By Linda Hunter
“I am so tired of all of this stuff that gets thrown into me every day,” says the Ocean to anyone who will listen. “I am here doing my job—providing the air that you breathe, the sink for the carbon you insist on pumping into the atmosphere, your medicines, the sustenance on your table, soothing sounds, and breathtaking beauty, to name just a few of my services,” the Ocean says (modestly).
“And how do you repay me? You buy useless junk you don’t need, in packaging that cannot be reused or recycled and then, when you tire of the brief pleasure that you get from eating or playing with it, you throw it into your nearest storm drain, creek or onto the sidewalk or street where it follows a path that flows, ultimately, into me.”
It’s no wonder that the ocean is fed up. Last year, on more than 12,914 miles of beaches, shorelines, creeks, and rivers around the world, Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers picked up 12,329,332 pounds of trash. In the 34 cleanups organized by The Watershed Project, 2,400 volunteers came out to help remove over 16,000 pounds of trash from Contra Costa County’s waterways.
That’s just one day, one day out of 365 days in one year. That’s a whole lot of trash.
The ocean tries to get rid of this marine debris on its own, the same way it assimilates natural detritus, and spews out the residue on our shoreline—check out the “wrack” on the beach some time. It does this through a fascinating natural process that keeps the ocean’s currents moving.
The California Current is a Pacific Ocean current that moves southward along the western coast of North America, beginning off southern British Columbia, and ending off southern Baja California. This current has achieved some celebrity in the last few years because it has become the unwitting host of the infamous Pacific Gyre—the huge swath of plastics that are swirling around in the ocean off our shore.
To understand how this works, think of ocean gyres as a circular ocean current formed by the Earth’s wind patterns and the forces created by the rotation of the planet. You can create your own little gyre next time you’re in the bath, surrounded by lovely rose petals, by pretending that your hand is the wind and the planet’s forces of gravitational pull. Just swirl the water around in one direction to see how the water takes on a force of its own. Drop something light into your little gyre and see what happens to it. If you have created a huge force, the rose petals in your bath water will be sucked down into the gyre. Less force will cause the debris to swirl around and around with your current. Eventually, the debris will lose its attraction to the diminishing force of your gyre and end up at the end of the tub (if it floats, like plastic) or at the bottom of the tub (if it is heavy).
Today, with every tide, our ocean is spitting this trash right back at us—as if to say, “I’m done with this. Can you be more considerate to everyone who depends on clean water and a life-giving ocean? Please?”
This natural cleansing cycle is not enough to rid ourselves of the tons of marine debris in the ocean. Let’s stop this mad consumption and the constant stream of trash flowing into our watersheds. Remember, the next time someone says that they are going to throw something away, there really is no “Away.” There is only somewhere else.
We can all work together and do more to help out the ocean. On September 20th, come join us and the rest of Contra Costa County in celebrating the 30th annual California Coastal Cleanup Day. To register please visit our event pages: Richmond, Albany, and Contra Costa.