“Message in a bottle” sails along Mindanao after 11-month Pacific Ocean journey

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 March) –  No, this is not about the movie based on Nicholas Sparks’ book of the same title but a message  intended to raise awareness on ocean issues, placed in a nine-liter, 20-inch glass bottle which has travelled 5,000 miles from south of Hawaii since April 24, 2010 and has been tracked 10.5 miles off  the southern end of Sarangani Island in Davao del Sur as of  4:23 a.m. today.

“Today’s (3/25/11) bottle location at 20.23 GMT (4:23 a.m. March 26 in the Philippines) is Lat 5.348, Long 125.625 which is 10.5 miles offshore the Southern end of Sarangani Island, Philippines,”  artist Jay Little of San Anselmo, California, creator of the Plastiki Message Bottle, told MindaNews in response to an e-mailed query.

Little equipped  the bottle  with a satellite-tracking device to monitor its progress from the launching point 840 miles south of Hawaii in April last year.

A quest to find the bottle, numbered 288 on the inside, is now underway, with a US $250 (10,800 Philippine pesos) reward offered to its finder.

Little has sent out 235 bottles since 1993 but the Plastiki Message Bottle is the first equipped with a satellite tracking device. Twenty two of his earlier bottles had been retrieved, nine of them in the Philippines, including two from Mindanao.

Each glass bottle, emblazoned with a map of the world’s ocean currents, contains a two-page hand-decorated message soliciting assistance for an ongoing collaborative art project.

“My goal is to draw attention to the current environmental deterioration of the oceans and inspire people to take action.” Bottle recipients are encouraged to send found objects destined, Little said,  “for assemblage into a series of sculptures that symbolize the cooperative effort needed to seek new solutions and effect positive change.”

“Despite hardships and often extremely trying conditions, participants have contributed such items as corals, glass floats, animal skeletons, fishing gear, feathers, fossils, living plants, shells, handmade ceramics, maps, a carved ceremonial sword, a piece of an 1860 shipwreck, driftwood, sand, and – ironically — abundant plastic flotsam,” a press release on the project said.

Little teamed up with adventurer/expedition leader David de Rothschild who, with five others,  left San Francisco on March 20, 2010 and arrived in Sydney, Australia on July 26, 2010 on a one-of-a-kind catamaran made of 12,500 plastic bottles. That same number of bottles, the Plastiki website says, is thrown away every 8.3 seconds.

It was during this journey when Little’s message bottle was launched.

Little told MindaNews that the first bottle found in Mindanao was released from a research vessel Polar Duke which is an ice breaker on  July 24, 1995 and was found on  February 1, 1997 by Artemio P. Ytac, a fisherman, as the bottle was floating 10 miles offshore Bislig Bay, Mangagoy in Surigao del Sur. The bottle traveled 8,145 miles across the Pacific.

The second bottle found in Mindanao was released from the sailboat Sanderling on March 27, 1995 and was discovered by Lea G. Boquiren on February 4, 1997, only three days after the first Mindanao bottle, off  Siargao Island, General Luna, Siargao, Surigao del Norte. The bottle traveled 7,500 miles across the Pacific.

According to the press statement, the progress of the Plastiki Message Bottle’s journey was stalled in August “after it became ensnared in a small gyre going in circles between opposing currents. After five weeks, the glass vessel was able to break free and resume its westward voyage.”

Little says that episode “typifies what happens when plastic debris – which constitutes between 60% and 80% of the world’s marine pollution – becomes trapped in one of the ocean’s five known major gyres.”

The largest has been nicknamed the  “Pacific Garbage Patch,” and is estimated to be as large as Texas. “Slowly photo-degrading into microscopic particles, the toxin-laden plastic then moves its way up the food chain – from plankton all the way to swordfish, sea turtles and other predators – eventually reaching human consumers with as-yet-unmeasured adverse consequences,” it said.

Little credits his partnership with Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera, California, for making the web-tracked bottle effort possible, as well as a grant from the Sculpt the Future Foundation. Students from each of the school’s nine classes contributed artwork for the bottle in an effort to inspire ocean conservation.

The bottle’s journey can be tracked through http://www.theplastiki.com/messageinabottle/. Scroll the map over and zoom in to see the current location. For more information on the quest for the bottle,  visit“Message Bottle Project” on Facebook at  http://www.facebook.com/MessageBottles.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)