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 an example 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.

June 2009

August 2009

October 2009

November 2009

December 2009


10 Replies to “Fate of some fishing net flotsam”

  1. This is fascinating, Jessica! To watch the net disappear through the series of your photographs… by the way, I am wondering, do you often walk along the same beach? Different places? The same places? You have so many good photographs I am wondering if your eye just continues to deepen over things you have seen many times?


  2. There is so much to understand and learn from revisiting the same beaches; they are always changing their appearance and there always seems to be something new to photograph. It could take a very long time (a lifetime?) to fully comprehend everything about each particular ecosystem – the plants, animals, geology, their inter-relationships, and the processes that bind them all together. However, I do also love the new and the different and really look forward to the excitement of discovering new places. This blog is focussed on nature, especially seashores, but I take photographs everywhere I go – at home and in urban and rural environments. I think I might start a separate photoblog for some of the 60,000 other kinds of digital images I have catalogued and filed – not to mention the boxes of prints.


  3. It is interesting to think that all the rubbish that washes up on beaches could be the fossils of the future. Will this era become known as the Plastic Age?


  4. Jessica, the beaches and rocks out here are festooned with synthetic rope, mostly bright blue. I’d never thought to photograph a coil over time, but now wish I had to see if there’d been any sign of disintegration over the years. On the beach the major plastics are removed weekly (crates, boxes, cans, sheeting, random shapes, kitchen sinks etc). There’s so much small stuff in the seaweed where the shorebirds feed that it’s an impossible task to deal with it. Thanks, North Atlantic gyre!


  5. I don’t think you would have seen any disintegration of the blue rope however long you had observed. The best you can hope for is that either someone clears it away with the other rubbish or it becomes buried. I have seen old synthetic rope underneath dunes which have recently been eroded by the sea. After presumably many decades they seem as good as new. Rigid plastics like crates and bottles do become brittle and break up over a few years but the constituent plastic just breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces without ever disappearing completely.


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