Category: pollution

Seek ‘Til You Find

Seek ‘Til You Find

Last week I noticed a bit of an oily slick on the Magnolia River. It wasn’t big and I thought perhaps it was fuel/oil that was leaking from boats along the river. Not that I think it’s okay for boats to leak but it happens.

I also noticed a large floating yellow bucket upside down but it was in a particularly snaky-looking area so I left it alone. When it looks safe to remove trash, I’ll do it but if it appears to be nestled a bit too close to potential ‘gator territory or snake homes, I allow it to remain.

Bill and LaleahTwo days ago friends of mine from Asheville came over to paddle. They enjoyed the kayaks and I took a SUP board. It was a lovely morning and perfect day but the slick was now up river where I live. Again, not really a ‘bad’ slick but bothersome.

Then today I went to paddle and smelled a very slight petroleum smell and the oily sheen was still present with even more coverage of the river. I had to explore and see what I could find.


My walking buddy, Felicity, decided that swimming behind me would be fun so I went upriver to encourage her to stay on the beach rather than follow me. In choosing this direction, I discovered the origin of the sheen: A five gallon bucket of hydraulic fluid floating upside down with a rusty cap and side that was slightly split. Same bucket I saw over a week ago down river. It had lodged in a snag of roots. I carefully maneuvered my board close enough to push it out and on to our beach where I dismounted the board and carried it far away from the water.

5 gallon container of hydraulic fluid had been floating and leaking into the river
5 gallon container of hydraulic fluid had been floating and leaking into the river

I was saddened to realize that oily fluid had been leaking into the river and bays for probably weeks. It wasn’t that much…but still. It was a good lesson in seeking the source of a pollution source until it is found. And then taking action to remove it.

And Then There Was Silence

And Then There Was Silence

Today I was presenting a workshop on relieving stress through connection with nature. At one point participants were paired and were completing sentences given to them as cues. The room was lively as people shared about places they loved, animals and other nature-related themes. At one point I gave them the cue: What’s happening to our planet makes me feel….  The energy in the room suddenly shifted and it was quiet. Sad, depressed, scared….twenty-one individuals united for a moment by their concern about our world.

We need to get together, share our concerns and work together to create change. One thing is certain–if we do nothing, nothing will change.

Moving Beyond Survival of the Fittest

Moving Beyond Survival of the Fittest

I hadn’t heard the term in a while but it came up the other day–survival of the fittest (SOF). It has always made me cringe, especially when it is applied to new life arriving on the planet, be it sea turtle, squirrel, dolphin, whale or human. It seems so cold, so removed from compassion. So I decided to do a bit of research.

Herbert Spencer coined the phrase as an alternative to natural selection after reading Charles Darwin’s book and Darwin, in the 5th edition of On the Origin of Species published in 1869, credited Spencer with the phrase.

Biologists today don’t really use the phrase but rather use the term natural selection to reference differential reproduction as a function of traits that have a genetic basis. SOF is inaccurate because survival is simply a normal prerequisite to reproduce (duh) and fitness in biology has a different meaning than the way pop culture uses the term. It’s not about how strong or big or fast something or somebody is in biological circles. What Darwin meant by fitness was ‘better able to adapt to changing environments.’

Extinction of various species happens because of large shifts in the environment. So truly, fittest means those animals most suited to their environment.

If we ponder the sea turtle on the coast of Alabama, we see the natural environment has been substantially altered in most locations. Dunes have been bulldozed or significantly altered, light pollution abounds and roadways criss-cross what used to be natural habitat. So sea turtles, in essence, would become greatly reduced due to human alteration of the environment (they have already been greatly reduced in numbers). NOT because of weak hatchlings, but because the environment has been altered to the point where the turtles simply cannot survive there.

And if we look offshore, we see the environment has also been significantly altered through use of nets and fishing practices that have harmed large numbers of turtles. Even though some commercial fisheries vessels use TEDs (turtle excluder devices), not all do. Onshore and offshore, the environment has greatly changed and thus made it difficult for sea turtles to live and reproduce.

I think of cancer rates in humans and mysterious diseases and see that natural selection is playing out in our own species. We alter the environment, fill it with toxic waste produced by corporations, we purchase products by said corporations and invest in the very culprits altering our ecosystems to the point where we cannot survive.

