Moby-duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea

Emily Witt writes:

Two decades ago a container ship travelling from Hong Kong to Tacoma, Washington, hit a winter storm and several shipping containers were washed overboard into the North Pacific. Among the lost cargo were 28,800 plastic bath toys: red beavers, green frogs, blue turtles and yellow ducks. Hohn quit his job to follow the ducks. His quest to trace the toys threads together a book – with a title and many conceits drawn from Melville – about globalisation, environmental havoc, climate change, fatherhood and the sea. What happens to our garbage in the ocean turns out to be upsetting. In one swath of the Pacific the water contains 46 times as much plastic as plankton. Hohn says he’s not an environmentalist, swashbuckler or scientist, that he never expected to navigate the Northwest Passage on a research vessel or concern himself with the bioaccumulation of toxins in the food chain. The result is a comprehensive book about how we’ve filled the seas with plastic by a man who writes as if he’s been swept up, like one of the spilled toys, in a gyre.

(LRB 30 August 2012)