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Message in a Bottle

Students put a message in a bottle and threw it into the ocean. Thirty years later, the message was found.

Students put a message in a bottle and threw it into the ocean. Thirty years later, the message was found.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

When a teacher on New York state’s Long Island asked his science class to write messages and cast them into the Atlantic Ocean, he had no idea that one of the messages would help bring his students together more than 30 years later.

The bottle was found in early 2023 by Adam Travis, who spotted it in some marsh grass along Shinnecock Bay on Long Island. Inside, he found a piece of paper in perfect condition. It was dated 1992.

“Dear Finder,” the message read. “As part of an Earth Science project for 9th grade, this bottle was thrown into the Atlantic Ocean near Long Island. Please fill in the information below and return the bottle 2 us. Merci, Gracias, Danke, Thank You, Shawn and Ben.” 

The message was addressed from Mattituck High School on Long Island, so Travis went to the school’s alumni Facebook account and made a post about it. Pretty soon, comments were popping up.

The authors of the message were students in Richard E. Brooks’s Earth science class. The message in a bottle project was one of Brooks’s favorites. Brooks taught at Mattituck High School for 40 years. Based on the comments on the Facebook page, he was a favorite at his school. Many of his former students shared fond memories of their teacher.

“That shows that the things you do do matter, a lot, significantly,” Shawn Petretti, superintendent of the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, told CBS News. “He had a significant impact.”

Brooks had passed away just a few months before, at age 83. The love he received on Facebook meant a lot to his son, John Brooks.

“My dad was never one to seek recognition, and it’s so fitting that he is now getting it,” John Brooks told CNN.

Over the years, people would stumble upon the bottles from Richard Brooks’s class in places as far away as Ireland and the Azores islands in Portugal, according to his son. Most bottles were found within four years. That makes the timing of this recent discovery—and its location close to home—very special.

“This development is just such a shot in the arm of positivity and heartwarming energy,” John Brooks said. He told CBS he planned to throw a message of his own into the ocean. He’ll write it about his dad.

“Maybe 32 years later, someone else will pick this up and have a smile on their face,” he said.

Did You Know?

© Hanna Syvak/; Composite illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

According to legend, a Greek philosopher named Theophrastus was a fan of messages in bottles. Although there’s no proof of this, Theophrastus may have deposited a few bottles in the water in 310 BCE to test his theory that the Atlantic Ocean flowed into the Mediterranean Sea.

Tackling the Plastic Problem

This map shows the locations of the planet’s five gyres.

The Ocean Cleanup

Rediscovered messages in bottles have yielded all sorts of amazing stories, but scientists say it’s not a good idea to toss any bottle into the ocean. After all, it’s pollution.

Oceanographer Erik van Sebille says there’s a good chance that a bottle that’s cast into an ocean will never reach land. And besides, our oceans already contain way too much human garbage.

Van Sebille has dedicated his career to studying plastic garbage. You may have heard that there are five massive patches of plastic floating in the oceans. Van Sebille says the waste is concentrated in this way because plastic debris, fishing gear, and other garbage floats along currents and gets drawn to the ocean’s five rotating gyres. Gyres, which are a bit like whirlpools, suck in objects and hold them there. 

The video shows an ocean cleanup project in progress.

The Ocean Cleanup

The Last Frontier

NOAA Fisheries

Back when Theophrastus possibly threw a bottle into the ocean, he didn’t know where the currents would take it, let alone much else about the sea.

Amazingly, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the oceans, which are so vast and deep that they’re difficult to explore. But the more we learn, the more we understand how important oceans are. 

Check out the video, which shows scientists investigating a newly discovered species deep under the sea. Then click the link to learn more about oceans at Britannica.






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