Ocean trash – our le­gacy to the world

Northern Pen - - Front page - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 39 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@thetele­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

If you know just where to look on a shin­gle-stone beach in Adam’s Cove on New­found­land’s Avalon Penin­sula, if your tim­ing is right and the tide and the waves co-op­er­ate, the small stones will part and re­veal a huge en­gine block, buried deep in the beach.

Some­times, it’s easy to find. Other times it dis­ap­pears, a great rusty block of metal with still-shiny brass fit­tings. You can see the flat ends of the pis­tons, eas­ily the di­am­e­ter of a tennis ball, and you know that only a frac­tion of the great motor is ex­posed. The feel­ing is like see­ing an ice­berg and know­ing that some­thing like nine-tenths of the ice ex­tends far, far deeper un­der the wa­ter than you are ever likely to see.

It at least stays in one place, that huge en­gine, an­chored into the drifts of rounded stone — and un­like any of the other man-made de­tri­tus on the beach, it’s hard to call it trash, be­cause it could be an ocean mis­ad­ven­ture. I wish the same could be said for other re­mains of our waste­ful cul­ture.

When the pave­ment ends on Union Street in Canso, N.S., you feel like you’ve come to one of the cor­ners of the Earth. You’ve been on NS Route 16 for ages, first with the ocean on your left tight in to the high­way, and then cut­ting in­land near Half Is­land Cove past Hazel Hill and the now-torn-down but on­ceim­pres­sive stone build­ings of the 1884 ca­ble sta­tion. When the pave­ment ends on Union Street, you’re up against the sea once again, and if you park and climb down to the wa­ter, you can smell the ocean, look out at the hand­ful of is­lands, and then vi­su­al­ize a cir­cle five feet across and find 50 pieces of trash in the land­wash, from wa­ter-bot­tle-sized to twist caps to plas­tic that’s been shred­ded by the sea to the oc­ca­sional sole of a shoe.

It’s not nec­es­sar­ily from Canso.

It’s not nec­es­sar­ily from any­where nearby.

But it’s all nec­es­sar­ily from peo­ple.

Now, I don’t put much stock in “days” — there are so many days set up to com­mem­o­rate or iden­tify or rec­og­nize causes or con­di­tions or things. To­mor­row, for ex­am­ple, is In­ter­na­tional Sex Work­ers’ Day — next Satur­day is both World Oceans Day and World Brain Tu­mour Day. As nec­es­sary as the recog­ni­tion might be to those who are di­rectly in­volved, they pass in a blur.

But I won­der if we might change the name of World Oceans Day to “Ocean Dump Day” this year, just to make a point.

Year af­ter year, there are bird counts, where peo­ple spend a day scout­ing for species in their area, col­lat­ing all that in­for­ma­tion, and mak­ing ob­ser­va­tions about an­nual changes in pop­u­la­tions.

I won­der what it would be like if, on Ocean Dump Day, we all just took a small patch of beach and col­lected, in­ven­to­ried and pho­tographed the trash we found, whether it might be a sober­ing mes­sage for us all.

Not a beach cleanup, per se; those are fine and valu­able, but the only peo­ple who see the length and breadth of waste are those who do the ac­tual cleanup — for ev­ery­one else, it’s even more out of sight and out of mind than it was be­fore the cleanup.

All I know is that I can make my way to the most dis­tant and unap­proach­able parts of the At­lantic prov­inces and find tons of trash. And each piece, each and ev­ery piece, was thrown into the ocean by some­one. Given the time it takes for trash to fully break down, it will be there for years af­ter ev­ery­one who reads these words is dead and buried.

There’s a mes­sage in a plas­tic bot­tle for you.

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