Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moby Duck

I just finished reading “Moby Duck”, which was recommended to me by Liz Roosevelt.  This is a fascinating and enlightening book based upon what seems to be a slim premise – to find out what happened to 28,800 bath toys which were lost at sea just south of the Aleutian Islands on January 10, 1992. The author, Donovan Hohn was a high school teacher who learned of the toy spill through an essay written by one of his students. Hohn assigned his journalism students to write an essay on the “archaeology of the ordinary.”  One student chose to write about his rubber duck which he carried for luck.  He mentioned the toys spill, and that the toys were expected to have drifted through the Bering Strait, the Northwest Passage, the Canadian Arctic and the Labrador Sea, and down to Nova Scotia, arriving sometime in 2003.

And so the odyssey begins.  This is more than just an indulgent quest to satisfy an individual’s curiosity.  Hohn is a very talented writer whose inquiries lead him from manufacturing plants in China, on to remote beaches in Alaska to search for washed up ducks, on an ice breaker in the Northwest Passage, the vast Pacific Ocean off of Hawaii on a scientific research vessel.  Along the way, readers learn about container vessels and how they are loaded, rogue waves, Irminger rings, the Great Pacific Gyre and some disastrous Arctic explorations of the 19th and early 20th centuries.   His inquiries are wide ranging and thoughtful.

He interviews scientists, environmentalists from across the spectrum, ship captains and crew, manufacturers and lawyers.  He examines plastics in all forms and shapes, and the catastrophic effect plastic is having on our oceans and environment.  So little is recycled, and so much winds up on our beaches (some beaches in Hawaii are composed almost entirely of plastic sand), in the ocean as microscopic particles where it is mistaken as food by sea creatures, or floating endlessly in the ocean.

This is not a grim book, full of depressing facts and gloomy predictions for the future.  It is a frequently very funny, always enlightening and completely original book.  I very highly recommend it.   

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