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Messages in bottles are treasure hunts for Utah man

Clint Buffington has found dozens of letters, contacted 15 senders and met four of them.



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With new information, the brain can see more words in the pen scratches. What first appeared to be "Kyle" is, on second look, Leyte — Pelicano’s home island and province. Soon a hodgepodge of curves and lines come into focus as "Palompon," Pelicano’s city.

According to his on-line profile, Pelicano worked for a shipping company, which explains his travel in the North Atlantic Gyre, the series of currents that propel flotsam to the Caribbean.

At a glance

Making connections

Bottle-finder Clint Buffington acknowledges that throwing a message into the sea is littering. But people will continue to do it, he says, so he offers some tips to minimize impact and improve the likelihood of a reply.

1. Use a glass bottle, not plastic, which degrades quickly to a damaging pollutant. Buffington points to a plastic message bottle that was falling apart around a message just a few years old. He compares that with a fully intact message in a glass Guinness bottle the Irish beer company threw into the sea in 1959 as a promotional stunt. Lightly colored glass offers some sun protection while keeping the message visible to beachcombers.

2. Use pencil rather than pen, and press down hard to create impressions in the paper. Ink bleeds and fades in water and sun.

3. Seal the bottle with cork or metal. Plastic and rubber deteriorate.

4. Roll the message and tie with string to make it easier to remove potentially fragile paper.

For more information and stories of bottles found, visit Buffington’s website: messageinabottlehunter.wordpress.com.

To report any interesting findings from your seaside travels, contact Curtis Ebbesmeyer at beachcombersalert.org

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Buffington’s collection has the potential to tell scientists more about the Gyre’s behavior, said oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer.

"[Buffington] has perhaps the best data set of bottles collected at one small spot, which is really unusual," Ebbesmeyer said. "There are many studies of [items] being released at a certain spot, but what fascinates me even more is how the ocean gathers stuff from all over. Bottles from Greenland, Spain, New York, all over the north Atlantic, wind up there at that little island group. How does the ocean do this?"

Ebbesmeyer, author of the book "Flotsametrics" and the blog Beachcombersalert.org, says the dates and locations of bottles sent and found could contribute to climate science by showing how ocean movement may be changing over time as the earth warms, sea levels rise and coasts erode.

"What beachcombers find can have very high scientific significance," Ebbesmeyer said. "I want to know what the ocean is telling us, and she speaks with flotsam."

But for Buffington’s most recently opened bottle to speak, he still needs to find its launch date and place of origin.

After sending messages to Pelicano and several of his relatives, The Tribune learned he is working on a ship’s crew near Scandinavia.

Pellicano declined to be interviewed, but relayed through his cousin that he launched the bottle four years ago while working somewhere near the center of the Atlantic Ocean.

"He is happy and surprised," the cousin, Kaya Guatche, said. "[He] really didn’t expect that someone could find that bottle. ... He was [younger] when he threw that bottle. Maybe that message is full of hopes and loneliness."


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Pelicano now has a fiance and a young son to greet him after his sea voyages, Guatche said.

His message to the Atlantic is now framed in Utah with 59 other destinies sought.

ealberty@sltrib.com



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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