Once we got to Grayland on the Washington coast, we checked out the 76 sign view out the motel window and headed directly for the beach, despite the freezing rain.
This is an extremely rural, undeveloped area. But right away I started picking up plastic, including these strange chunks of large-cell polystyrene foam.
That night at the local elementary school, the oceanographer Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer gave a presentation on tsunami debris. Ebbesmeyer is the reason I met Noni in the first place. I read about her in his book Flotsametrics, and asked him by email to put me in touch with her when I found out I was going to Hawaii last year. Ebbesmeyer has used the OSCURS computer model to predict when tsunami debris from Japan will start arriving on the West Coast. OSCURS, the Ocean Current Surface Simulator, was developed by Ebbesmeyer’s colleague Jim Ingraham. They have used it to very accurately track the travels of everything from rubber duckies to hockey gloves.
Ebbesmeyer’s predictions differ from NOAA‘s because Ebbesmeyer accounts for the varying profiles of different pieces of debris, which travel faster or slower depending on how high they sit in the water. Ebbesmeyer’s model predicts that Japanese fishing buoys, which sit high, should be arriving on the West Coast now. “We’re dealing with fast flotsam,” he said. And, indeed, community members brought in samples of each of the types of fishing buoys Ebbesmeyer identified in photos of debris from the tsunami, including cylindrical buoys made of large-celled polystyrene foam like the stuff we found on the beach.
I stopped collecting plastic after the first day in Grayland. There was just too much of it, and that polystyrene foam was everywhere. I took pictures, though. Photo essay post coming soon.