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Floating Debris

Date: 04-11-09
Host: Ian Punnett
Guests: Curtis Ebbesmeyer, Captain Kelly Sweeney

Oceanographer and author Curtis Ebbesmeyer discussed his groundbreaking work on floating debris and ocean currents. According to Ebbesmeyer, there are eight giant "garbage patches" drifting in our oceans -- one is approximately three times the size of Texas.

These debris fields are a natural phenomenon, he explained, noting that they collect anything which floats, including trees, volcanic pumice fragments, and seeds. Harmful man-made flotsam, such as plastic resin pellets, is also accumulating in them and posing a threat to marine life, Ebbesmeyer warned. As plastic breaks down to grain-size particles, it blends in with plankton and infects the food chain, he added.

Other debris lost from cargo ships has actually helped Ebbesmeyer and an associate create a computer model of ocean currents. By tracking the drift of some 60,000 Nike shoes and 28,000 bath toys, Ebbesmeyer discovered that it took an average of three years for the junk to make a complete orbit around the ocean. This study has been instrumental in understanding the migration habits of salmon, he further noted.

Ebbesmeyer also commented on the mysterious severed human feet that have washed ashore on Canada's Pacific coast, as well as some of other odd things that beachcombers have found. In one case he has not confirmed, a person found a bottle containing the last will and testament of Singer sewing machine heiress Daisy Singer-Alexander and was awarded half of her fortune.

Pirate Attack Update

In the first half hour, Capt. Kelly Sweeney provided a brief update on the recent Somali pirate attack. He said a lifeboat containing four pirates and hostage Richard Phillips is 20 miles offshore, drifting toward the coast of Somalia. Sweeney noted that this act of piracy against an American vessel and sea captain has caused some mariners to rethink arming their crews with guns.

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