SOAR has a serious side in its missions to help kids find ways of helping the ocean and watersheds throughout the world. I started on having seen hundreds of albatrosses killed by plastic debris at Pihemanu (Midway Atoll). I was inspired by the questions of young people in Ohio and by USFWS biologists working hard to protect endangered species and damaged habitats.

SOAR has a very fun and tough to define side.....thanks to FRED AND FRIENDS, Project SOAR helps with watershed and ocean workshops throughout the world, and generally makes people smile while they learn some tough stuff about how we treat our rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and the one ocean on planet earth..........


SOAR introduces young people to ways they can make a difference in their local community and the wider world.

Take advantage by:

1) Invite a SOAR learning kit or bring Ron Hirschi to your school as a guest author or speaker for your organization. Ron has many years experience as an author and as a biologist. SOAR adds another dimension to his list of hands on projects he shares in writing, art, and ecology workshops.

Many schools invite Ron for his work as author of more than 50 nonfiction books, including many with ocean themes. Others bring him to school as a scientist or artist, but the best fit is always when schools use Ron to help them integrate curriculum.

Tom Bates, Principal at Tremont Elementary in Ohio recently said in an interview following Ron's visit, "What stood out to me was how Ron was able to gear his activities and discussion and information so it was meaningful to the students, whether they were in kindergarten or fifth grade."

Be in touch at whalemail@waypoint.com for visit information.

2) SOAR now has a new kit circling the globe along with a Laysan Albatross "Friend of Fred". This duo is packaged with a box full of ideas, activities, information about Papahanaumokuakea, ocean debris, and other materials aimed at sparking new projects related to the sea. Also included is a journal chronicling Fred's adventures, all of which began when kids at Columbus School for Girls (CSG) learned how they could take action to help the ocean.

Currently, this treasured package is in the hands of The Bush School in Seattle.

NOTE: You might also be lucky to receive one of the earlier packages with a FRED and Friend, already traveling. To date, Fred has visited Australia, Switzerland, Israel, England, The Dominican Republic, and many corners of the United States.

31 January 2010


The City of Seattle has chosen not to recycle bottle caps less than 3" in diameter.
This, despite the availability of a wholesale plastic recycler at the Port of Tacoma that accepts these major components of ocean plastic. An estimated 4,850 pounds of bottle caps arrive on Midway Atoll (Pihemanu)
within the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument each year. They kill hundreds of albatross and other seabirds each year when the caps are mistaken for squid and other natural foods.

When I learned that our county, Jefferson, contracts with JMK Wholesale Recyclers in Tacoma,
I started contacting other area recycling centers and discovered that few US communities recycle caps.
There is a misconception that plastic mills won't enter them into the recycle stream. As a consequence, many of the caps wash into the sea. 

Bottle caps are a major component of marine debris I pick up twice daily on Marrowstone Island.

To test the hypothesis that small bottle caps (those under 3 inches) make up a greater percentage of marine debris than caps 3 inches or larger, I collected all caps recovered from the north end of
Marrowstone Island during January 2010. I pick up all plastic and styrofoam, mainly in the vicinity of 
Marrowstone Point, a convergence zone where drift cells from the south and northwest come together to form a prominent spit that accumulates natural woody debris as well as a wide variety of our throw aways and some fishing and aquaculture debris. I know from drift card recoveries, that currents bring debris to the island from Seattle and other points to the south as well as from Port Angeles and Vancouver Island. The majority of debris settles on Marrowstone's eastern shores just after south winds wash debris onto the accretion beach that terminates at Marrowstone Point. 

Historically, this point received only sand and logs, natural materials that have formed the graceful spit at the north end of the island. Some debris accumulates from north wind driven wave wash, but the majority comes from the south where high human populations contribute fewer logs due to shoreline clearing and tons of garbage, some of which can be recovered when it settles on the beach. Far more simply moves offshore and adds to the estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of ocean on earth (U.N. Study you can find in links at this site).   


The photo above includes some of the bottle caps recovered in recent beach cleanups. 

