The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, as well as its South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic and Indian Ocean cousins, are startling ecological issues that receive little press compared to the gravity of what they represent: a culture of waste and environmental destruction. You don’t have to be an intrepid oceanographer to see the impact though, I only had to bike to the beach a mile from my front door. A quick glance at the tideline reveals a menagerie of plastic, rubber, styrofoam and paper waste entangled with the naturally occuring detritus carried by the sea. Below the tideline, shopping bags protruded from the sand amidst birthday balloons tanged in the rocks. Against the bulkhead and break wall could be found larger floatsam deposited by full moon tides along with trash left by careless fishermen.
What really surprised me was that everything I picked up (I must admit that I pretended the deteriorating underwear wasn’t there, which it still is) was recycleable and nearly all of it was petroleum derived. For a non-renewable resource petroleum, namingly plastics, it seems are a complete afterthought by most of the general population. My 20+ lb garbage bag of recyclables collected on a 200 ft stretch of beach outweighed any fish I’d caught in these waters. The bottled water industry made quite a showing in my haul as did the legal recreational drug industry in the form of “Barely-Legal Incense Blend” bags.
The experience in general was a sobering one. We use these beaches all summer and become accustomed to seeing straws and wrappers alongside seaweed and shells. When one steps back and really looks at their surroundings, man’s giant footprint is all too visible. This little exercise already has a convert though. As I scaled the steps back up to my bike, a guy about my age was walking down with his mother to take in the fading light and beauty of the Sound. He gave me a thumbs up and a smile and said, “That’s a good deed, my friend. A good deed.”