating salmon and marine mammals. But OSCURS is also providing details for how plastic flotsam moves around the oceans based on landfall data.
Curt Ebbesmeyer profile (lots of information and image, site includes free PDFs and video)
Times (quotes, top image)
Daily Mail (quotes)