Trash travels: unwanted visitors do damage to our oceans
This is the latest in a series of articles by the Bermuda Marine Debris Taskforce on the effects of pollution in the ocean. Here, Anne Hyde explains how ink cartridges from a shipping container that was lost at sea in 2014 are washing up on Bermuda’s beaches today
In December 2014, an ocean freight shipping container fell overboard during stormy weather somewhere north of the Azores. It is estimated that the container was loaded with nearly a half a million HP-brand ink cartridges. Tens of thousands started washing up on beaches around Britain and France, carried by the current of the North Atlantic Drift that heads towards the Arctic Circle. In 2015, the BBC did a big story about the container spill and how many ink cartridges were littering the coast of Cornwall. Throughout 2015 and 2016 cartridges continued to show up on the beaches of Britain, France and the Azores.
In September 2017, during a KBB beach clean-up at Coopers Island Nature Reserve, a volunteer found two of the HP ink cartridges. The cartridges were hooked together as though holding hands, like a honeymoon couple arriving in Bermuda. Aww, so sweet that they had travelled all this way to have a sunny holiday in Bermuda instead of heading to the frozen north.
But this is not the kind of foreign visitor we want landing on our shores. The white cartridges were unlike any of the black cartridges sold in Bermuda and we had heard about the BBC report so the “honeymoon couple” were delivered to the KBB office for further investigation. The batch number printed on them matched those that had washed up in Britain. Since then, and with the help of observant clean-up volunteers, approximately 700 more of these HP cartridges have been found on Bermuda beaches. A few have also been reportedly found along the coast in Florida.
From the documented findings, we can conclude that not all of the contents from that container spill went in one direction pushed by the North Atlantic Drift current. Some of the spill made a different and longer journey in the circle of the North Atlantic Gyre, first following the Canary Current down the coast of Africa, then along the Northern Equatorial Current from west to east along the Equator, then back up through the Caribbean via the Antilles Current, and lastly pushed by the Gulf Stream up to Bermuda.
Container spills happen more often than we realise. Some of the more famous container spills have been the yellow rubber duckies in the Pacific Ocean and the spill of Lego toys near Scotland.
This is an amazing story of how trash travels. But it is also a horrible one. Most people are beginning to realise that trash is accumulating in the world’s oceans and taking its toll on marine life. Birds, fish and turtles are getting entangled or mistaking it for food. The majority of this ocean trash is made from plastic. Trash can travel thousands of miles in the ocean pushed by the wind and water currents. The next time you are at the beach, look for these ink cartridges. If you find one, please take a photograph and post it to the Bermuda Marine Debris Taskforce Facebook or Instagram page. https://facebook.com/bermudataskforce or https://instagram.com/marinedebristaskforce
• Anne Hyde is the former executive director of Keep Bermuda Beautiful and a member of the Bermuda Marine Debris Taskforce, which is a group of local environmental and research organisations that aims to promote awareness of the impact of marine debris landing on Bermuda’s beaches and affecting marine life and to propose solutions to the growing problem.