So a local group were organising a beach clean up the other day. In one form or another, this is a reasonably common thing to do, organising a group of people to spend a day cleaning up a certain area. We are not a part of the group, but we know some of the kids involved, so we found ourselves going along with it.
Because this group is based around marine biology, it was a 6km walk along one of the local beaches. Here it is. They walked from one headland to the next. We paid a fee to be a part of it, and it was done as a fundraiser going towards buying a sea bin.
Sea bins are a pretty neat and simple idea. It is basically an open barrel with a mesh lining and a pump. It floats around inside a fairly enclosed body of water, like a marina, and as water is sucked through the mesh, it filters out the plastic. Outside of emptying out the catch, there is not a great deal of maintenance.
The clean up was organised in large part by the kids themselves as part of a local response to a global problem. We had a quick look at ocean gyres and how plastic patches in them form. I think the oceanic plastic patches are an interesting example of cultural attitudes as much as anything alse. In an echo of much of what I hear today about climate change, when I very first heard about ocean gyres back in the seventies, the idea that they could become great swirling masses of plastic was dismissed as being an example of scientific overreach driven by scaremongering about something that was only theoretically possible at best.
Anyway, at the start of the walk, everyone was given a bag to fill, and over a period of a few hours, a group of about fifty people made their way along the beach picking stuff up. I left the boys while they walked, ran a few errands, and waited for them at the other end. The walk finished at a local market where they dropped all their stuff off at one of the stalls. I was pretty impressed at some of the things they brought in, including the ubiquitous shopping trolley. I watched a small knot of kids carry it for about half a kilometre to get it off the beach.
After lunch and a rest, we finished the day off with a wildlife release. The organisers had found themselves looking after a Southern Giant Petrel. These are large birds that live all across the worlds southern oceans. This one had been captured after it washed up exhausted somewhere nearby. It had spent a week in recovery, resting and putting some weight back on. It had a gull shaped head, but was the size of a goose and coloured a dark mottled brown all over. The colouring showed it was still immature. They take eight years to grow to adulthood.
We took the bird up to the top of the headland overlooking the harbour. That is the best place to release them apparently, as the updraft gives them good lift and also lets you check that they can fly properly. Outside of the guy who opened the crate it was in, nobody got close to it. We all stood well back and watched from a distance so as not to scare it.
The release itself was not so dramatic as I expected. The petrel spent about ten minutes wandering clumsily around on the headland opening its wings but making no attempt to fly. I thought that it might not be strong enough to be released, and they would have to recatch it, but eventually it jumped off the headland and quickly flew away.
By then it was late afternoon. It had been a pretty relaxed and interesting way to spend the day. The boys were surprised at how quickly it had all gone by.