I’m Tired of Finding Plastic on the Beach

5 Oct

Imagine a desert island. Ocean breezes blowing, palm trees swaying, perhaps some decorative coconuts strewn about the place. Just you, your beach chair, the waves lapping your toes, and the gentle clink of plastic bottles washing up on shore.

Not quite what you pictured? After four years aboard, I am sorry to say that this is reality. Every windward beach has plastic. Unless someone works every day to clean it, flip flops and plastic bottles are the order of the day. Everywhere. And I am sick of it.

The girls and I went on a beach walk with some on their friends last week. The kids found shells, played in the water, watched hermit crabs, and generally enjoyed themselves on a fine spring morning.

Most of the time, my eyes were out to sea. I still find it disconcerting to see a freighter go by without a) the horizon moving gently up and down, and b) needing to determine whether we are on a collision course with said vessel. But as we came around to the windward side of the island, I tore my eyes away from the ocean and made the mistake of looking inland.

Look at that. Plastic bottle, plastic bottle, shoe, plastic bottle. A layer of plastic at the high-water mark. This is not a all local garbage – much of the plastic has blown in over the years from who-knows-where.

Nor is this a local phenomenon. Before we sailed through the Panama Canal, the girls and I went for a walk on the huge breakwater outside Colon. And what did we find? Drifts of plastic bottles and flip flops.

“But wait,” you say, “the Panama Canal one of the busiest corridors in the world. Surely that isn’t representative.”

Fine. Let’s take a look at Raraka, one of the atolls in the Tuamotus. It has no airport. It is serviced by a cargo ship once every two weeks. Its population is tiny. And it is in the middle of nowhere.

About as mid-Pacific as it gets.

One day, we went on a snorkelling expedition with our friend who lives in Raraka. We were many miles from the village, in a part of the atoll too far away to be accessible to fishermen. In other words, we were on a wild, essentially human-free speck in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

And what was the first thing we did? We collected plastic.

Bottles, flip flops, bottle caps, shredded nets, half-degraded fragments the size of my fingernail. We snorkelled, we collected plastic on the beach, we snorkelled, we collected plastic on another beach. And so on all day.

I don’t think I need to start moralizing here. Do you really need to see another picture of a turtle trying to eat a plastic bag, mistaking it for a jellyfish? Doubtful. Just consider this a friendly reminder that your plastic doesn’t just end up in a landfill. It blows away. It drifts. And it ends up on a windward beach.

We can do better.


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