GYRE Expedition, Day 2 – afternoon (Sunday, June 9)


A lost shipment of fly swatters has recently made an appearance on various beaches. We found one yesterday and today Kate has found three more fly swatters. She adds them to her pack.

After lunch we go ashore at a place named Red Buoy Beach. Guess why it’s called that.

There’s sparse trash here, not too bad. A short distance through the woods-plenty of deer tracks, no bear sign that I notice.  I come to a pond. Beavers have been very busy here. They’ve built the largest lodge I’ve ever seen, at least 10 feet high.  Amazing.  And they’re felling spruces. I didn’t think they would do that, or that they could eat conifer bark. The chips at the base of trees they’re working are the size of my thumb. These must be some large, tough beavers.

Sea Otter Photo: Carl Safina
Sea Otter
Photo: Carl Safina

I wander around with Mark Dion, looking for birds. We see some Red Crossbills and a Yellow-rumped Warbler and an Orange-crowned Warbler and a Savannah Sparrow. I narrowly miss a good look at a bird I really want to see, a Varied Thrush.

Every minute or so I call to bears. “Hey bears, tasty white meat here-.” The only bear I’m worried about is a surprised bear. We’re making enough noise that I am not afraid of surprising one. Mark and I joke about what a relief it is that the only thing that can bite us here are bears. We agree that we’ll take bears over ticks any day. I’m much more afraid of ticks; they’re more aggressive and more dangerous.

At the next beach the rocks are dazzling white-granite cobbles and small stones. I begin to notice that different beaches are collecting different trashes. Some, much more foam. Others, much more fishing gear. This one has more fishing gear, ropes, netting.

Again we categorize and describe. The artists collect. This is an important first step; define the problem. But I would also like to know that people are attacking the problem at its roots, trying to end the problem.

Yellow-rumped Warbler Photo: Carl Safina
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Photo: Carl Safina

Just studying the problem is like seeing Rome burning and responding by studying combustion. I feel we need to do more. We don’t even understand where these fishing nets are coming from, but it’s cheaper to dump a net than pay for its disposal. Maybe we need a new system, where fishermen get some kind of break or subsidy or deposit back for nets returned. Plastic makers need to be finding and using more plastic that is non-toxic and biodegradable. Consumers must be demanding that. Why must we have no alternative to yogurt that has a two-week shelf life and is packaged in an eternal material. We’ve all gotten too spoiled, too lazy.

Why care about this stuff? The question has so many answers. As I poke around among the netting, the fly swatters, the remains of a lost shipment of hummingbird feeders, what occurs to me it this: It is right to heal the world; it is wrong to worsen it.



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Meet the Author
Ecologist Carl Safina is author of seven books, including the best-selling “Beyond Words; What Animals Think and Feel,” and “Song for the Blue Ocean,” which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His writing has won a MacArthur “genius” prize; Pew and Guggenheim Fellowships; book awards from Lannan, Orion, and the National Academies; and the John Burroughs, James Beard, and George Rabb medals. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic, and elsewhere, and he hosted the 10-part “Saving the Ocean” on PBS. Safina is founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University.