On the weekend I walked with my family on the beach near the Quarantine Station at Pt Nepean. It’s an exquisitely beautiful place, with surprisingly few visitors, despite the sunny weather. We had the beach to ourselves.
All our contact with the crew of the Polperro has made us very aware of litter and beaches. My 10 year old put hours into creating a digital presentation to persuade her whole school not to drop litter – because litter dropped in the city gets washed into storm water drains when it rains. In Melbourne those drains come out in creeks and rivers that lead to the bay, where rubbish wreaks all kinds of trauma and havoc on our wildlife. Dolphins and seals get tangled in string, fishing lines and plastic bags. Food waste and dog poo introduce nitrogen to the water and deplete oxygen, killing marine life and plants and polluting the bay.
So as we walked we collected the rubbish we saw. This is what we collected over a 50m stretch of beach – and bear in mind this was not long after heavy rains that would have washed most of the rubbish off the beach and into the bay.
There was a lot of polystyrene, wrappers and bottle lids. Many, many soft drink and water bottles (surely the biggest marketing con of all time, selling bottled water in Melbourne where the water quality is so good), bits of string, and random unidentifiable scraps of plastic. There was even a toothbrush (the mind boggles).
In the process we found a rope that seemed to be partially buried, and we set about trying to excavate it, to get it off the beach and make sure it didn’t wash into the bay and cause trouble for our curious marine mammals. It was in an area of the beach where boats are explicitly prohibited, so there didn’t seem to be any legitimate reason for its presence. We dug and dug for over half an hour, periodically pulling on the rope to see if we could shift it. Every time the rope gave a little we got excited, thinking we almost had it out, but there was always more buried.
Miss 10 worked hard, accumulating blisters, scratches and grazes as she dug and scraped and pulled on the rope. She is passionate about dolphins, seals and the bay, and she was determined to get that rope out. In the end we had to admit defeat, taking consolation from the fact that the rope was so deeply buried it was unlikely to wash into the bay. I was proud of Miss 10 for her persistence, but even more proud that she was able to admit that we just couldn’t shift it and walk away, despite caring so passionately and trying so hard. Learning to let go is not a core skill of mine or Miss 10’s, so this was a big achievement for her.
We took photos of the rope, and the rubbish, to add to her presentation, and reminded each other that at least there was a bag full of rubbish that wasn’t going to wind up in the bay. Still it was disheartening not to be able to remove that rope, and it left visible scars on her heart.
With the rubbish on the beach still uppermost in my mind, I caught sight yesterday of a full page ad in the paper trying to persuade us all that a container deposit is a “great big tax” and monstrously unfair. The container deposit is an attempt to encourage recycling using the carrot of a 10c reward for every container returned. This 10 cent deposit is apparently a terrible threat to the likes of Coca-Cola, who are throwing the might of their PR and advertising budgets at it with an astonishing ferocity. It beggars belief. They are apparently afraid that people might buy less bottled water if it cost 10c more, and hence chip away at their profits.
It’s a tale that plays on endless repeat throughout our environment and our economy. Nothing must be allowed to stand in front of the great God Profit. Not dolphins or seals. Not the environment. Not climate change. Rubbish on beaches is good for Coca Cola’s bottom line, apparently. I can’t tell Miss 10 about this. She would demand to know why we put up with companies like this, and I just haven’t got an answer.
Lately I’ve found
when I start to think aloud
there’s a longing in the sound
there is more I could be.
Birds of Tokyo, Lanterns
That rope we failed to dig up is a good metaphor – for every bit of environmental destruction we tackle successfully, there are untold amounts still buried. We just can’t get to it all. We lack the strength, the persistence, the political will. We can’t dig the rubbish out of our economy. But maybe we can eventually learn from people like my 10 year old. She is determined to save the world where older and allegedly wiser heads have accepted the way things are. She inspires me to take action. She inspires her schoolmates. Maybe our children are the road to change.
Maybe they can show us that there really is more we could be.