What a great, and heartbreaking post. I started learning how widespread the problem is after a visit to a local beach here in southern Maine in March 2010. The amount of debris (mostly plastic) washed up on this quiet shore was staggering. Since then I've been researching, collecting garbage, writing, and studying where it comes from, what happens to it, how long it lasts, and what we can do about it (The Flotsam Diaries). And I've also discovered a worldwide network of other folks working the problem & caring. Really great to see this here in the halls of the Smithsonian now too.
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