I thought about organizing friends, family or strangers to join me in a beach clean-up – a creative beach clean-up or other. But in the final event I went on a solo mission giving me time to reflect on human nature, to feel disgust, confusion, awe and ultimately surprise at what we humans are bringing upon our world and each other. One small beach, two pairs of hands, multiple bags and a sense of purpose.
At mid-tide I rode my bike to a nearby beach and began the slow, searching walk. I was a beach-comber looking for treasures, but not the normal shells and sea glass, the things that caught my eye were those sparkling plastic wrappers reflecting the warm sun and polluting our oceans. Methodically I stepped along the tide line, straining my eyes for goodies or seeing the large items all too clearly. Recyclables went into one bag, rubbish in another and finally novelties in the third. Yes these trashy trinkets someday may end up in a conceptual, environmentally minded art piece that speaks to my sadness, anger and desire for change. Right now however they take up precious closet & drawer space while those ideas mingle and exchange pleasantries over tea.
I kept my eye out for the most surprising finds. Of course the plethora of plastic bottles, aluminum cans, straws and cigar or candy wrappers made the grand entrance but one thing that caught me off guard was the clothes. On the surface a simple piece of fabric lay, however the sand had trapped the goods and in iceberg fashion the full particles of clothing were hidden to the naked eye. I can only imagine what a child building a sand castle would have discovered this summer as he digs in his shovel only to come up with a hole ridden butterfly t-shirt. I freed two tank tops, two sweaters, one hoodie, a pair of boxers, pajama pants and two t-shirts, not to mention the mangled fabric encrusted with dried seaweed on higher ground. I was flabbergasted. I mean I’m sure I’ve lost a couple items myself over the years, but to this extent… I wondered how many were to go skinny dipping in the ocean… in mid-winter?!
However the biggest and best find to this day yet was the Mona Lisa. As I emptied out my second bag of rubbish I noticed something square and white laying near the still beached docks. As I picked it up I realized it was a stretched canvas and on the front none other than an amateur representation of the Mona Lisa. Her yellow face was crackled and the background unfinished but her smug smile still clung to the surface like a limpet to a rock. How and why this had arrived at such a venue baffled yet intrigued me. What would Mona Lisa say of her situation? Her new identification as marine debris? I felt like it could be the beginning to a Tom Robbins novel, an opening to a saga of mystery and fantasy. I would not pass this up – although thinking my other half may rationally think I’ve stepped over the line – so prepared to file it away among other stacks of paper and boards when I returned home.
My back began to ache at the rate in which my disgust grew every time I bent down to pick up another plastic fork, half-buried juice box or piece of styrofoam. I was only one trying to help this situation and their were so many forces against me. Multiple times I saw wind blow a container out of a trash bin or someones unconcerned hands. I observed a seagull drop a McDonald’s bag full of condiments from 25ft in the air into the unsuspecting harbor waves. But was I to give up? No, because even this small act of consciousness and awareness for the world is better than none at all.
Disposing of my goods, stuffing the recyclables in my backpack and haphazardly stuffing the Mona Lisa into a bag I swerved on home with sandy toes, a little less happy, but more determined to raise awareness about this issue. When I arrived to show off my finds ready for the normal rolling of the eyes and ‘where are you putting all that trash’? I found the Mona Lisa eagerly being swept from my hands promptly replacing a painting of greater value on our wall. Surprised yet delighted I laughed at this unexpected turn of events, letting her eyes follow me down the hall. The day’s effort and desperation seemed small to the reward we had just gained. How does this reflect on the world of marine debris – I say one for nature and one for women! Maybe Mona Lisa does have something to smile about after all….
To see more facts about marine debris and ideas of what you can do to help go to: marinedebris.noaa.gov/outreach/pdfs/mdfacts.pdf