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I’ve often marveled at the variety of things that end up in bottles on the beach. I mean, the variety among the messages folks write is amazing in itself. But then, beyond that, there’s a lot of other…stuff…that people put into bottles, often for reasons unknown.

In truth, every bottle on the beach sends a message, doesn’t it? Sometimes, the message seems to be: “I was sent here by someone who doesn’t care about destroying fragile ecosystems!” Sometimes, the message is more like: “Oops! I was using this bottle when the wind kicked up and blew it into the sea.” Many bottles (and other objects) are spilled from ships during storms, or find their way into the ocean after having been dumped in a river. In any case, lying there in piles of thousands on the beach, the collective message is clear: this is not good.

Some things in bottles send messages I may never be able to decipher.

For example, I often find plastic bottles full (full!) of cigarette butts. Isn’t that the perfect image of waste?


Maybe this tells the story of a party? At least, I certainly hope all these butts came from a group rather than an individual!

Then there’s the frequent chips-bag-in-a-bottle, or muffin-wrapper-in-a-bottle.

There’s the eye-catching but frustrating napkin in a bottle:


Of course, hygiene items are always a big hit. Especially toothbrushes. Here are just a few of the dozens of plastic soda bottles containing toothbrushes I have found over the years.


Toothbrushes in a bottle 2

I’m guessing that people who live/work on boats or oil platforms store toothbrushes this way, and that these bottles occasionally find their way overboard, either intentionally or accidentally.

Then there are more interesting things. A couple years ago I found this:

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Any guesses as to what that is?


It’s a diabetes test strip. In a film canister. Found on a deserted beach.

Why Starburst

I found a big plastic water bottle full of corn a couple years back. Yep, just corn. Now, look. If there are two things we do not need more of in this world they are plastic bottles and corn. So to all you corn bottle throwers, knock it off!

No More Corn in a Bottle

Actually, I suspect this might be another storage technique–if you live on a coast and need a cheap way to store your grain, why not use a free plastic bottle that washed up on your beach? But again–as for how it made its way into the ocean, we may never know. Did a storm or a flood hit a village and suck it out to sea that way?

I recently found a single seed-head in a bottle. Looks kind of like wheat to me, but hard to tell? You can see it’s soaked and the grains have swelled up. Doesn’t seem like a storage method in this case. Could someone have hoped this bottle would break open on a distant shore, populating a new land with this variety of wheat or grass or whatever it is? What do you think?

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Then there was the time I found a plastic bottle full of what appeared to be human hair. Barf.

And if that’s not weird enough for you, how bout this: One time I found an entire chicken corpse in a plastic bottle. The whole thing. I am mystified as to how it got in there, because each part appeared to be larger than the neck of the bottle would allow. Is it possible that someone squeezed a chick into a bottle and then grew it there until it died, finally launching the bottle to sea? It’s hard to imagine someone being that cruel—but it’s very difficult to understand how a whole chicken could have gotten into that bottle, which was a standard, two-liter water bottle. I wish I had taken a picture. I thought about it at the time, and then I thought, why on earth would I want a picture of a chicken corpse in a bottle? And, now, here I am, lacking proof… I count myself very lucky to meet as many senders of MIBs as I do—but what I wouldn’t give to meet the person behind the chicken in a bottle!

I have found porn in a bottle, screws in a bottle, a flag in a bottle, batteries—I mean, if it fits in a bottle, chances are I have found it. Even if it doesn’t fit in a bottle (like a whole chicken corpse…) I’ll bet someone has found a way to get it into a bottle.

Usually I like to wrap up these posts with a nice, clear point. But maybe there isn’t one this time? I mean, there’s the pollution thing. Let’s tuck that under the pillow and sleep on it.

But as for why people put bizarre things into bottles and then launch them (or lose them) at sea—what can I possibly say about that? What does that tell us about humanity? Maybe it just goes to show that humans are fundamentally unpredictable.

Phillipe Cousteau is credited with saying “The ocean is the conscience of our civilization”. Curt Ebbesmeyer talks about the ocean as “remembering” what we put into it. In many ways, the stuff that washes up on beaches tells a remarkably full and vivid story about humankind. It is a rare thing to have authority over your legacy, over the story people tell about you after you leave this earth. But we can do that with the ocean. We can control how we treat it and how it “remembers” us and tells our story back to us on the world’s beaches with flotsam. We can write that story however we want.

At the moment, the story we are writing looks a lot like this:


But the important question is: What is the story you WANT to write? How do you turn this story around and make your vision real?