Ghost Fishing

Before I throw them away, I cut rubber bands, circles of string, soda can plastic, anything that turtles might get entangled in, because I have seen what can happen to the garbage of the world, and I can’t even imagine the pain that’s associated with it.

Deformed Sea Turtle

It’s so easy to overlook those things you don’t have to see. What I don’t see, and rarely think about, are the hundreds of miles of nets and lines that are lost at sea every year. Even without human participation, those nets continue to fish, decades, potentially centuries, after their loss. Especially now that they are made of nylon and plastics, which can last forever.

It’s called Ghost Fishing, and it’s a major threat to our oceans. Fish get caught in them. Then predators are attracted to the fish and also get caught, and on and on. It must be a horrible way to die. And it’s so senseless.

Fortunately, there are many clean up efforts going on around the world. But they’re fighting an uphill battle. They need volunteers to start their own local initiatives. They also need donations to increase awareness of the problem. Long net fisheries should be required to support these organizations, and they should use biodegradable nets. Unfortunately many do not.

If, like me, you understand the need to reduce the harmful impact we humans have had on our planet, please consider supporting Ghost Fishing.org in their worthy goal of cleaning up the world’s oceans, one net at a time. Thank you.

Ghost fishing

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Exploring Oregon: Shore Acres State Park

I just got back from a week’s vacation on the Oregon Coast, and there is much to talk about, indeed. It’s gorgeous there in so many unexpected and delightful ways that I’ll be writing quite a bit about it. But I wanted to one of my very first Oregon entries to be about one of the last places I visited, because it was the highlight of my trip.

There are tons of state parks along the coast. So many, in fact, that I barely scratched the surface. But Shore Acres State Park is a gem. Just south of Coos Bay, it used to be the grand estate of a rich timber baron. Thank goodness it now belongs to the people, because it should be seen by all of us.

Not only does it include a lush botanical garden full of such rich floral colors that it practically hurts your eyes, but if you exit from the garden gate you are treated to some of the most stunning cliffside views of the pacific that you’ll ever see. It was hard for me to leave, to be honest. And all of this for a single fee of 5 dollars per car. Not bad.

My pictures barely do this amazing place justice, but if they encourage you to check this beautiful place out, then my work here is done.

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Syphilization

In the past, I’ve written about the plight of the bees and the plight of the bats. Frankly, I haven’t had the heart to write about the fact that our butterflies and frogs and coral reefs are disappearing, too. It’s just too depressing.

And then just the other day a friend told me about Starfish Wasting Disease. I guess I hadn’t heard about it because until recently I lived back east, and we had problems of our own. Apparently this disease was first detected in 2013, and now it’s estimated that 95 percent of the starfish on the west coast of North America, from California to Alaska, are dead. That’s millions of starfish. And this is a ghastly virus, folks. Within days of contracting it, their legs curl up and pull away from their bodies, and then they turn to mush. Horrible. Nightmarish.

There’s not nearly enough funding being allocated to study this tragedy. Probably because we don’t eat starfish, so people are not as concerned as they should be. And they should be, because this virus is in our oceans, and could jump to other species. Species that are a vital link in the food chain that leads back to us.

Scientists suspect that the reason this virus has been able to spread so quickly at this point in time is that the oceans have been unusually warm. And that, of course, is directly related to global climate change. For the love of God, how much more evidence do you need?

starfish
[Image credit: theepochtimes.com]

You Cannot Put an Ocean in Your Pocket

I heard that saying the other day and my gut reaction was, “What kind of crunchy granola bullsh** is that?” I mean, it sounds very Eastern, very Zen, and I often love that sort of thing. I’m open-minded. I’m spiritual. I’m philosophical. But for Pete’s sake, there are limits.

But then I sat with it for a few days and realized that it’s actually sound advice. It’s about letting go. It’s about not trying to control everything. It’s about letting the universe unfold as it should.

I think the biggest mistake many of us make is gripping the steering wheel of life so tightly that our knuckles turn white and we don’t enjoy the ride. The destination will be the same, but there will be a great deal more stress along the way. Loosen your grip. Take a breath. Let it be. Don’t try so freakin’ hard.

