NOAA Tells Californians “Don’t Touch” as Container Debris Washes Ashore

beach debris
Cotton bales and other debris are reaching the beaches more than a month after the containers were lost overboard (NOAA)

Published Mar 22, 2024 8:32 PM by The Maritime Executive


The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and NOAA which oversees the unique marine preservation site are warning beachgoers and tourists to look but not to touch and report any debris they find along the coastline. On Tuesday they posted a picture of a 500 lbs cotton bale that has washed ashore weeks after reports that an APL containership lost boxes along the coastline.

In a statement issued a week ago, Lisa Wooninck, Superintendent for the marine sanctuary wrote, “Please report and do not disturb any cotton bales that have washed up recently on local beaches.” While it might be a usual sight to find these large bales along the shore, Wooninck warns the cotton could cover sensitive flora and fauna in the intertidal and on the shoreline. “It is best that the bales remain covered and banded until cleanup contractors can safely remove them from the beach.”

Debris first started washing up on beaches around San Simeon at the beginning of March. NOAA reported on March 4 that people reported cotton bales and empty wine barrels on the San Luis Obispo County beaches. Since then, more cotton bales have been reported from Big Sur Coast to Point Sal, including the Northern Channel Islands, and affecting Monterey Bay.

The debris is being linked to the APL containership President Eisenhower (93,558 dwt) which reported to the U.S. Coast Guard that it lost containers overboard on February 6. NOAA says the boxes were lost approximately 15 miles out to sea with the USCG setting the position 64 nautical miles southwest of Monterey. The vessel which has a capacity of 7,800 TEU reported that 24 boxes were lost saying that there were no hazardous materials involved. The ship continued its trip to the Port of Oakland.

A USCG plane observed a container in the water on February 9 near the southern reaches of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. They did modeling indicating that the drift estimate was a downcoast movement but warned the staff at NOAA and the sanctuary. The area is considered to be one of the nation's most spectacular underwater parks covering more than 6,000 sq. miles of diverse ocean ecosystems.

For the time being the warning is not to touch or remove anything found on the beach. The bales should be covered in blue plastic and dry would weigh 500 lbs. They also warn that some of the bales could have broken apart meaning beachgoers might find loose cotton on the beach or in the rocks. Due to the danger to marine organisms, they want the materials not to be moved until the contractors can reach and recover the various debris.