I picked up 111 bottle caps less than three inches in diameter during January 2010, the majority of which are from water or soda bottles.

I picked up one cap three inches in diameter and no caps greater than three inches in diameter.

In addition to caps, I recycled or landfilled more than two pickup loads of styrofoam, Tevas, flip flops, toys, crab buoys, boat mooring buoys, and other large non-recyclable debris. Small recyclable debris that I track for many purposes included 148 shotgun shells and shotgun shell wadding/shot cups; 38 straws; 21 firework rocket tops; 11 lighters; and 4 pens.


Based on January beach cleanups at Marrowstone Island, it appears that recycling matters a great deal. Small bottle caps contribute greatly to the vast amount of plastic in the ocean. Small caps accounted for nearly 100% of the plastic I recovered on Marrowstone beaches in Janauary 2010. Only one cap of a recyclable size was recovered in January, suggesting that people do place these in recycle bins in Seattle and other locations that contribute to Marrowstone and vicinity marine debris. 

I have talked with many people about their own community recycling and have discovered few locations with small bottle cap programs. Sadly, most if not all of the main Hawaiian Islands do not recycle bottle caps. Signs at island recycle centers clearly indicate that bottles can only be recycled when caps are removed. 

Based on my findings in January, I went back to the sorted plastics reported for December 2009 for Marrowstone Island. During that time period, I collected 193 bottle caps, all of which were less than 3 inches in diameter. This brings the two month total of small caps on island beaches to 304. Even if Marrowstone receives more than its share of Seattle area trash, this is an amount that suggests Puget Sound communities contribute many millions of small caps to the world wide ocean plastic problem. 304 bottle caps on about a mile of beach. I will attempt some math to estimate total Washington State contribution to world ocean plastic pollution.


Contact your local recycler and urge them to learn more about the threat to ocean life from bottle caps. Urge them to contract with wholesalers who accept caps, no matter their size. Even if your recycler can not enter the caps into the profitable plastic stream, they might accept the caps to keep them out of the ocean. You can only try, keeping in mind the more than one million seabirds dying each year due to plastic debris, much of which is in the form of small caps not accepted in cities like Seattle.   

Malama i ke kai

Ron Hirschi
Project SOAR


Rob Casey said...

Great post. Check out my photos of plastic beach collections from the Elwha River and along that section of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.


Rob Casey

Erika Parker Price said...

Thanks for bringing awareness to this topic. I would like to mention it on my blog (ourkidsearth.blogspot.com), but I want to make sure I understand one issue. Is this a problem with recycling or littering? I understand the benefits to recycling the bottlecaps, but if that isn't available in your area, and you dispose of them through the garbage, shouldn't that at least keep them off the beaches? I'm just wondering if this is a case of people tossing their trash off boats or if this is proper disposal of trash somehow winding up in the ocean. Would love your thoughts...

Robert Scoles said...

To respond to Erika Parker...the problem is urban litter created by people who either don't care or don't have a clue how their actions affect the environment. There may be some litter from boaters but my guess is that it would only amount to a small percentage of the total litter count. I volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and pick up litter on my way to the Aquarium. My route is just over a mile long and I do it at least once a week. As of July 2009 (when I stopped keeping track of the litter because it became too discouraging) I had picked up over 8,000 gallons of litter in just over 4 years. The Monday after "World's Oceans Day" I picked up four 13 gallon bags of litter before my shift. Less than 5 hours later I rewalked my route and picked up approximately 10 gallons of "new" litter. I have talked to municipalities and organizations about stopping urban litter before it becomes marine debris. Their silence says just as much about them as the litter says about those who create it.

Beach litter photos are always disturbing but remember what the photos show is only that litter which makes it back to the beach. Most of the litter probably never makes it's way back to the beach. In addition to plastics being ingested by wildlife the litter that does wash up on a far shore may have become habitat for small organisms that are "invasive" when (and where) they finally settle out of the ocean's currents.

