It was the best of the beach and the not-so-best of the beach. The best — luminous in color and texture, with Brown Pelicans, porpoises and whales gliding parallel to the shore.
The not-so-best, well — that was the inspiration for Bay & Beach Flotsam, Episode 3.
We had just found two dead sea lions washed ashore on Pacifica beach. We saw three more on the beach at Fort Funston in San Francisco.
Sea lion deaths have been a dramatic problem on the California coast this year, for reasons not yet clear. Starvation from lack of adequate fish and food is a possibility. People have been coming upon the sea lions north and south.
Beyond the sea lion, I saw what looked like a clump of seaweed. But it had specks of color, betraying its flotsam roots. Upon closer inspection, this is what was bobbing in the low surf:
We noticed several live organisms which made it unfeasible for us to recycle the heap as it was. But, we also weren’t about to toss it back into the ocean. The only option was to cut the line and release the critters, then get the rest of the trash off the beach.
Hugh set to work snipping and gently pulling each mussel and crustacean from the mess.
Unless you’re keen on getting tetanus, you have to assume there’s at least one hook in the pile. We turned up six hooks like this . . .
And one huge hook in the middle of an octopus lure that looked like this . . .
Working slowly so as not to inadvertently kill any marine creatures, it took us a half hour to cut and unravel the ball of fishing line, wires, sinkers, snaps, swivels, hooks and lures . . . and trapped sea animals.
At the core of the entanglement was this thick wire leader from which the rest of the contraption dangled. It was impossible to cut with scissors. It would have taken wire cutters.
Grappling with small tasks like this puts the bigger problem in perspective. It took at least one human with scissors and two hands to unravel this trap formed by one, long fishing line. When you consider how much fishing line, netting, plastic and refuse ends up in the ocean, it’s difficult to fathom how anything escapes this nightmarish web.
Some places, like Berkeley Marina, have monofilament recycling to prevent this very type of environmental misfortune.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
You’ve probably heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I knew of it but hadn’t seen this Nightline footage showing just what becomes of plastic after it’s battered by the elements for a while. It’s tough to watch, I admit . . . to see just how far this problem extends across our great Pacific.
The second video is of Charles Moore, featured in the Nightline clip. He trolls the Pacific for this flotsam. This video is interesting (albeit heartbreaking) for his look at where the little pieces of plastic like bottle caps end up.
The best measure for cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is to prevent the flotsam from even getting into the currents. That’s why local beach and waterway cleanups are critical for our ocean health.
International Coastal Cleanup Day 2009
Check San Francisco’s Save the Bay site and also the Ocean Conservancy website for information on Coastal Cleanup Day 2009 — September 19. It’s the 24th annual Coastal Cleanup Day, and you’ll be joining hundreds of thousands of people from at least 100 countries. Last year, volunteers collected 6.8 million pounds of trash.