Thanks to Tropical Storm Ida and an eddy in the Gulf Stream, you can expect to find an exceptionally heavy amount of plastic littering the beach this week. At the high tide line, mixed in with sargassum seaweed, are bottle caps, plastic utensils, lighters, straws, fishing line and debris that is weathered beyond recognition. Plastic and seaweed wash ashore under certain conditions. This is the heaviest concentration to reach shore since BlueTubes were installed at public beaches this summer.
Some trash is left on beaches by visitors, but most of it comes from other places and is carried here by the Gulf Stream. “If plastic is covered with barnacles, it has been at sea for a long time. It may have come from the Caribbean or even the west coast of Africa” explains George Maul, Professor of Physical Oceanography at Florida Institute of Technology. Maul says plastic comes ashore when two events happen simultaneously: the Gulf Stream forms an eddy, and there is an onshore wind or surf. The Gulf Stream current, which flows up the eastern coast of the United States, is typically around 25 to 35 miles off Cape Canaveral. When an eddy forms at its western edge, it swirls away from the main current and enters coastal water where waves or wind can then transport plastic debris that had been carried by the Gulf Stream onto our shore.
Patty Goffinet, founder of the nonprofit, BlueTube Inc., which distributes BlueTubes says “Having plastic wash up on our beaches isn’t necessarily bad, because it is much easier to remove plastic from the beach than it is from the ocean.” BlueTubes are at dune cross-overs in all Brevard County run beach parks as well as those in Melbourne Beach, Indian Harbour Beach and Satellite Beach. They are filled with bags so people can grab one on their way to the beach, pick up trash and throw it away. Volunteers keep BlueTubes filled with clean, used plastic bags. Businesses fund BlueTubes through sponsorships and donate money to Sea Education Association for scientific research on ocean plastic as well. See www.bluetubebeach.org for more information.
Tropical Storm Ida has brought waves in too, and despite the influx of plastic, this has thrilled area surfers. Local surfer Andy Middleton laughs and says: “It’s been a very good swell.” According to Middleton, the waves have been building for a week. “Tuesday’s waves were two to three feet overhead with a good, long wave period, and Wednesday’s were even bigger.” The waves are welcome news for many after a long, flat summer.