Fishing is hard on the sea, living is hard on my heart

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The debris shown in the images below was collected after the first big storm of 2012 in early February.

Over two days I spent 10 hours and covered about three miles of Drakes Beach and South Beach. Just imagine what all the beaches of Point Reyes were covered with from just one storm!

The plan was to have posted these images in February. Due to painful distractions, I am finally getting around to sharing what I hope you find are compelling images. That is, I hope they compel you to give some thought to all that happens in order to bring seafood to your table.

Tomorrow is the commercial crab opener of 2012. Thousands of crab pots have been dropped in the sea attached to miles and miles of petroleum based rope, foam floats and plastic bait jars. Much of this gear will be lost due to storm, propeller strike or other activities. While scraping and grinding along the bottom of the sea, or abrading on the beach sand, many thousands of pounds of plastic will be pulverized and deposited into the food chain.

Does society have any idea what is undertaken to put seafood on their table? The time, expense and effort of the fishermen, the vast amount of gear lost at sea each season, or stolen by unscrupulous crab fishermen? A local fishermen once told me, after sharing with me the many ways in which fishermen “do unto others” in not such golden ways, “Crab fishing makes ya crabby!”

Be sure to have a look at the last picture. There you will get a close look at about 75 oyster spacer tubes from Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) in the foreground. I have found well over 5000 of these in the last five years. From as far north as the tip of Tomales Point and south to Slide Ranch.

Click on image for bigger picture – Debris recovered over two days work, about ten hours effort

Click on image for bigger picture – Should the price of crab reflect the cost to the planet?

Click on image for bigger picture – Maybe some of this is yours?

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Click on image for bigger picture – Heroin, nicotine and caffeine….slower, faster, anywhere but here and now…

Click on image for bigger picture – If all dogs at the seashore are on leash….how come I find 100’s of tennis balls and ball tossers each year?

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Click on image for bigger picture – Each one of those orange tags represents about $200 in lost gear for a crab fisherman. What if they paid a deposit on each trap set? To offset the cost of picking up after all their gear that litters the ocean and beaches.

Click on image for bigger picture – Black PVC pipe oyster spacers used by Drakes Bay Oyster Company. You see 75 or so here. I have found over 5000 of these on Point Reyes beaches, as well as dozens oyster grow-out bags and the foam from inside grow-out bags.

All forms of commercial fishing take a huge toll on our planet.

Is it asking too much to set aside portions of the planet as areas we tread upon lightly, or tread upon not at all?

Many say we must do all we can to produce food locally, sustainably to feed the 7 billion humans on earth.

Others say we need to slow the growth of the human population, keep it more in line with the carrying capacity of earth.

This planet is fragile. Humans, only one of the many species on this blue sphere, have developed the means to do great good and great harm. As we ever more quickly modify our nest, it is less able to feed an ever growing population. Does this make sense? Does a growing family move into ever smaller and smaller housing?

I think The Dude said it best:

Tired of plastic on the beach

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A dozen or so tires wash up on the beaches each year at Point Reyes. Most of them on the rim which makes them very heavy. I usually move them up as high on the beach as I can in case someone more industrious than myself feels like packing them out. I’ve only packed out two that I can recall. The rest either washed back out, or someone came and got them.

There is a forty-eight inch diameter aircraft tire buried in the sand on Drakes Beach, sans rim. In case you feel inclined to go get it, park your car near the cafe, walk ~2 miles to the right(low tide a must), it is high on the beach. Bring a shovel or two.

Shredded plastic wrap tangled in bull kelp and feather boa kelp

Bull kelp and feather boa kelp, minus the plastic

Tangled up and blue

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September, seductive winter light is coming on, beaches are covered deep in sand pushed ashore over the summer, making access easier. Not the high season for litter usually. Local fisherman have been plying the Marin coastline for months looking for crab, salmon, halibut and rockfish.

I can tell when they have been out. Beaches are covered in beer and soda cans, bait packaging, miles of plastic rope, hundreds of buoys and bait containers, snack wrappers and sometimes fishing poles or parts of boats. All blown or carelessly tossed overboard, then blown to shore. I pick it all up and pack it out on my back.

This evening a shiny flasher caught my eye in the wrack, I bent down to untangle it from the surf grass and other kelp. A long strand of mono-filament was threaded into the plants, a plastic hoochie, more line, a copper spring of some sort. Then I spied the scavenged body of a seabird, a murre or guillemot with a large nest of the mono-filament tangled around what was left of the wings and sternum.

NOTE: According to a bird expert I know, the bird is a common murre.

Had the bird seen a fish on the hook, swallowed it and died? Or had it surfaced and become tangled up in the line after diving perhaps 200 feet deep in search of a meal? I did not know. I only know that it was alive before coming into contact with this man-made trash, and now it was dead, wrapped in plastic.

Egg to bird to egg to bird and so on. Nothing in that cycle is toxic. All of it breaks down into something another creature uses for life.

Humans on the other hand have created all manner of clever tools. Tools made of plastic, which comes from oil. Plastic clothing, plastic fishing gear, plastic boats, plastic food wrappers. All of it so convenient for humans, for a moment that is. Once we are done with our “single-use” item, we generally toss it overboard, or into the land-fill, or the street, or out the window as we drive down the freeway.

