When I was five we lived in a house on the beach at Kihei Lagoon. I remember getting up as dawn was just a shell-pink hint in the sky and running barefoot down the grass and onto the cool damp sand. It was rare, very rare to walk along the water’s edge and find a miracle: a small glass ball that had broken free from a Japanese fisherman’s net to float through miles of open Pacific Ocean to land at my feet. I only found two—one faint green and the other amber, but I remember marveling at the slightly misshapen glass spheres melted and shaped from discarded liquor bottles. It was the kind of thing that would hold a mermaid’s wish or a message from a sea star, and I never forgot the sense of magic and wonder they brought.
It was the distance, I think. How could something travel so far?
Now as I wander along beaches it’s not quaint glass balls or even shells that I find. It’s plastic. Bent, broken, sun-bleached discards from Asia, America, Australia. Bits of bins, bags, and ephemeral stuff too travel-worn and trashed to identify properly. It’s everywhere with more coming ashore on each tide.
I admit I’m a casual recycler. I understand reduce, reuse, and recycle, and I do my part to live lightly on the earth as long as it’s simple, practical, and fairly painless. Compared to true eco-warriors I’m a poser.
But seeing the pervasive plastics in our oceans and along our beaches have made me more concerned than all the weeping Indians, earth-warming alarmists, and give a hoot owls combined. When I see the damage to our reefs from abandoned fishing nets that drag along fragile coral, when there are more white bags than white sand, and when the levels of toxicity in our fish make them unsafe to eat I have to ask how do we stop? We can’t strain the ocean and pull every bit of trash out—where would we even put it? This is not a California-Hong Kong-Sydney problem. It’s a world problem.
I have the glass balls to prove it.