NORFOLK, VA. — Mysterious garbage-filled plastic disks that washed up on northern Outer Banks beaches over the recent Mother’s Day weekend had been thrown overboard by sailors on a Navy ship, the U.S. Navy said in a statement issued Thursday.
Ted Brown, installations and environmental public affairs officer at U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said in an interview that two sailors threw 45 to 60 of the disks off the Navy vessel U.S.S. Whidbey Island several days before they started showing up on the Outer Banks.
Brown declined to speculate on the sailors’ motivation. He said that discipline will be handled on the ship, but that he could not elaborate on potential punishment.
“The Navy will take appropriate action,” Brown said.
The 20-inch diameter disks are clear plastic circles, partially melted, filled with multi-colored trash, such as plastic soda bottles and empty food packaging. The compressed disks are produced by machinery on Navy ships to allow plastic waste to be stored on board and are supposed to be properly disposed of after the ship returns to port.
At least 40 of the disks, many of them broken and smelly, were found on beaches in Carova, the off-road community on the northernmost end of the Currituck Outer Banks. Another half-dozen or so were also found about 40 miles south on beaches in Kill Devil Hills.
According to its statement, the Navy immediately began to investigate after being informed of their discovery on the Outer Banks. On May 19, Navy representatives picked up disks that had been retrieved from the beach so they could be examined. Markings on the disks confirmed that they had originated from a Navy ship.
“The ship was contacted, and a Sailor admitted responsibility for throwing disks overboard in violation of Navy regulations,” the statement said. “The Navy takes environmental stewardship very seriously and by regulation does not allow its ships to dispose of plastic in the ocean.”
The Navy recovered 19 disks from the Outer Banks, Brown said, but deputies from the Currituck County Sheriff’s Office had already brought an unknown number of the disks to the landfill.
Brown said that the Navy has issued a reminder to its operating units about its policies on trash disposal.