When Jace Tunnell saw what appeared to be a leg washed up on the Gulf of Mexico coast in Texas, he thought his biggest fear, a burning body on the beach, was coming true.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. It’s happening,’” said Mr. Tunnell, who is director of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve in Port Aransas, Texas.
The leg, after all, was wearing pants. But when Mr. Tunnell went to pick her up, the leg turned out to be a prosthetic, one of the many flotsam and junk that wash ashore along the Texas coast each year.
Do you want to take it home?
The prosthetic leg will go up for auction on Saturday, along with other curious pieces salvaged from the more than 500 tons of marine debris that, according to the reservationthey wash up on Texas beaches every year.
Crunchy dolls. Boating equipment covered in barnacles. worn masks. Messages in bottles. Potions in bottles. Even a mermaid, well, a three-foot fiberglass one.
Those items and more will be auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting the Amos Rehabilitation Fortressa sea turtle and bird rehabilitation center in the reserve.
The keep was founded in 1982 by Tony Amos. The auction, Tony’s Trash to Treasure, named after him in his honor, will begin at 10 am at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, Texas.
Most items range in price from $5 to $50. Do you want to bid on one of the creepy dolls? Buyers must be at the auction in person.
The reserve is a federal-state partnership funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and administered by the University of Texas Institute of Marine Sciences.
The rehabilitation center cares for about 1,500 animals each year, including 1,000 birds and about 500 sea turtles, many of which are Kemp’s ridleys, a critically endangered species.
“Ultimately we want people to know what’s in the ocean and to care about it, that’s how we’re going to protect it,” said Mr Tunnell. “That’s why we do all these crazy things,” like auctioning off prosthetics and fiberglass mermaids, he added.
Mr Tunnell said the amount of debris washed away hasn’t necessarily increased over the years, but he has noticed a change in the materials. Initially, the volunteers found mainly glass and metals on the shore. Now, the debris is mostly plastic, which can be deadly to Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and other marine life.
The issue reached a wide audience beyond South Texas last year when a horrified John Oliver in a web-only segment of his HBO topical comedy series “Last Week Tonight,” told viewers that dozens of dolls, doll heads and other doll parts had washed up on the state’s Gulf Coast. He described the dolls as nightmare meat and “the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Burn them. Burn them now. mr oliver said. I hate those dolls. I hate them so much.”
(The dolls and doll parts featured in the segment are not part of the auction. Mr. Oliver purchased them on reserve and shipped them to Malmo, Sweden, where They were fed into talking public dumpsters by Nina Persson, the lead singer of the Swedish band The Cardigans).
Studies have shown that significantly more debris, mostly plastic debris, accumulates on Texas beaches than in the other states along the Gulf of Mexico. Mr Tunnell said that’s because loop currentwhich brings warm water north from Cuba and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
When that loop current reaches the Gulf, “it eddies in these eddies,” he said. “Anything in the eddies just pushes up the Texas coast.”
Mr. Tunnell and a corps of 40 volunteers survey the reserve from April 1 through mid-July to monitor nesting birds and sea turtles.
The reserve sends out two patrols a day during peak turtle season in the Gulf, between mid-May and mid-June. But on those hikes, the group encounters more than just wildlife, including a well made boat that the reserve believes came from Cuba. Local officials took him to the dump before Mr. Tunnell and his team could grab him.
Volunteers collected the trash and auctioned off the best of what they found for about 15 years, said Tunnell, who publishes the most interesting items for Facebook and Youtube.
On Saturday, Mr. Tunnell will put aside his day job as a scientist to play auctioneer. He expects the mermaid to be the most expensive item.
“I’ll say ridiculous things to try to raise the offer, but it’s all a lot of fun,” he said. People often gravitate toward creepy dolls, she said. “Why they want that, I have no idea.”