The Oceans’ Junkyards

The New York Times

Flotsam and jetsam are two different things. Flotsam is an accident, debris that has fallen into the water haphazardly — a container full of sneakers swept off the deck of a ­freighter, for example. Jetsam, meanwhile is a thing of intent, cast into the sea deliberately, like a message in a bottle. This duality sums up the choppy but often surprising swirl Curtis Ebbesmeyer pulls together in “Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man’s Obsession With Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science,” written with the journalist Eric Scigliano.

Ebbesmeyer is a well-known oceanographer who has made a career out of tracking debris as it circulates around our planet’s 11 great oceanic gyres. But by his own admission, trying to give narrative coherence to his four-odd decades of processing beachcomber discoveries, analyzing bath toy spills and exploring oceanic “garbage patches” (one of which has a surface area twice the size of Texas) is akin to “drinking from a fire hose.” When approaching “Flotsametrics and the Floating World,” the reader must therefore parse the jetsam from the flotsam.

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