June 2009 was the first time I noticed this heap of orange and green fishing net flotsam. It had probably washed ashore over the winter months. It was already partly covered by wind-blown sand and a plant had established itself on top of the nets.
Each time I visited the same location over the next six months (in August, October, November and December) I recorded the fate of the nets to see what would happen. With the passage of time, the nets began to be incorporated into the beach, being buried by the sand and bound by the root systems of colonising plants which later decomposed within the synthetic fibres and inert sediments.
In archaeology, the study of the processes that affect organic objects after they have been discarded is termed taphonomy. Strictly speaking the term is applied to organic materials becoming part of the fossil record (see anexample definition). It has, however, been applied to the fate of inorganic objects – the taphonomy of artefacts. I think the term might also be suitably applied to the fate of organic and synthetic objects on the seashore that are affected by natural (and sometimes man-made) events. These might include processes such as burial by sediment drift or wave action; alteration by erosion and weathering; colonisation or destruction by other animal or plant organisms; and mechanical damage or incineration.
Crisp and cold, bright and sunny, just right for blowing away the cobwebs with a walk along the strand at Whiteford Sands. On this particular winter’s day the tide had brought ashore lots of flotsam – fishing nets, buoys, floats, and crates, shoes, hard hats, and miscellaneous plastic rubbish that rested on a driftline of sand, pebbles or shells. Here are some of the things that caught my eye as I strolled the high water mark from Cwm Ivy Tor to the spit beyond Whiteford Point on Boxing Day 2013. Click on any of the images in the gallery below to view in a larger format and slideshow.
Amongst the normal type of storm debris such as dead birds, old toys, rope, and rusty metal, hundreds of packets of cigarettes were an unusual kind of flotsam to find on the strand-line. Tubs of creamy blue cheese even more so. They were scattered along the shingle at Ringstead Bay in Dorset, England, yesterday afternoon. This type of flotsam has been turning up on lots of seashores in southern England as a result of shipping containers becoming dislodged from the deck of a ship and falling overboard just off the north coast of France.
It was still very wet and windy last Sunday on Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis. Waves crashed with white surf. The shore was strewn with driftwood of all sizes. People had been out cutting the larger tree trunks for free firewood or maybe something more creative. Piles of smaller branches and detached ivy vines were stacked on the strand-line by high tides; while neat piles had been gathered in other places higher up – perhaps to dry for kindling. The cliffs were even more dangerous than last summer with rock falls and mud slides apparently imminent. I saw material tumbling down the soft cliff face in clouds of dust from behind the safety of the barrier with warning signs. Some people disregarded the warnings of the potential threat to life by venturing into the danger zone to search for fossils.
Mostly the keeled calcareous tubes of the Serpulid marine polychaete worm Pomatoceros triqueter with a few empty acorn barnacle shells and seameats or Bryozoans. These epibiont organisms had colonised an old plastic car hub cap that eventually washed up as flotsam on the beach. The animals themselves had long vacated the shells and tubes that remained encrusted on the plastic.