Let the ocean do its thing. The waves will crash on the shore whether you want them to or not. The tide will rise and fall. You really can’t put an ocean in your pocket. The concept may sound fairly obvious, but what’s really insane is that so many of us try to do it anyway.

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One of my favorite works of art:

  “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai

Climate Change: Points to Ponder

I think the worst thing that could have happened to those of us who hope to educate others about the dangers of climate change is one word. Warming. If it weren’t for the term “Global Warming”, people would be more able to focus on the facts rather than the terminology. Climate change deniers cling to the word warming as if it were a life ring in storm-tossed seas.

“Look! We had a snow storm in May!!! See? Global WARMING doesn’t exist!”

Poor short-sighted, deluded people. Because of increasing temperatures there is more moisture in the air. Ever notice that it’s more humid in the summer than in the winter? When increased moisture hits a cold front, what happens? Snow. And a crap load of it. Yup, snow is cold. But that doesn’t mean the earth isn’t getting warmer. It’s a complex system, people, and one which we learn more about with each passing year. But before I get into some facts that can’t be ignored, I have two sets of questions for those who so desperately want to cling to the status quo:

1)      What do you think scientists would gain by making all of this up? Do they WANT the end of the world as we know it? Why? Do you really think there aren’t plenty of other areas of scientific pursuit that they could, well, pursue? Do you really think that thousands of scientists, from various countries, races, religions and creeds are in a global conspiracy to terrify the populous so that they can keep their jobs or alter the economy in some diabolical way? You give them a great deal of power.

2)      Even if you are right and global warming doesn’t exist, why would you NOT want to do things in an environmentally friendly way? Are you in love with garbage, pollution, undrinkable water, the death of one species after another, and air that is increasingly dangerous to breathe? Do you want that for your children? Is it just laziness, or do you really prefer that sort of planet?

Okay, here are some points to ponder and some facts to feast upon:

  • I often hear people say that a few degrees temperature difference won’t matter much, surely. But if your baby’s average temperature is a few degrees higher, especially on a regular basis, you’d panic. You’d take that child to the hospital, as you know that such things are fatal. So too with our life on this planet.
  • Hurricanes are decreasing, but becoming stronger, and now they’re coming as much as 100 miles inland.
  • Islands are disappearing. The sea has risen 8 inches since 1870. It is expected to rise anywhere from 16 to 56 inches by 2100. The following island groups are already threatened: Kiribati, Maldives, Seychelles, Torres Strait Islands, Tegua, Solomon Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Carteret Islands, and Tuvalu, as well as the country of Bangladesh, where they’re learning how to grow their crops on floating rafts. They never had to do that in the past. Don’t believe me? Talk to the people who are on the brink of being displaced.
  • Most scientists agree that temperature stability relies on 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere or less. Anything more than that spells disaster. This carbon comes, for the most part, from the burning of fossil fuels. Coal is carbon. Oil is carbon. When we burn it, it doesn’t just disappear. That carbon still exists, and it’s now in our atmosphere. Humans are responsible for this. There’s no getting around that. Sadly, in 2012, we were already at a steady 390 parts per million. On May 9th, for the first time, NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory recorded daily concentrations of 400 parts per million. This doesn’t fluctuate downward. It’s a steady and ever increasing rise.
  • Deserts are burning. Other areas are flooding. You’ve seen it.
  • Arctic summer sea ice has shrunk roughly 34% since 1979. The arctic summer could be ice free by mid-century. In the past 50 years glaciers have lost more than 2,000 cubic miles of water. That can be observed by the human eye, and all that water has to go somewhere.
  • Ice reflects the heat of the sun back into space. When it’s gone, what you have is dark land and water, both of which hold heat. This is a downward spiral that any person with a modicum of logic can follow.
  • For the past 3 decades the oceans’ surface temperatures have been higher than any other time in recorded history.
  • Coral reefs are dying.
  • A lot of Australia is in permanent drought. Farms have been abandoned forever because of firestorms. Just ask the people of Victoria about the walls of fire that killed hundreds. This has never happened before.