Corporations can donate endless funds to politicians. This opens the proverbial door to the rape and destruction of our planet on a scale unimaginable to us. Profit-at-any-cost is how corporations operate. There is never enough wealth to fill their coffers. So profit-hungry corporations buy more and more into our government (contributing to campaigns), elected officials then ‘owe’ the contributors and therefore legislate to please whoever donated the most money. And no matter what ‘side’ you may lean, the Earth is going to lose and that means you, me, children, wildlife, wild places….all of these precious, sacred elements of this water planet will become expendable as corporate control of our country expands.

People ask why spend so many hours and put so much effort into a nest of sea turtles. Share the Beach was originally formed because sea turtles were not able to adapat to the human-created changes in the coastal environmental. That’s why they ended up protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. We have to move beyond the idea that species that cannot adapt to human-created changes (over-fishing, lights, destruction of habitat, pollution) are not worth saving. Otherwise the human species would be extinct…there would be no need for doctors, nurses, medical researchers.

Because we have the ability to be compassionate and recognize value in all life, we can move beyond human arrogance and the belief that altering the ecosystems to suit our own needs is okay. We can refuse to buy into the belief that corporations have the right to continue their pillaging of the planet. For every hour spent holding a space of compassion and light in endeavors to help others, whether its humans or wildlife or wild lands, we magnify the spirit of unity and love that is the answer to healing our wounded world, to healing our own woundedness.

“There are plenty of sea turtles” and other misconceptions

“There are plenty of sea turtles” and other misconceptions

I posted a photo of a sea turtle caught in a net on Facebook today and it had a link supporting TED’s or Turtle Excluding Devices. Two people connected with the commercial seafood industry cried out in anger saying shrimpers didn’t hurt sea turtles and they loved nature and besides (and I quote) “There are plenty of sea turtles.” After my blood pressure came back to normal and I got really depressed about nature’s continued destruction by humans I decided to do a little research.

First of all, all sea turtles that visit or live in US waters are on the endangered species list. National Marine Fisheries Service cites the following reasons: Destruction/alteration of nesting and foraging habitats (coastal development), incidental capture in commercial and recreational fisheries, entanglement in marine debris and vessel strikes. So while the shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico may love nature, their nets do kill sea turtles and finned fish and other marine life that cannot escape. This is a known fact.

In 2011 more than 3500 threatened and endangered sea turtles washed up dead on the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. Only 5 to 6% of dead turtles wash ashore…do the math on the total estimated number of sea turtles killed just last year.

Nets properly equipped with TED’s are proved to be 97% effective in releasing sea turtles. And this comes after trials and rebuilds on the equipment. Very few shrimpers voluntarily used TED’s so laws were put into practice to require some shrimpers to use TED’s.

According to the person that replied to my post, the government is lying about all this. He went on to say that coastal development hurt sea turtles as did other fishing boats who don’t use TED’s and he’s right on both accounts. But I  know of shrimpers that used to shoot sea turtles, years ago, because they would get in their nets. I actually even found one shot and dead on the beach many years ago. Times have changed for sure. Hopefully that kind of behavior is no longer practiced. Now, if someone does that and gets caught they go to prison and lose their boat.

We think that kind of atrocious behavior is in the past but actually on June 21st of this summer, a bottlenose dolphin was found with a screwdriver sticking in its head. It had been reported in Perdido Bay and was still alive but was later discovered dead. So much for humans acting appropriately. Even the fine of up to $100,000 and a year in jail doesn’t deter people who, for whatever reason, cannot temper their inclination for seriously stupid and cruel behavior.

I find myself overwhelmed with emotions of sadness, grief and anger at what we humans are doing to this planet and each other. There are people that care and there are people that refuse to accept responsibility for their behaviors and call it the Will of God if a species goes extinct. So…should we not have doctors and let the problem species of the planet die off? Then everything else would come into balance. Of course not. But oh for a magic pill that would help us all see how our behaviors, thoughts, intentions and actions are destroying the planet and each other.

When I found myself deep in dark emotions this afternoon, I lit and candle and said a prayer for understanding. A few minutes later, while folding clothes, I heard these words: Those that don’t care about the planet and are only concerned about how much wealth they can amass, want you to quit, to give up. They want everyone who is bringing awareness, practicing compassion and love–to wildlife, wild places, and people who are hurting–to give up. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Love deeply, have compassion for all life and continue with the Work.

