Whale burps found on Lake Superior shore

If you’re unclear on what a whale burp is, you’re not the only one. Often misconstrued to be connected in some way to whales (and I wonder why that is… ), whale burps are actually purely environmental–no whales necessary. They don’t look too unlike rubberband balls. Except they’re made up of pine needles, bird shells, twigs, and other natural debris… as well as a disconcerting unnatural item: strands of plastic.

It’s believed that these bad news balls form when strands of plastic roll around with natural debris.

And they’ve formed and come to shore in Duluth, Minnesota.

A Lake Superior beach sweep in 2010 yielded thousands of pieces of plastic items. Volunteers collected the plethora of garbage, but there’s clearly more where all of that came from. This particular plastic appears to be the kind often used in contruction, in silt fences, for example.

I spent a week this past summer on Lake Superior. After watching the sunset on those ostensibly sparkling clean shores so many nights in a row, it breaks my heart to know that the lake’s pollution is now rolling up on the shores.

[Thanks, Treehugger]

[photo by Ben Britz]

Swimmer completes Himalayan swim

A few days back we told you about Lewis Gordon Pugh, a British long distance swimmer and environmentalist, who had traveled to the Himalaya to attempt the highest altitude, long distance swim ever. At the time, he was in Gorak Shep, a small village near Everest Base Camp, acclimatizing and preparing to take his record breaking dip. Since then, he has completed the 1km swim in ice cold glacial waters, but not without a few scary moments first.

Pugh is considered one of the world’s top cold water swimmers, and has traveled the globe making similar swims in an effort to raise awareness of global warming and the effect it is having on the Earth’s environment. In this case, he went to the Himalaya to shine a spotlight on the disappearing glaciers there.

He might have asked himself what he was thinking the first time he took the plunge into Pumori Lake, at 17,700 feet. In his blog, Pugh called his test swim the most frightening day of his swimming career after he almost “went under” twice in 300 meters. The altitude played havoc with his body, making it impossible to breathe and zapping his endurance. Worse yet, he suffered from a bit of altitude sickness as well.

But the next day, Pugh regrouped, found his pacing, and completed his1km swim through waters that were just 36ºF in temperature. In his customary style, he also wore just his Speedo, swim cap, and goggles, which gives me the shivers just thinking about it. It took him 22 minutes, 51 seconds to cover the distance, and the exhausted swimmer was happy to be out of the water when he was done.

Having just been in the same area as Pugh a month or so back, I can tell you that it is difficult to walk and breathe there, let alone swim. I can’t even imagine how hard this must have been for him.

Beach Trash? Small Solutions to a Big Problem

Erik’s post Global Trash Ruins Hawaiian Beaches reminded me of participating in a beach clean-up in Singapore. Some trash, like Erik’s post mentioned, are from ships that either dumped trash on purpose or landed in the water by mistake. Strong gusts of wind? Someone eating at a ship’s railing and a plastic fork dropped or a shoe came off? Because Singapore is a major port, ship trash is a big problem.

The clean-up I participated in several years ago was part of the International Coastal Clean-up organized by the Ocean Conservancy. For the past 20 years the conservancy assigns groups to particular beaches to clean up what they can and keep track of what’s being dumped. According to their website, 300,000 people participated in 2005. The 2006 tally is not entered.

I remember that when we picked up trash we kept track by counting the number of pieces and the category. During this past year’s event, September 16, 2006, 1,865 people participated in Singapore. You can see the total results here. It’s amazing to see the variety of things collected. The photo was taken by Steve Early, a friend of mine, who still teaches science at the Singapore American School. I just happened to find this out when I went poking around looking for a photograph. Small world. The school’s trash duty assignment was at the Kranji Mangroves.

The next International Coastal Clean-up is not until this coming September, but there are plenty of other smaller opportunities to pick trash up along beaches until then. Here are a sampling of three that happen every month. If you know of more, tell us. It would be neat to participate in a beach clean-up in other parts of the world. All this reminds me that when I’m at a beach somewhere and see that piece of trash that doesn’t belong, it’s not that much work to bend down and pick it up.

  • Save Our Shores out of Santa Cruz, CA offers Interpretive Beach Clean-ups where participants learn about the ecosystem of the area as well. There are clean-ups scheduled almost every month.
  • The 3rd Saturday of every month there’s “Justin Rudd’s 30-minute Beach Clean-up” in Long Beach, CA. The site also has a terrific video ad.
  • Blue Ocean organizes beach clean-ups in New Hampshire.