Thursday, May 9, 2013

Rozalia Project Intern Blog: picking up marine debris by rowboat

This intern blog comes from Heather Harrison who is pursuing her Masters of Science in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability at Antioch University of New England after completing her undergraduate work at Eckerd College in Florida. Heather has spent some time alone on an the waters by rowboat!

When I began my freshman year at college my roommate lent me a keychain from Ripley's Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A heavy, metal keepsake, it contained the aquarium logo on one side, and the following profound quote stamped into the reverse:

“Those who have never seen themselves surrounded on all sides by the sea can never possess an idea of the world, and of their relation to it.” – Goethe

Having grown up and spent most of my life along the coast of Maine, I felt the impact of these words immediately but did not realize how closely this quote would continue to align with the path I would later follow. Upon completing college I found myself literally surrounded on all sides by the sea when I took a summer job as a steward on Damariscove Island Nature Preserve, five miles off the coast of Maine. Everyday, a ceaseless and tireless task included marine debris cleanup along the rocky shoreline. It is truly amazing how much trash can wash ashore with every cycle of the tide. A favorite method of obtaining garbage from the island's cove was by dinghy, which offered three different strategies for cleanup: "drive-by" catching in the water by hand; use of the oars to extend my reach; and parking the dinghy as I searched for footing amidst the slippery, seaweed-covered rocks. The sense of urgency for cleaning up this trash was never-ending. If I didn't pick it up when I saw it, it was sure to be washed out with the next tide and become an unsuspecting hazard for creatures of land and sea. This was always my primary reason for picking up trash. Not because I didn't like the look of it (which I don't), but because I was concerned about what animal might be harmed by ingesting the garbage or getting caught in it. 
I was exposed to this firsthand when I interned at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Florida and with the Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges. The amount of birds I witnessed harmed by fishing line and hooks was staggering. Unfortunately, many of these birds would be found too late, tangled up and suspended in mangrove trees on otherwise pristine islands. It left me with a heavy heart when I witnessed these tragedies, while on the other hand it was immensely rewarding to save those that could be untangled and watch them fly away with renewed freedom. It is because of these experiences that I consider marine debris cleanup to be extremely important and imperative to maintain on a daily basis.

While volunteering much of my time with the Ocean Conservancy to clean up shoreline trash, and with OceansWide (of Maine) to use remotely operated vehicles to educate children about the importance of protecting our oceans, I continually find myself on the path of marine conservation. When not working with an organization, I can be located wading through the shallow waters of nearby beaches, gathering bag-fulls of trash on my own. Those who witness this often thank me for my actions but never partake in the cleanup themselves. This makes me wonder what more can be done to inspire people to care for the environment. Even if everyone just picked up two handfuls of trash whenever they walk along a beach, it could have an incredible impact. In an effort to urge beach-goers to do just this, I once made a sign for a school project and placed it along the shoreline of a public park. It stayed up for a few months but eventually disappeared. Perhaps swept out to sea by harsh weather, rolling tides, thoughtless folks, the eventual way of all manmade objects along the shore. If people could be influenced to care, to see themselves surrounded on all sides by an ocean of trash, to see the birds and marine mammals losing their lives by our carelessness, we could achieve momentous environmental strides. I still have that keychain with the Goethe quote and keep those words close to my consciousness. To share this vision, to see our relation with the sea, will be my effort with Rozalia.        

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