Tropical Storm Hector: Day 4

View to the point at 8:30am. There’s blue sky up there!

This is the fourth installment of a series of blogs describing my experience of events surrounding the first measurable rainfall we’ve had on the East Cape of Baja in four years.

Last night I fell asleep instantly and was haunted by dreams of unrequited desire after speed reading Chapter Six of 50 Shades of Grey. I woke up at some ungodly hour and upon opening my eyes, was relieved to see stars twinkling outside my window.

This morning there are big grey and white fluffy, not-at-all-foreboding clouds riddling the sky and the sun peaks out every several minutes giving me a sense that we may be over the hump.

I start the kettle for coffee, open all the windows to let the air circulate and check the status of my internet connection. Only two green lights peer back at me, “Damn!” I’d hoped to get the latest on road conditions. Next I check Zee’s leg for infection – so far so good – and I notice she is putting more weight on it, a very good sign. I still have to beg her to come outside with me to do her business though, which tells me she is still in some pain.

I begin the process of assessing the property for rain damage – there are two large and deep erosion channels, both of which threaten to undermine the integrity of expensive infrastructure (a stone wall and a walkway).  I put the caretaker Felipe to work filling the holes with large boulders and rocks, the only sure way to dissipate the destructive energy of running water.

A dark cloud passes overhead sending a fine mist down over us, but it is short lived and the clouds are slowly dissipating. I feel a surge in the humidity as the sun’s rays make passage and strike the moist ground. Cicadas buzz and a cactus wren calls with her harsh, metallic “char, char, char” call seemingly adding to the intensity of the tropical sun. I inhale the moist air, rich with the scent of wet detritus in the sandy soil, which, thanks to the sudden availability of moisture and the sun’s heat, have begun to break down. The air on my skin feels soft and my body drinks the moisture in. The sun feels good on my damp feet.

View to the point at 10:30am

By mid-morning the sea is beginning to clear further out and currents are creating patterns of clean azure blue and green sediment-laden water. I watch on and off throughout the morning as the water circulates and moves creating different swirls of green on blue. I find it fascinating how dynamic the system is.

The internet comes back on long enough for a series of messages related to road conditions to be exchanged between me, my neighbors and people in town. It is possible to get to town with 4-wheel drive, but it is a long, slow process. The drive from here to town that normally takes 50 minutes now takes close to three hours. I still won’t be going anywhere soon. Why risk breaking an axle or getting stuck? And the only vehicle I have with four-wheel drive is an ATV. Thankfully it looks like Zee won’t be needing any veterinary attention.

Blue, green, yellowy beige, white…the sea was a feast of colors.

By late afternoon the clouds have cleared except for a tiny line of white fluffy cumulus sitting along the eastern horizon. The threat of more rain, worse roads and more mopping has finally passed.

Clear skies overhead and a mountain of garbage underfoot: In amongst all that brown driftwood and detritus is a maddening amount of garbage.

This evening I try to take the dogs for a walk on the beach. They are unaccustomed to the rain and have mostly remained indoors for the past three days. In the end due to injuries and perhaps a hangover from the rain only Dakini and Peanut join me. The beach is transformed. It’s been scoured by the storm surge and great swaths removed by the rivers of runoff  leaving a steep shelf of sand scored by large crevasses. Furthermore, it is riddled with the flotsam and jetsam of nature and man – wood, leaves, coconuts, pieces of cactus, pieces of partially decomposed organic matter are mixed in with all manner of plastic – plastic bottles, bottle tops, plastic electrical conduit pipes, plumbing pipe, flip flops, running shoes, children’s toys, candy wrappers, potato chip bags, grocery bags – you name it. I shake my head when find a discarded oil filter.  And there is glass – glass jars, glass bottles, broken glass. These all represent a threat to man and animal alike and need to be collected. Birds and fish alike mistake colorful pieces of plastic for food and after consuming them often die from intestinal blockages.

We certainly have our work cut out for us.

Screwing the Planet with Plastic

Whether you take her out for dinner and a movie beforehand or not, there is no excuse for your continued screwing of the planet. This is to you, the people who continue to use disposable plastic bags like there is no tomorrow (kind of a self-fulfilling prophesy, isn’t it?). You know who you are…you keep meaning to get a reusable bag or two, but keep putting it off. Or you think, by golly, it’s got to break down eventually, so what’s the big deal? Well, you lazy SOB,  I’m not going to ask you again, just STOP IT!! In case the ALL CAPS didn’t tell you already, I’m pissed off, so angry my chest is tight and my fists would be clenched if I wasn’t typing this. I’ll tell you why.  I recently visited the Maui Central Landfill to drop off some building materials left behind by the previous owner of our new property here. It was a windy day, as it often is in central Maui and as we approached the landfill entrance we were greeted by a spectacle that sickened me and made me question where I was. Hundreds, no THOUSANDS of plastic bags and pieces of light-weight plastic were flying through the air, out of the landfill and into the fields and trees nearby. I expect this kind of thing in Mexico, but on MAUI? It was like a snowstorm, but much more sinister. A shitstorm really. Several bags drifted high in the air like kites, tumbling around and up and over and, I imagine, ultimately make their way into the ocean. If not with the wind, then the next heavy rainfall will certainly help them make it to the sea. It made me my stomach tighten and my throat constrict.

