Ocean Trash Becomes Treasure at John’s Beachcombing Museum

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The collection in Forks, Washington, showcases forty years of beachcombing finds, from beautiful glass floats to parts of a jet engine.

Forks, Washington is the rainiest town in the contiguous U.S. But John Anderson never let that stop him.

The retired plumber has been cruising the Olympic Peninsula’s northern beaches since 1976, collecting a staggering amount of stuff. In 2015, he converted his plumbing shop into a museum and invited the public to check out the spoils of forty years of beachcombing.
Olympic Peninsula travelers find this museum fabulously interesting plus a good excuse to get out of the rain for an hour. I visited his beachcombing museum on a day heavy with clouds. The first thing I noticed pulling into the museum complex was a tower made of thousands of colorful crab buoys. Inside the museum, there’s stuff everywhere—heaped on tables, arranged on shelves, hanging from nets strewn across the ceiling. A sign reading “how to get a head in life” accompanies rows of creepy Raggedy Ann doll heads in various states of ocean damage. Anderson loves a pun.

The huge tub of lost paddles and the center spinner core from a Boeing 727 jet engine made me wonder about people lost at sea.

The museum is always changing, since Anderson still beachcombs about once a week. In a recent phone conversation, he said he’s been reaping the benefits of a container spill 1200 miles south of Hawaii, where they lost 1800 containers in November. “This winter we’ve been beachcombing Yeti ice chests.” Children’s play mats, vacuum cleaner hoses and about two dozen Rascal bike helmets with mohawks and unicorn horns have also washed up recently. And of course masks have been a regular beachcombing find during the pandemic.

How does all this stuff get in the ocean? Container spills and trash, mainly. “The biggest thing is plastic water bottles.” He also picks up a lot of toothbrushes, pill bottles, and local crab fishing debris. Many of his finds have Asian writing, suggesting they’ve traveled a long way.

Anderson has learned a lot about ocean currents and waste over the years. “Toothbrushes, you’d be surprised how they break down from the sun,” he says. “When they’re older, they don’t just break into chunks, they turn into powder and disintegrate.”
Anderson has his own take on plastic waste and the beach. “Mother Nature is throwing it out of the water onto the beach so she’s cleansing herself eventually.” Local beaches are especially clean, he said, thanks to devoted volunteers who pick up trash.
As for museum crowd favorites, “The notes in bottles are number one.” A venomous habu snake coiled up in a sake bottle is also a standout. ”[Visitors are] just wowed by everything in here pretty much,” he said.

While Anderson focuses on removing debris from the ocean, he occasionally throws something in. He collects notes from museum visitors, stuffs them in a bottle and hurls the bottle into the sea when he’s halibut fishing 30 miles offshore. So far, nobody has replied to his messages in a bottle. “They’re probably going up to Alaska or Canada,” he said. “One of these days, though. Maybe I’ll find my own note in a bottle someday. After it goes around six years and comes back.”

John’s Beachcombing Museum is open daily from 10-5, June through August.

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Teresa Bergen
Teresa Bergen
Teresa Bergen is a Portland, Oregon-based author who specializes in the outdoors, vegan and sustainable travel. Her articles appear in many publications and she’s author of Easy Portland Outdoors and co-author of Historic Cemeteries of Portland, Oregon.

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