Humans are hard on the planet, but we can learn how to be less so, if we care to.

In the post below this one, “Fishing is hard on the sea …” I shared images of trash I packed off my local beaches from one storm.

I need to expand a bit on what I wrote. The items you saw in those images are mistaken for food and eaten by hundreds of thousands of birds all over our planet each day. Some of these birds fly thousands of miles to gather food for their offspring. After being fed a belly full of plastic, they die.

Look at this image showing oyster farming detritus:

NOT albatross food

Now look at this image by Chris Jordan of a dead albatross on the Midway Atoll:

Dead Albatross by Chris Jordan – See the oyster spacer tube in there!

Here is a live albatross for comparison:

See all the disposable lighters in this image:

Disposable, hmmmm……where do they go?

And again, a dead albatross by Chris Jordan:

Dead Albatross by Chris Jordan – where disposable lighters end up.

More human waste from Point Reyes beaches:

Discarded toys – NOT albatross food!

Another dead bird from Midway courtesy Chris Jordan:

Dead Albatross by Chris Jordan

Chris has been documenting the deaths of thousands of birds on Midway for several years. A movie is coming soon. You can see more of his work here

There, I wanted to draw a line between what I pick up off the beach and the impact it has on our planet.

Can you think of how you might adjust your daily living patterns a little so that you generate less stuff that may end up killing some hapless bird trying to put some food on the table?

So what is a Park for anyway?

To me, it is a place where I go to be away from the internet, curmudgeons, war, pointless consumerism. I go to places like the back-country of Kings Canyon National Park and remote beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore to be soothed by a planet unspoiled by the contrivances of humans. I go to these places to remember what life is all about. I’ve been blessed to be able to see all that I have seen.

It is important to protect these special places and I am glad (mostly) that we have the park service to do so.

I’ve been packing about 1 ton of trash off the beaches of Point Reyes each year since late 2008. My knees remember each stoop to pick up another bottle cap, another plastic wrapper, each step back up the hill onto to the Pierce Point trail.

When I started this cleaning, I secured permission to deposit what I gather in the park dumpsters. I’ve learned more about dumpsters than I care to know. When I find that the South Beach dumpster is so rusted out, that items placed in it fall out the bottom and are blown back on the beach, an email/call or two, or three will usually get it replaced. The same for South Beach and Drakes Beach. Thank you Cicely.

Lately I’ve become frustrated with the park service. OK, I have been frustrated with them for quite some time now. For example, seeing that the fellow who services the bathrooms at the many beach parking lots tosses large cardboard boxes into the dumpster instead of recycling them bothers me. If I, a volunteer, can sort and recycle the items I pluck off the beach, the paid staff can surely recycle the tools of their trade. I have been fishing them out, crushing them and recycling them at my house for sometime now.

I’ve told a number of NPS people, hoping to get the paid staff to do the right thing. It took a while until a small recycling bin eventually showed up at one site for staff to use instead of the dumpster. Bravo. Now, to get them all to use it…

Though, after hearing that one supervisor, having learned of me pulling cardboard out of trash bins again and again, said to another employee “I’m going to super-glue a box in the bottom of the dumpster so he has to crawl inside to get it,” a light went off for me.

I no longer track my hundreds of hours and submit them so the park can receive money for their volunteer program.

This may seem trivial on its own. But the above example is only one of many instances (nor is it the most troubling) I saw firsthand of “do as we say, not as we do” within the NPS.

I may still gather human trash off the otherwise pristine beaches around here. But I’ll do it for me, selfish bastard that I am.

And for those that come after us.

5 thoughts on “Humans are hard on the planet, but we can learn how to be less so, if we care to.

  1. You’re my hero Richard! It’s truly disappointing to read about your NPS experience. It’s hard to imagine what one’s mindset must be to have so much resistance against such positive action.

    I’ve had some great feed back and support from the Sonoma County Regional Parks when I’ve sought it out. Mostly I keep to myself and do what I do because it’s what I CAN do and because I want to leave the world a better place for my son and all who come after me. We’ve had mostly uplifting conversations with people about why we gather beach trash.

    The way you arrange the trash you pick up has more of a visual impact (for me) than what I’ve been doing for years . . . dump it on a tarp and shoot. I’ll strive to be more creative. I’ve used Chris Jordon’s photographs to educate people about plastic in our oceans. People have been very moved by his heartbreaking images of the albatross.

    Thanks for being out there Richard, you’re a champ!

  2. Oh Richard. We love you and all you do; if everyone had one tenth the passion you have there would be no litter in the world. Keep up the good work friend. Amy and I still call you Superman. 🙂

  3. Pingback: What price convenience? Plastic, the gift that keeps on giving. | The Coastodian

  4. great work coastodian ! ive been scouring the beaches and estuaries of northumbria in the uk for driftwood for about ten years now.i make cupboards etc as well as scrap metal creations .ive always collected drinks cans to weigh in for scrap money ,buoys, life rings and flip flops {which i nail to the roof of my shed } but over the past 3 or 4 years i have started collecting lighters, fishing line, anything that is a ring shape and then top off my collecting bag with plastic bottles.yesterday i found loads so burnt it all in the rocks on the beach.you may not agree but i know its gone if it goes in a recycling bin i have no idea where it goes – falling off the boat on the way to china ? into landfill when it shouldn`t ? etc i`ve just happened upon your blog keep on keeping on all the best. worzel

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