Monday, August 11, 2008

Where all of this is headed

Last week, I had a staff meeting (for my day job) in Tampa, Florida. More accurately, the meeting was held at the Sand Pearl Resort in nearby Clearwater Beach. I took two days of vacation at the conclusion of the event, so as to have a little time to unwind, walk with my beloved wife on the sugar-sand beaches of the gulf coast, and relax.

And take some photos of disgusting stuff that had washed-up on the beach.

I’d like to offer my compliments to the Sand Pearl for their environmental commitment. It is a LEED-certified operation, meaning they’ve taken verifiable steps to conserve energy, re-purpose water, and reduce their environmental footprint in both the way the buildings were constructed and in the way their businesses are operated.
In addition to the hotel's stewardship, the city of Clearwater Beach deploys a tractor, with a rake en tow, intended to remove seaweed from the shore to make it more enjoyable for the tourists who visit. But the machine also has the effect of extracting trash that has been left behind or washed-up on the shore.
Granted, the city and its' businesses enjoy financial rewards if the shoreline is clean (heavy-spending tourists won't come if the beach gets a reputation for being polluted). But I don’t care WHY they do it. I just care that they do.

Our late-night walks on the beach were a great opportunity to do a little detective work about what kind of trash lurks in the gulf waters. (The trick is to walk the coast and see the debris before the tractor & rake have been around to clean it up.) If a water bottle still had its’ label clearly intact, it presumably washed-up on shore fairly recently… and probably from a resort just up the beach, or from one of the tour boats which so heavily populate this vacation hotspot. If a softdrink bottle looked weathered, if the label was sun-bleached, or if the material seemed brittle, we can assume that it had been in the water longer—if not that it had traveled a longer distance before washing up on the shore. The disposable Bic lighter we came across was rusted… but when dried-out, it still functioned properly; hard to say how long that’s been in the water. Same for the Styrofoam egg carton we found, as well as the plastic oil containers and plastic bucket shards we came across.

We cannot know where all of this trash came from. But we can safely guess that it was all placed there by human hands.

Science will support the assertion that plastic will travel great distances over dozens (if not hundreds) of years. (See this story from CBS News.) So when we talk about a river restoration project, we’re not just talking about cleaning-up our own back yard. We’re talking about doing the world some good.

© 2008, Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

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