AUSTIN (KXAN) – If you decide to take a stroll down an Aransas County, Texas, shore, you’d likely come upon typical beach items like seashells, seaweed or beach glass. But here, there is an increased chance of discovering more peculiar objects, like a message in a bottle, shell-encrusted dolls or even an artificial limb.
“We do weekly surveys looking for stranded sea turtles, nesting sea turtles, [and count] endangered species, [like] birds, things like that. But we all were always coming across odd items,” said Jace Tunnell, Reserve Director of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Tunnell said because of the way our ocean currents work, the Texas coast gets much more marine debris washing up on its shore than any other Gulf state.
There is an area of warm water called the Loop Current that flows up from the Caribbean, travels around the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba and ends up in the Gulf Stream of Florida, per NOAA. Tunnell said that eddies break off from the Loop Current and flow towards the Texas coast.
“We’ve conducted research at the University looking at trash accumulation,” Tunnell said. “Anything stuck in that eddy comes pushed up right to the Texas coast. So we really do get the brunt of marine debris.”
“That study that we did for two years showed that we have ten times the amount of debris that washes up on our beaches here in Texas than any other state in the Gulf of Mexico,” Tunnell continued.
And while not all of that trash and debris is interesting, Tunnell and his colleagues have had some idiosyncratic finds over the years.
“We’ve found quite a few dolls,” Tunnell said. In addition to the dolls, in recent months, the research team has found a three-foot mermaid, a spell bottle and a prosthetic leg.
“We find items that wash up from West Africa, from Brazil [and] Mexico,” he said. “In the US, we kind of take for granted that somebody comes along and picks up our trash once or twice a week by our house. But a lot of countries don’t have that,” he said. They’re putting their waste in a river or directly into the ocean, which then comes back up on our beaches.”
Tunnell and his team don’t let some items they find go to waste though. Every year, the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve hosts the Tony’s Trash to Treasure sale, where interested buyers can bid on some of the eccentric items recovered in the last year.
Their 2023 auction will be held Saturday at 10:00 a.m. at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, and all of the money raised will go towards the Amos Rehabilitation Keep that rehabilitates marine turtles and birds.