I know what you’re thinking. This is just a cycle. The planet has gone through cycles before. That’s true. It can’t be denied. In the Pleistocene we had ice and arctic deserts. At other times the ice caps melted and the planet was mostly ocean. The earth is a subtle system with subtle cycles that are millions of years apart. The creatures living during the Pleistocene wouldn’t have noticed a change, however, because it wasn’t occurring within decades like it is now.  It wasn’t even occurring within centuries. We’re talking millions of years. The change we’re seeing now is not a cyclical planetary change.

And another argument is that scientists make mistakes. True enough. People once believed the earth was flat. They also believed the sun rotated around the earth. Does that mean that all science should be discounted? We learn more and more over time. We stand upon the shoulders of those who came before us, mistakes and all. The more data we accumulate, the more accurate our knowledge becomes.

Argument number three: Al Gore is an idiot who doesn’t practice what he preaches. Okay, let’s stipulate that that’s true if it gives you some sort of perverse comfort. How does that negate the findings of thousands of scientists? I personally think Carrie Nation was an extremist crackpot, but that doesn’t mean I discount the fact that alcohol ruins many people’s lives. Go to any AA meeting throughout the world and you can hear it firsthand.

Stop listening to the lunatic fringe. Stop desperately clinging to beliefs that are not based on evidence simply because you would rather not alter your current lifestyle. Think for yourself. Look around. Apply some common sense before it’s too late for you, because here’s the thing: the earth will survive, even if it’s just a barren, lifeless rock floating through space. It’s humanity that’s in danger. And you can see that with your own eyes, once you let go of the word “warming” and actually pay attention. And yet half the people I know don’t even bother to recycle, which is the world’s simplest of first steps. How hard is it to recycle? Come on.

Here’s another thought: if I’m right about global warming, then we all need to make changes. If we don’t, it will be fatal. On the other hand, if I’m wrong about global warming, then we don’t need to make changes, but if we do make them, how’s it going to hurt? Is there something wrong with the concept of conserving our resources, for example? I say it’s better to err on the side of caution, especially if it’s something that has to do with life on earth. To do otherwise would be the height of stupidity and selfishness.

If you want to get some amazing ideas about things you can do in your community on a grass roots level, things that can only be good for the planet whether you believe scientists or not, then visit the website 350.org.

environment

(Image credit: debonofoods.com)

A Real Cliffhanger

Back in 2005, I took a trip out west with my boyfriend at the time to Canyon De Chelly because I had a fascination with all things Anasazi. The canyon is now a national monument, but people have been living there for almost 5,000 years. Currently about 40 Navajo families are in residence. As with most of the rest of Arizona, the landscape is stunning.

Wide Canyon VIew

To go into the canyon itself you need to take a tour or get a permit. We opted to go horseback riding with a Navajo guide. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone manages to live there, because it is, in essence, a big bowl of sand. If not for the horses, we’d have been slogging along in calf high sand the vast majority of the time, with only the occasional grove of olive trees for shade, and no water to speak of.

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Our guide took us to see some beautiful petroglyphs, and then, further along, some ancient cliff dwellings high above the canyon floor. I asked him if he had ever climbed up there, and he said, “No, because it would affect our bodies.”

I thought that was a curious response, and it had me reflecting upon the great cultural divide between me and this man, who had not spoken much at all up to this point. He began to interest me more than the landscape we were travelling through. I’d ask him questions. He’d pause, as if considering the best way to dole out his words in the most economical fashion. Then he’d respond.

“Have you always lived in this area?” Pause. “Yes. Always.”

Hours later, after his occasional brief response to my inquiries, for some reason the dam seemed to break. When I asked him if he’d ever been outside of this area he paused for a long time. Then he told me the following story.

“One time these people came here and booked a 3 day tour. The lady liked one of our horses so much that she offered to buy it, but she wanted us to deliver it to her home near Boston. So we did. We drove the whole way without stopping. Through many lands. Then we saw Boston.”

“Did you get to see the ocean?”

“Yes.”

“What did you think?”

“It was very big.”

I will always have a mental image of this man gazing out at the Atlantic as if he had just arrived from another planet. “Then we came home.”

