Mission Turtle – Trouble in Paradise

Mission Turtle – Trouble in Paradise

The alarm was set for either 3 or 3-30 am every morning.
We would toss the mozzie net aside, pull on some running gear, grab our head torches and leave the cocoon of our little chalet to make our way down the boardwalks between the other chalets to the beach. All the other guests would still be fast asleep.
As soon as we hit the sand, we would start running – easy going, hard-packed, low-tide sand. The circle of torchlight would bob up and down and pink ghost crabs would scuttle away and dive into the foaming surf to our right.
Mission Turtle.
We would run for up to four kilometres, perhaps more, before any reward. I would usually be ahead, just trotting along, crunch, crunch, crunch….
Then! The sheer joy at coming across the ruffled sand, the tell-tale tractor-like grooves that leave the surf and head straight up to the dunes. See one, inch a little further. If you see another a short distance on, you sigh quietly and move on.
Two tracks – you’re too late. One track – bingo!
Heart races, torch is switched off immediately. You follow it quietly up the beach….and then you stop. And listen.
Swish, swish, swish.
In the pre-dusk gloom you can just make out a massive shape on the sand and if you listen very carefully, you can hear breathing, and puffing.
We had two such encounters this year. Two beautiful, massive Leatherback female turtles, both at the end of their laying, both covering up the nest and then moving a little further up to disguise and make a “fake nest” to confuse any potential predator. The work is exhausting, her flippers work hard – front and back: scoop and flick, scoop, scrape, dig, flick, smooth over. She sighs with the effort of it all. The lack of buoyancy, the effort of having to work against something solid, as opposed to the ease of moving in water. She is exhausted. Mucus mixed with sand pours from her eyes and mouth. She gasps, sighs deep, flicks, scoops. Driven by a magnetic instinct, so powerful, so brilliant.
I take a moment to reach out and touch her shell. A light touch. I stroke this barnacle-encrusted soul, and whisper: “You clever thing you”.
Eventually we watch her manoeuvre her massive shape and face the surf. She inches rhythmically back down towards the waves – almost parallel to her track out of the sea.

I love watching her as the first ripple hits her. The sense of relief must be enormous.
I touch her one last time. It’s emotional. I almost want to pull her back – tell her not to venture there.
Not in there. It’s bad in there. It’s getting worse.
Because of me.
Because of us.
“Go well, be safe beautiful”, I say quietly – my words whisked away in the wind.
She inches further and then a wave pounds down and covers her completely. It retreats, and she has moved, sunk into the sand – an incredible, prehistoric, ancient shape, again enveloped in meringue-white surf. We watch as she starts moving with greater ease into the pounding surf and beyond into the flatter stuff. Her little head pops up – once or twice….and then she’s gone.
Why do I feel so heart-sore every time I see these magnificent animals re-enter their ocean home?
I have visited this beach for three years in a row now. Each time I find more and more ocean-borne plastic being spat out. I can no longer holiday here without the overwhelming compulsion and need to pick everything up. In the five days that we were there, we collected ten large hessian bags of plastic waste from approximately two kilometres of beach.

f bags
In an OCD-driven frenzy, I separated everything out and counted it all up. These were my findings.

Plastic bottles – 175
Shoes (flip flops, soles, whole shoes) – 30
Polystyrene pieces – 30
Soft plastic pieces (bags, packets, sachets) – 40
Bottle tops – 260
Cigarette lighters – 12
Toothbrushes – 28
Light bulbs – 8
Rope/strapping – 50
Random plastic pieces – big and small (pieces of kid’s toys, coat hangers, toothbrushes, etc) – 300
This beach, for me, is a complete mirror to the ocean. Since there are no rivers in the area, no community nearby, all that we come across is coming from the ocean. It is a very real reflection of what is going on out there.
And that, to me, is utterly terrifying.

The UN has very recently stated that ocean plastic is a new looming planetary crisis.
It is vital that we start putting pressure on manufacturers to take responsibility for their products.
We also ALL need to look at our disgracefully wasteful consumption patterns that are driving all this. We simply have to address our addiction to DISPOSABLE. Our need for instant gratification, ease of use, the quick, the dirty.
There is NO AWAY – not for plastic.
Every day we make choices – from ordering a cup of coffee on the move, quenching our thirst when away from home, taking leftovers from a restaurant to carrying our purchases home. All of these choices involve some form of super-convenient, super-cheap, super-indestructable and super-damaging, plastic.
So I start 2018 feeling so enraged, yet so fuelled to try and generate awareness and to help everyone connect the dots and see how our choices – from how we light a cigarette, how we shave our legs, how we hang up our clothes, what we sit on, what we wear on our feet, what we cover our school kids books in, what we buy for our kids to play with…..ALL OF IT….or bits of it….is ending up in the sea.

An environmental campaigner colleague and friend recently completed a cross-Atlantic trip in a small rowing boat. He said that marine wildlife sightings were few and far between. He did, however, come across three dead turtles. Out of curiosity, he cut them open and all of them were stuffed with plastic.
It is so easy to feel helpless and despondent and overwhelmed. But there’s no time for that. We have to talk, rattle cages, have conversations, and, if necessary, shout.
Very, very loudly.


You CAN do something

I sometimes feel that these posts get sucked into a cyber vacuum and nobody really bothers to read them. And then I get tons of feedback and I feel my rants are not in vain. Yesterday’s shocker about the state of our oceans drew a good few responses. The overiding sense is ‘so what can we do about it?’ Indeed, how CAN we act/react to something so seemingly insurmountable.