So you out there, ya you, the one still using plastic bags instead of reusable bags, just STOP. There is no good reason for your continued blatant fucking of the environment. (yeah, I’m that mad)By order of all that is right and good in the world, by order of the marine environment, the turtles, whales, dolphins, fish, seals, countless sea birds, and all other life in the ocean, we hereby do order all the world’s human beings to stop using disposable plastic bags. Stop making excuses and think about the consequences of your actions. If you don’t have several reusable bags already, then BUY SOME! Quit making excuses and think about what this single, stupid act is doing to the planet. Think about all the ocean animals choking to death on your plastic bags!!

Some statistics in case you’re still not convinced plastic bags are evil:

500 billion: Number of plastic bags consumed worldwide every year (1 million per minute)

92 billion: Number of plastic bags distributed yearly in the US

500: Years it takes a plastic bag to decay in a landfill (much longer in the ocean)

4.175 million: “Average” person’s plastic-bag legacy, in years

Still not convinced? Here are some more facts:

Unlike organic debris, which biodegrades, plastic that enters the ocean disintegrates into ever smaller pieces without changing its chemical structure. This process continues down to the molecular level. As the plastic flotsam degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. The plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms living near the ocean’s surface (fish fry, algae, zooplankton, barnacles floating on larger pieces of plastic). This is how plastic waste and the chemicals associated with it gets into the food chain (yours, mine and the ocean’s).

Some plastics decompose within a year of entering the water, leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, PCBs and derivatives of polystyrene into the water. These chemicals then bioaccumulate and biomagnify up the food chain.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of exceptionally high concentrations of floating plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by ocean currents. Plastics outweigh plankton biomass in this area 45:1 (note: only 10 years ago this ratio was 6:1). This floating mass of industrial and domestic waste is estimated to be somewhere between the size of Texas and the continent of North America.  Yes, it’s MASSIVE. Located in the open ocean, in an area so isolated researchers have only recently begun to study it, the Patch is having untold impacts on marine organisms. Below is a YouTube video that summarizes how the Patch formed and the research recently conducted by Scripps Institute.  

 

Doesn’t this disgust you? ENRAGE you? How have we allowed this to happen? If that doesn’t get you to act, then let’s try some direct evidence of the impacts of plastics on marine animals.In this photo, an endangered sea turtle is seen trying to eat a plastic bag that it mistook for a jelly fish or seaweed. 

Thousands of marine animals and birds, many in danger of extinction, die each year when they suffocate trying to ingest plastic bags. Thousands more die from intestinal blockages from eating plastic.
In this heartrending photograph taken by Terry McCormac off the California coast, a sea otter mother is frantically trying to get a plastic bag off the head of her suffocating pup. 

 

Look at this closely…Are you sick yet?
This video contains graphic images of the impact of plastics on the ocean environment produced by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.  

Okay, after all that we need some good news. 
Thankfully, plastic bags are going to be banned on Maui and Kauai starting January 11, 2011. (In my opinion, the delay in instituting the ban is unforgivable.) San Francisco, Denmark, Taiwan, Ireland, Hong Kong, the town of Modbury, England, and India have all either banned the use of plastic bags or imposed taxes on their use that have resulted in significant declines in use (up to 95% in Ireland). Bangladesh slapped an outright ban on all polythene bags in 2002 after they were found to have been the main culprit during the 1988 and 1998 floods that submerged two-thirds of the country. Discarded bags choked the country’s drainage systems. California is trying to pass a bill to ban the use of disposable plastic bags throughout the state. Mexico City is trying to institute a ban on plastic bags. The plastics industry has responded by initiating a audacious PR campaign to convince the public that “plastics are an important part of the Mexican economy.”
 
The National Tree of Mexico – Palo Bolsa Plastica  

There is also hope that even the laziest, most selfish and planet-hating among you will have no choice in the near future. In light of the United Nations Environment Programme’s latest report on marine litter, UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner is advocating for a global ban on single-use plastics. “Single use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.” Amen to that.

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Please check out these impressive video links
More on the impact of plastics on the ocean environment from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

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