By Pamela Noel
As much as I love the mountains, it feels good to see a different perspective from time to time. In my case it is usually a coastal view. This particular morning I enjoyed a cup of tea as I wandered close to the shore. Leaving my flip flops next to a log, I felt my feet sinking into the dry sand, walking until I reached the high tidal mark — giving me a sensation of massaging the bottoms of my feet.
After my morning walk I sat for a while longer on the driftwood log, looking out at the waves, finding relaxation and comfort in the sound. My feet also seemed to hum and feel the earth energy delivered by my wander in the sand.
Noticing a woman bending to pick up something (or many somethings), along the beach I became curious about what she was collecting. I followed her, observing, but not able to see what it was — too small for me to ascertain. Finally, I pretended I was her, and looked down at the beach myself. I saw what was sprinkled throughout the sand, especially at this high water mark. Small flashes of color poked through the newly washed beach. All manner of blue hues, green, yellow, red, white, grey, and black in the form of plastic made themselves obvious to my eye. Humanity’s trash had been thrown or swept into the ocean. Broken apart by wave and sun effects, it was now being deposited on the sands where I strolled.
As a kid I discovered the occurrence of “beach glass,” rounded and tumbled by the pounding surf on sand. Thinking I had found “treasure” I retrieved the glass, collecting it in small bottles to which I added water, enhancing its jewel-like appearance. I set them on my windowsill, enjoying the sun shining through, what I then believed, were my jewels.
But this, this was no longer the occasional jewel discovered amongst the other shells and beach wash. These were likely remnants from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest of five offshore accumulation zones in the world’s oceans. This particular patch is located halfway between Hawaii and California, and is now twice the size of the state of Texas.
Over 2 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year, mostly from rivers. Over one-half of this continues to float as it is less dense than water. Plastic is carried great distances, converging in currents to where it accumulates. It continues to degrade into smaller and smaller pieces, causing great harm to marine wild life.
Animals confuse these plastic pieces as food, thus causing malnutrition. For example, sea turtles have been known to have 74% of their diets composed of this plastic. Toxins in the plastic contaminate, not only the animals, but bioaccumulate in humans when eating sea life as food.
As I continued my beach wander, I finally approached the woman, as she stooped to pick up more of (what I now saw were) the small plastic particles. Asking her why she was taking on such an unending task, she told me that she fills her tea cup with beach detritus each morning during her sunrise beach amble.
“It helps the environment in a small way,” she said. “I also get some exercise, stooping down hundreds of times each day to pick up the pieces. Finally, this trash becomes my palette, taking it home and making my own form of art, becoming mosaic like.”
Looking at the micro pieces that were ubiquitous on this beach, I couldn’t help but see these as an example of our macro problem. Animals are being strangled, malnourished and poisoned by plastic, because we lack a concerted effort to keep the earth clean, and clean the planet of the damage we have already allowed.
The damage is real. The challenge is enormous. It is a matter of life and death for many types of life on our planet. I am sometimes encouraged, and often discouraged. I tread that razor’s edge between the two ends of the continuum. But today, I am inspired by this woman. I begin to fill my empty teacup.
Inspired by this woman, I began to fill my empty teacup.