Posted by: rebeccanmckinnon | September 22, 2011

Sylvia Earle’s ‘Garbage Disposal’ & My Favorite Beach

For years, all throughout high school and college, I’ve visited the beach. Whether it’s to tan, read, swim, play in the waves, or just hang with my friends, visiting the beach is one of the best things to do in a coastal city in Florida. During high school, my friends and I found our own special spot along the neighborhoods of Atlantic Beach, away from the crowds of Jacksonville Beach and the hotel guests of One Ocean, formerly the Sea Turtle Inn. I’ve had many good and bad times with the people I love on that special stretch of beach… I spent almost every day of the summer before senior year of high school tanning on that beach, determined to come back to school beautiful to make my ex-boyfriend jealous. (Oh the woes of high school…)

At 16, when I was the only one of my friends who could drive, I picked up my friends from all over Jacksonville and brought them there for days of fun in the sun. Sometimes I wouldn’t even have a bathing suit, deciding to go on a whim, and it became my friend Sabby’s joke that I wore her bathing suits more than she did. We bonded a lot at the beach. The sound of the waves and the wind against the sand made us feel safe enough to share the secrets of our past with each other. During one not so pleasant time, we got caught in a rip tide and (bravely but later I would learn incorrectly) fought it together straight ahead toward the shore. “I won’t let you drown, Becca!” is a laughable statement to us now, having lived to tell the tale. Another one of my closest friends, Chris, feels a powerful affinity for the water. He drew his own tattoo sleeve—a visage of swirling teal water— and it now covers his upper arm. Even before its existence we walked the moonlit stretches of that beach together and now after its existence we plan to do the same for as many years as we are able. It’s there in the darkness that we feel safe, and it is only then that we let the ocean hear our fears and doubts about the future.

Cigarette litter in the sand

Needless to say, when I heard about the Florida Coastal Cleanup Day, I immediately knew which beach I wanted to clean. Sylvia Earle’s “The World is Blue” has a chapter on “The Ultimate Garbage Disposal,” and it is (sadly) the ocean that she’s referring to in that title. In a similar cleanup day in September 2008, over 6.8 million pounds of trash was collected by volunteers on beaches all over the world. According to statistics gathered, cigarette butts and plastic were the top two trash items collected, “with the top ten categories accounting for 83% of the total” (106). These statistics became tragically real to me as I cleaned my special stretch of beach that Saturday. I expected to find a minimal amount of trash. Instead, I was appalled at how many cigarette butts hid themselves just under the sand, and even more stressed to find an entire ripped-up plastic bag stuck in the sand of the dunes. I’m glad I gave back to the stretch of beach that has given me so many memories, but overall, I felt helpless throughout the entire experience. The biting, chilly wind of a distant storm reminded me that many more trash items floated beyond my reach inside the ocean—the ocean that has been like a friend to me my entire life and has asked for none of this.

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