At the end of the tour we said our good byes and I realized that this man had a much greater impact on me than I had on him. To him, I’m sure, I was like a brief wind. I wasn’t the first. I wouldn’t be the last. But to me, he was like a stone monument. He would always be there in my mind.

That night we camped, and the next day we drove along the rim of the canyon, stopping at each of the overlooks to take in the stunning views. At the last overlook, the eerie western silence was broken by a strange sound. I couldn’t identify it, and the first time I heard it, I thought it must have been my imagination. Then there it was again.

“Did you hear that?”

“No. What?”

“That!”

I got down on my hands and knees, and stuck my head over the side of the cliff, and sure enough, on a ledge about 3 feet below us was a skinny little puppy. He was shivering and crying.

“Oh, shit. We can’t just leave it.”

“Barb, it’s a 1,000 foot drop.”

“I know. But if I drive away and leave that dog, I’ll never be able to live with myself.”

And before he could say anything, I lowered myself down to the ledge, which, thank God, supported my weight. Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down…I grabbed the puppy, handed it to my boyfriend, climbed back up and walked as far away from the rim as I could get so as not to have the panic attack that I could feel trying to overtake me.

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Alrighty then. Next. Feed the puppy. And man, he was hungry. He ate half our picnic lunch. I would have loved to keep him, but Florida was a long way away. So we took him to the ranger station, and they told us they’d bring him to a no kill shelter at the nearest town. We had one request.

“Tell them his name is Cliff.”

Tragedy Between the Lines

When you work on a drawbridge, you’re sometimes a silent witness to some really tragic events. No one tells you that when you take the job.

On the bigger bridges you’ll get jumpers. Occasionally one will survive and 100 percent of those will say they regretted their action the second they jumped, which says a lot about how good an idea it was. Not. And the rest? Many are talked out of taking the leap, fortunately. The ones who actually jump and don’t survive often hit the wooden fender system before they hit the water, and the sound of their breaking bones can be heard in the tender house, as can their screams on the way down. It’s a sound you won’t ever forget. Then the rescue effort becomes one of body recovery. Here in Jacksonville, if the tide is coming in, they’re usually found tangled in the next bridge. If it’s going out, they’re found amongst the rocks at the jetties. Am I getting too graphic? Good. Because I want to impress upon everyone that jumping off a bridge is a bad, bad, BAD idea.

And then there’s the fact that we monitor radio channel 16, which is sort of the marine equivalent of listening to a police scanner. One day I heard a hysterical boater saying “My dog fell off the boat! Does anyone see a Golden Retriever in the water?” Being a dog owner myself, that sent me into a state of helpless anxiety. Fortunately, that story had a happy ending. The dog was recovered.

Another time we bore witness to the unfolding events when a city diver surfaced, only to have his face removed by a passing speedboat. Amazingly he survived, and spent months in the hospital, but I’m sure his life will never be the same.

Why am I in such a morbid mood? Because since Thursday night, the Coast Guard has been making this announcement about once an hour:

“Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan, all stations, all stations, all stations. This is United States Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville Florida, United States Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville Florida. Break. At time 2210 Coordinated Universal Time the Coast Guard received a report of a 55 year old man with no life jacket in the water 360 nautical miles off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida. All vessels are requested to keep a sharp lookout, assist if possible, and report all sightings to the Coast Guard. Signed Commander, United States Coast Guard, Jacksonville Florida. This is United States Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville, Florida out.”

The first time we heard the announcement, we all sat up a little straighter and thought, “Oh my God…” But unfortunately, we usually never hear the end of the story unless it’s on the news. From the Coast Guard website I learned that this guy was a commercial fisherman, out fishing for swordfish on 7 to 9 foot seas. I’m speaking in the past tense, because even though they’re still looking for him, once we all heard the announcement again an hour later, and then throughout the night, and for a couple of days now, we lost hope for him. No life jacket, rough seas, cold and wet. He’s gone, surely. I’m glad the Coast Guard is still looking, though. They do amazing work.

It brings tears to my eyes, because he was just trying to make a living in a very harsh industry, and I’m sure he has people who love him who are suffering greatly right now. His name was Peter Steewell. Please remember him. If what I fear is really true, may he rest in peace.

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