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.
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.
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.