I replied back to the gentleman and let him know I heard his frustration about developers getting away with anything because they have money. I understand and agree. I also agree that some commercial and recreational fishermen and women follow the rules and some don’t. What I suggested was a dialogue between fishermen and women and National Marine Fisheries and NOAA. Rather than fighting each other and both sides claiming the other is lying, find common ground. Start healthy, sane dialogues. Otherwise we are destined to repeat and perpetuate the same old dysfunctional way of being.

Blue Dawn

Blue Dawn

Today’s sea turtle nest patrol didn’t yield a new nest or crawls but it yielded over 100 pounds of trash in a mile and a half stretch of beach. My regular patrol volunteer buddy couldn’t walk today so I walked by myself. I arrived at the beach before 5am and took time exposure photographs of the Gulf. The water looks magically calm and surreal in the images but in reality it was quite rough.The high seas add to the regular beach trash by dumping all manner of junk along the shoreline.

When I got to my turnaround point I saw another volunteer and she had ‘mistakenly’ walked the beach looking for nests. I was busily picking up trash, as I made the return trip, with a bag I had secured from the kind folks at Gulf State Park Pier. Lu and I filled the bag to the point where we had to empty it three times. A 30 minute walk to over 2.5 hours to do while picking up litter. Here’s a sample of what we found:

Plastic drink bottles, plastic water bottles, glass beer bottles, been cans, soda cans, two disposable diapers, a plastic tampon applicator, over 100 plastic bottle tops, plastic bins, plastic tubs, oil containers, balloons, kites, string, monofilament fishing line, fishing leaders, latex gloves, flip flops, broken sun glasses, cheap snorkeling masks, wool sock, countless kids plastic beach toys, plastic floats, candy wrappers, foil drink (Capri sun) plastic straws, styrofoam cups and plates and pieces, plastic cups, pieces of large plastic ‘things,’ large plastic water bottle (for a cooler), half an Otterbox brief case encased with all kinds of ocean life, food wrappers, foil, unidentifiable plastic things…..and on and on and on. There were also cigarette butts by the thousands that we didn’t pick up. The problem with EVERYTHING we picked up and the cigarette butts is that none of it degrades, decomposes…goes away. At least not for a VERY long time.

Here’s the time frame of decomposition for some of the trash we found:

Wool sock–1 to 5 years, cigarette butts–10-12 years, foamed plastic cups–50 years, plastic containers–50-80 years, aluminum can–200-500 years, plastic bottles–450 years, disposable diapers–550 years, monofilament fishing line–600 years, plastic bags–200-1000 years.

Take a minute and think about this….breathe it in and sit with it. (Pause).

Just yesterday I read an article on recycling cigarette butts. Did you know they are made of plastic? They don’t decompose as some may think. A cigarette tossed on the ground is there to stay for a LONG time.The filter is made of the same material as plastic bags. One company is making guitar picks and other happy things from cigarette butts instead of the butts being put into land fields or worse, ending up on the ground. Cigarette butts are the most common type of litter found.

Yesterday I read an article by a favorite reporter of mine, Dahr Jamail. Oceans of Pollution, is an important read for all concerned about the health of our planet. Jamail quotes a study that warns, “without profound and prompt changes in human behavior, we will cause a ‘mass extinction in the oceans with unknown ecological consequences.'” He also quotes Alanna Mitchell, “Every tear you cry…ends up back in the ocean system. Every third molecule of carbon dioxide you exhale is absorbed into the ocean. Every second breath you take comes from the oxygen produced by plankton.”

If our plankton dies in the ocean, we die. It’s as simple as that. The ocean produces the majority of oxygen we breathe…even if you happen to live in the center of a continent with no access to the ocean, the ocean is what gives you oxygen. As plastic gets more deeply rooted into our ocean food chain, we are seeing more ill effects and consequences from the toxins used to create it. We are quite literally killing our ocean and therefore, killing ourselves.

As Lu and I walked, several people came up and thanked us, one guy expressed his love of the planet, another young man expressed his frustration at how people can be in the presence of such beauty and completely miss it and trash it. A few people actually helped us along the way. Some hung their head in shame as we carried the heavy bag, filled with human-generated pollution and as I made eye contact, I saw their grief at what, collectively, we are doing to our planet.

It was no coincidence that two strong articles came across my desk yesterday and today I found myself surrounded and astounded by a mountain of trash in just a mile and a half of Gulf of Mexico beach. We no longer have the luxury of turning away when we see places like this. We must breathe deep and connect with our compassion for all life and do whatever we can to make a positive difference. We can no longer luxuriate in anger, frustration, hopelessness. Now is the time to be active stewards of our Ocean.