Anyone in the Seattle wanting to see the effect they are having on the environment need only walk down to the Seattle Aquarium and start looking at the litter accumulation under the wharfs. It was bad 4 years ago and I doubt it has gotten better.

Sharon Huff said...

I totally agree with Robert Scoles point about PREVENTING urban litter. That is the key! No matter how much litter we pick up, it will keep appearing on a daily, tidal, hourly basis until litterers become aware of what they're doing and consciously decided to put trash in it's proper place. www.MuseumofLitter.org

X310 Plastic Ocean Activity

It's me, Fred, the Monkey.

If you look closely, you can see I wear X310's leg band around my neck. It's to remind me of her. She was a Laysan Albatross. She was born in March 2008 and lived on Pihemanu, one of the most remote atolls on earth, now part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

You can wonder about Pihemanu and about X310. She didn't live very long, dying in June 2008. Her parents flew thousands and thousands of miles finding food for her. But x310, like lots of baby albatrosses died before she got to soar the seas. Some albatrosses fly three million miles during their life. Like X310's parents, their sea is a new challenge in food finding because of our actions on land.

Adult albatrosses fly more than a thousand miles just to get a single meal for their babies. But the ocean is full of plastic. And if you read my buddy, Ron's blog and website, you learn about plastic in the sea. It is everywhere and babies like X310 die because they eat so much plastic, they can not get it out of their stomachs.

Where's all this plastic come from?
Where does it go?

Here is a simple activity:

Get up from your chair and walk around the classroom or wherever you are sitting.

Write down each thing around you that is made of plastic.

Everybody compare lists and make a total of the plastic products.

Now, the hard part of this activity:

Can you find alternatives for the things you use, alternatives not made of plastic?
Maybe start with drinking water from a fountain or glass or reuseable container?
Maybe start a really good recycling project?
Maybe make some art from recycled plastic?
Learn more on links here on this site and others.
Talk about times with no plastic.
X310 would have appreciated if people, just a few years ago had decided to make a plastic-free world for you....
You and X310.

Learn how you can SOAR with FRED by arranging a visit with Fred and his ocean teaching kit by emailing his banana provider at whalemail@waypoint.com


What you need:

Pint size plastic beverage container with wide mouth (about 1.5 inches) ---This approximates the size of a baby albatross stomach and esophagus.

Important to have the lid too.

Enough plastic items (bottle caps, toothbrush, legos, fishing line, small chunks of nylon rope, markers, pens, more bottle caps and even a few more bottle caps since they are pretty much the most common marine debris.

Talk with your audience of kids of any age about ocean debris and the way adult albatrosses fly out a few hundred or even a thousand miles to find flying fish eggs and squid for the little ones. They return to Pihe Manu or up on the Northeast shore of Kauai, find their young one among thousands of others and begin to feed by regurgitating "food".......

As you talk about this, have the kids place one or two pieces of the plastic into the bottle.

Replace cap with each addition of plastic. Shake gently to mimic bird moving around the nesting area a bit.

Remove cap. Shake gently to mimic the bird trying to dislodge "food" that can not be digested. In a perfect ocean, this would be squid beaks, fish bones, or other natural pieces of food.

Add more plastic, repeating above until no plastic falls out of the bottle when cap is removed (bill is opened) and the bird tries and tries, but can not toss up the mass of debris. See how much and how many different kinds of plastic can be added. Does the rope tangle with the legos and bottle caps. Do five bottle caps cause a blockage in the esophagus???

In nature, the upchucked mass is like an owl pellet and is known as a bolus. Natural foods slip freely through the esophagus and more feeding can continue. Most times, a baby albatross will toss up one bolus before leaving the nesting island. Unfortunately, thousands die because plastic blocks the stomach completely.

Your feeding the baby albatross activity can lead to a lot of discussion of plastics we use, discard, then find their way into the ocean and into the mouth of a baby albatross.

If you want to have a Baby Albatross Feeding Kit, complete with some plastic items that actually came from once living albatross at Pihe Manu, Papahanaumokuakea, be in touch.