Animal Writes
27 June 2001 Issue
What Do Landfills and Dead Fish Have In Common?

The ocean. We in the animal rights movement cannot for an instant ignore what's happening on the land or in the sea.

Did you know that there are oceanographers who track sea garbage by measuring ocean currents? These and other methods are now used to pinpoint the container ship which may have dumped thousands of items such as running shoes into our precious waters, disturbing the ecosystem including poisoning fish and ocean animals.

Every year millions of items from gumball dispensers to Beanie Babies sail the oceans of the world on container ships which each carry an average of 4,500 containers. But storms and other mishaps cause more than 10,000 containers to fall overboard and spill their cargo into the ocean every year.

Fortunately, shipping companies must keep meticulous records, and a ship's captain is required to state where a container went overboard.

Oceanographers can easily check the serial number on the insole of a Nike shoe for example, found washed up on a beach against a ship captain's record to help trace its route from where it went overboard. With knowledge of ocean currents, oceanographers can then often predict where and when the goods will turn up.

Recently predicted was that Nike shoes which fell into the Pacific in 1999 would turn up on a certain beach. But some items won't wash ashore for 10 years.

The most bountiful and therefore unfortunate beaches are in California, Oregon and Washington. In Puget Sound, oceanographers claim the "1 percent rule" applies - about 1 percent of whatever is spilled or floats into the Strait of Juan de Fuca will reach inland beaches.

"The oil companies don't like me saying this, but if a million gallons of oil spill in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, 1 percent - 10,000 gallons - will show up in Everett and Puget Sound," said oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer of a Seattle firm.

Perhaps someday we will have the technology and funds to avert spills before they happen; and if they happen to be able to accurately predict what will be needed at the site where they will come ashore. Advance planning has the potential to save the lives of millions of fish and mammals, and keep our seas' delicate balance in check for generations to come.

Go on to Legislative Update: Victory In Texas
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