One of my readers passed on a frightening little article about the Pacific Garbage patch…or soup as it is now known. It is something we have all heard about (and would prefer it were not true). It is I am afraid…read below.

But it brings me to today’s point. Here’s something you can do…and you can start TODAY.

Just become plastics savvy. Stop buying the wretched stuff. It is possible to avoid it while traipsing down the shopping aisles. Find stuff that is NOT wrapped in plastic. Avoid anything remotely disposable – from utensils, to pens, to razors, to cigarette lighters. Just don’t go there.

When you walk on the beach or anywhere near a coastal area, TAKE A BAG and pick up anything that is ‘out of place’ (you won’t struggle to fill several bags, believe me). Recycle all the plastic you do find and dispose of the rest (in the hope that the municipal dump is positioned far enough away from the coast, of course!)

The photo above is of a haul of rubbish collected off our local beach a few days ago. On this short 40 minute walk, my family (the three of us) collected three shopping bags and a plastic crate full of stuff. Mostly plastic. Included in this = three cigarette lighters!!!

Snippets from the plastic soup article follows….read it and weep, but THEN take up arms and do something about it!

A “plastic soup” of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.
The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world’s largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting “soup” stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.
Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer and leading authority on flotsam, has tracked the build-up of plastics in the seas for more than 15 years and compares the trash vortex to a living entity: “It moves around like a big animal without a leash.” When that animal comes close to land, as it does at the Hawaiian archipelago, the results are dramatic. “The garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic,” he added.

… unless consumers cut back on their use of disposable plastics, the plastic stew would double in size over the next decade.Professor Karl is co-ordinating an expedition with Algalita in search of the garbage patch later this year and believes the expanse of junk actually represents a new habitat. Historically, rubbish that ends up in oceanic gyres has biodegraded. But modern plastics are so durable that objects half-a-century old have been found in the north Pacific dump. “Every little piece of plastic manufactured in the past 50 years that made it into the ocean is still out there somewhere,” said Tony Andrady, a chemist with the US-based Research Triangle Institute.

According to the UN Environment Programme, plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds, which mistake them for food.
Plastic is believed to constitute 90 per cent of all rubbish floating in the oceans. The UN Environment Programme estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.

By Kathy Marks, Asia-Pacific Correspondent, and Daniel Howden
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch / http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/the-worlds-rubbish-dump-a-tip-that-stretches-from-hawaii-to-japan-778016.html

Waste not, want not?

I have just spent 11 hours wading through other people’s trash. Yep! I am feeling a little jaded, I stink to high heaven, and am in dire need of a very tall glass of wine. I am also wondering why, why, why!??
I volunteered my services at our community fair. As the manager of the recycling depot based at our local farm village, I thought I should (for the third year running) ensure that our little annual fair does its best to reduce the volumes of waste sent to landfill. Every year, we try and get the system to work more efficiently.
I am not sure how many people passed through the gates today, but I would guess close on about 15 000? That is 15 000 bodies all producing cans, glass, food, plastic waste and other unmentionables.

And my word …did they produce it!

I have mixed feelings about how the day went. We managed to separate out about 20 large bags of drinks cans, 8 large bags of plastic bottles and general plastic, a large volume of cardboard and many kg’s of glass.

This, however, meant wading through pile after pile of mixed waste all day. As in, picking cans, plastic or glass bottles out from a veritable quagmire of potato peels, melted ice cream, soggy tissues, paper plates, disposable coffee cups and dirty nappies.
It was hideous.

I got stuck in. All day. I did so because I wanted to and because I needed to keep tabs on things at our little temporary depot. I could have left it for my team of Malawians to do it all, but there were times when I could see that things would have gone pear-shaped had I not been there to monitor the ‘processing’.

So I got my hands dirty…and in doing so, I got up close and personal with the really, truly, shitty side of humanity. I got a good sense of just how foul we are…and how much work needs to be done.

If I do this again, I will approach things so very differently.

In the past I have gone the route of separate bins with big fat labels for people to separate intelligently. Alas, this has never worked. This year, I chose to go for “General Waste” bins, glass bins and drums labelled “Cans”. All great on paper, but people still insist on dumping their half eaten hot dog in the drum labelled “Cans”….or shove a dripping nappy into the “Glass” bin. Hence the need to still wade through said mush.
I had many people comment on how I could do things better. Some rushed up to tell me how my team were doing it all wrong. All very helpful.
The solution? To have four waste management stations for the entire event. At each station, we have a human being and bins marked for each waste type. The human being assists/directs/polices all the dysfunctional folk who appear unable to separate their waste on their own. This is clearly THE ONLY WAY IT WILL WORK.

But in saying this, I feel a rising sense of despair. I worry that this is all wrapped up (pardon the pun) in where we are heading as a planet. If we cannot manage the most basic of basics….where we put our waste… and we fail to see the connection between tossing it all away and climate change/habitat loss/our kid’s bloody future!!!….then what hope is there for us all?
It is a really basic place to start.

I fear that I am suffering from ‘green fatigue’.

Time to whip up new energy within to go out and try and show people the connections. Such simple connections.

I hope to wake up tomorrow with this new energy and a whole bucket-load of hope for us all as a species!