None of this plastic breaks down or goes away or turns into something humans can eat.

What other creatures celebrate milestones in their life by releasing balloons into the air? Balloons made of nylon or latex that will fall back to earth eventually. Balloons that look like jellyfish and other forms of food to sea-life. Have a look here at the hundreds of images of balloons I found at the beach and in the High Sierra Nevada.

We are poisoning our nest, the nest of all the creatures on this planet, with our human conveniences.

Can we survive without so much plastic in our lives?

We survived until 1907 without any synthetic plastic.

From an article in the New York Times:

About 300 million tons of plastic is produced globally each year. Only about 10 percent of that is recycled. Of the plastic that is simply trashed, an estimated seven million tons ends up in the sea each year.

There, it breaks down into smaller and smaller fragments over the years.

The tinier the pieces, the more easily they are swallowed by marine life. (One study found that fish in the North Pacific ingest as much as 24,000 tons of plastic debris a year).

Mad ocean, foaming at the mouth

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The past few months have brought a never-ending supply of foam to the beaches at Point Reyes. Mostly polystyrene, though other flavors as well, all petroleum based.

This pile has been growing and shrinking for several months. I add to it that which I am unable to haul out at the time, then return later to pack out what I can.

I strive to get foam off the beach as soon as possible. Birds peck at it looking for food, harming themselves in the process, as well as breaking it up into smaller pieces for other unsuspecting animals to attempt to snack on.

This young elephant seal is still trying to figure out how to feed itself now that mom and her high-fat milk is gone. I hope it quickly learned that foam is NOT food.

The rough water of winter storms grinds it up and pushes it into the drainages that meet the beach.

Such a lovely sight in a national seashore!

This scene is reproduced all over the world each and every winter.

I spent nearly 2 hours picking up most everything not wood or sand in this image.

Foam does not weigh much, but it is big and bulky. Forty-five pounds or so on one’s back is like a spinnaker. Thankfully I had the wind at my back on the hike out and made great time.

The next stop for this load of man-made mess is the dumpster at Point Reyes headquarters.

I wonder where the contents of the dumpster will end up?

Remember, on this tiny planet, there is no away.

Stinson Beach Library – Found Art

Four artists’ work is on display at the Stinson Beach Library until 31 January, 2012.

Richard James has two of his large meta-bottles on the patio along with 49 jellyfish I made out of Korean fishing-net floats and crab-fishing rope.

Lina Jane Prairie has baskets made from kelp and the same rope I use for tentacles.

John Norton is showing a few of his collections of similar items found on the beach.

Tess Felix has created two mermaids and a few portraits, mosaics actually, all from the bits of petroleum-based plastic we humans discard every minute of every day which wash ashore on the world’s beaches and are eaten by birds and fish the world over every minute of every day.

Nineteen is a prime number – too large and too small…

Last Saturday I walked 3 miles along Point Reyes Beach from North Beach to Abbotts Lagoon with the Point Reyes Plover expert. She does this regularly during Western Snowy Plover breeding season. She also covers other regions of the Point Reyes Snowy Plover breeding area. This day we were on the lookout for 5 Snowy Plover chicks that had hatched recently.

She prowled for birds while I gleaned the plastics that wash ashore on a regular basis.

After creating a small depression in the sand and lining it with mostly light colored rocks to increase the stealthiness of the nest, a female plover will lay 2-4 eggs directly on the sand. Most times she lays 3 eggs.

Three Western Snowy Plover eggs in a scrape (nest)

About 28 days later, if the sea has not washed away the eggs, ravens, crows, coyotes, raccoons, skunks or weasels have not eaten the eggs, off-leash dogs or errant humans have not trampled the nest, the birds emerge form their cocoon. Plover chicks are “precocious”, meaning that they are out of the nest and cruising for food within hours after hatching.

Mother plover leaves to go find another mate, father plover begins a month-long odyssey attempting to ensure his brood learns to eat, and keeps from being eaten.

Researchers consider a chick fledged if it survives 28 days. The last 3 years at Point Reyes have seen 7, 8 and 5 chicks fledge (2010, 2009, 2008). There are an estimated 5000 plovers, period.

Western Snowy Plovers are on the endangered species list. This means that they are in danger of going extinct. Extinct means there are no more plovers. Ever.

Dog owners, please keep this in mind the next time you want to let your domesticated, far from extinct pal run off-leash in this area.

Beach driftwood architects, enjoy building your complex driftwood structures. But, once you are done, please dismantle your work-of-art. Ravens use these structures to rest and look for prey, including endangered plovers. Don’t make it easy for ravens to further reduce the dwindling numbers of snowy plovers.

The park plover expert knows when each plover egg is laid and when each chick hatches. Finding all plovers present and accounted for each day is a good day.

Last Saturday we found all 5 chicks, plus fourteen adults for a total of nineteen birds.

I found a small bag of plastic trash, including nineteen plastic beverage bottles.

Nineteen plastic bottles, nineteen too many

So, depending on one’s perspective, nineteen is too small, and too large.

Please use one metal bottle for your drinking water needs.

The coastodian