(Un)NatuRal Elements By The Sound

A photojournalism ESSAY on environmental pollution  


We live on scenic Van Amringe Mill Pond near Otter Creek, a fragile marshland nature preserve in Mamaroneck, NY.  Following a series of heavy rainstorms in April 2011, I spotted piles of plastic disks in our backyard and along our street, on rocks, in between plants, at the edges of the roads and in the water. As I found more and more of the plastic disks in our neighborhood, I discovered large amounts of other debris - styrofoam, food wrappers, plastic bottles - washed up alongside the disks, in a disturbing solidarity.  The sheer amount of garbage that had settled into this pristine area was startling.  

Disk Invasion

In early March 2011, large piles of translucent plastic disks began washing up on beaches along the Long Island Sound in Westchester County, N.Y.  Disk sightings were reported as far away as Riverhead, Long Island. In Hempstead, nearly 22,000 plastic disks were collected in one hour during a cleanup effort. 

Spring storms brought the disks inland, infiltrating coastal neighborhoods and wetlands. Westchester County officials hired a contractor to retrieve the disks.  But months later, piles of plastic disks could still be found along coastal areas from Rye to New Rochelle and many Long Island North Shore beaches.  

What caused this environmental mess? Ironically, the disks were intended to help, not harm the environment. Millions of the plastic disks were being installed in aeration tanks at the Mamaroneck Wastewater Treatment Plant in an effort to decrease the amount of fertilizers, pesticides, petroleum, heavy metals and waste polluting the Sound. 

Made in China from high density polyethylene, the disks were intended to function as bio-filters, removing nitrogen from wastewater to prevent hypoxia (inadequate oxygen) in the Long Island Sound.  But as the result of some unknown negligence, they were accidentally released into the waterways sometime in March. The incident was not disclosed to the public until the disks began washing up on area beaches. 

Visceral Disgust and Visual Fascination

Nestled amidst the vivid green of spring plants, the plastic disks took on a strange beauty. When they picked up light, some emitted an almost organic energy as if they were alien beings that had invaded our environment and, finding it nurturing, were proceeding to reproduce. 

I began photographing the disks and other debris in situ to document the defilement that had been done to our environment. Despite numerous clean up efforts, the disks remain in the environment. Following Hurricane Irene, new piles of disks washed up in our own backyard.  Friends spotted the disks on a beach in Montauk, Long Island.  


Nearly 8 years later, the disks appear to be here for good. After each storm, we find piles of plastic disks in our backyard and along Taylors Lane. This spring when the snow melts I expect to see them re-emerge alongside the hyacinths and daffodils. 

My thanks to Carol Dragon who supervised this project while I was a student at ICP.

Marjorie Kaufman 


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