This is Hanna Morris, a Maine-native who has traveled to see many of the world’s oceans and now manages the Hostelling International (HI) Point Reyes Hostel near Limantour. During the past eleven years there, she has walked, done yoga, surfed and swam at Point Reyes National Seashore. Her daughter Ocean (in the background) often joins her in family beach cleanups whenever they head down to the shore. (The family has amassed quite a buoy collection from those washed-up on shore, which make for great fence decoration according to her!) Cleaning the beach has always been a no-brainer for Hanna, often bringing a bag to stow found trash with her when she goes down to Limantour or any other beach. When she heard about our Beach Clean Up Stations (BCUS) she jumped at the chance for the hostel to host one. HI Point Reyes Hostel has hosted its BCUS for five years now, where it also holds periodic cleanups open to guests. She hopes to host larger cleanups in the future that will involve the public more. “Many hands make light work,” after all!
It’s a classic image: a rolled-up piece of paper, perhaps a letter, placed inside a glass bottle with a cork in the mouth set to sea. Eventually, someone finds it and becomes the letter’s recipient.
Originally, these “drift bottles”, as they’re sometimes called, weren’t meant to be one-way correspondences, they served a scientific purpose. They were used as tools to study ocean currents. The earliest reference to drift bottles was in 310 B.C.E. when the Greek philosopher Theophrastus, a pupil of Aristotle, used drift bottles to test his hypothesis that the Atlantic Ocean current fed into the Mediterranean Sea.
In the 1800s, plenty of countries sent out their own drift bottles to study ocean current paths. Each bottle contained the ship’s name, the drop location coordinates, and the date it was released. Instructions were included so the finder could contact the proper authorities to report the data. Thousands of these bottles were released from vessels of American, German, Scottish and other nationalities in the name of science.
Nowadays, we use more high-tech equipment than a piece of paper and a glass bottle. NOAA frequently deploys buoys with radio or satellite equipment to signal its location to ships or land bases. There are also devices like the Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler that can be attached to the bottom of ships or sent to the seafloor to calculate the speed and direction of ocean currents. Radio waves can be used to measure surface ocean currents from land as well.
Despite our advancements in oceanography research, people are still chucking objects into the Ocean in the name of ocean current studies when we really don’t need to intentionally throw something overboard to find out where it will wash-up and how long it will take.
We already have an accidental ocean current experiment that has had greater attention and feedback than those drift bottle experiments over a century ago. In 1992, a container on a cargo ship sailing from Hong Kong went overboard with 28,000 bath toys inside. Called the “Friendly Floatees”, rubber ducks have been washing ashore from the Pacific and Atlantic for the past 26 years from this same shipment. In case you’ve wondered how long it takes for an object to complete a circuit around the Northern Pacific Gyre, it’s 3 years. There are entire websites where people post pictures of the rubber ducks they’ve found, and where they’ve been found. The incident has been good (in a making the best of a bad situation kind of way) for providing information about ocean currents and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in which there are still around 2,000 of the little Floatees.
Look, I understand the urge. It’s the romance of it all. Either in literature or in the news, we receive all these wonderful stories about messages in a bottle. I enjoy them, too.
During WWI, Pvt Thomas Hughes wrote a message in a bottle to wife and threw it into the English Channel two days before his death. It finally appeared in the River Thames 86 years later, too late for his wife but not too late to send to his daughter who was one year old at the time of his death.
In one miraculous incident during this century, a group of Costa Rican migrants were saved by a message in a bottle. Left stranded on a boat that was smuggling them out of the country, the passengers—mostly teenagers—were left without means of radio communication and sent out a message for help the old-fashioned way, a drift bottle which was quickly discovered by a fisherman who contacted the workers of a nearby World Heritage site to rescue them.
The latter story is truly exceptional, just by the sheer statistic of it working. From a Canadian project, it’s averaged that one out of 25 drift bottles sent out are found—and that’s not mentioning how long they usually spend at sea. This Canadian project is called the Drift Bottle Project, founded in 2000. The project encourages citizens to send out their own “drop bottles” to contribute to the project. The project is still active 18 years later.
Objectively, I see the appeal to this, too. It’s like a country-wide science project that anyone who’s in reach of the Ocean can participate in. Plus, the thrill that must be had if someone responds to the found drift bottles from the other side of the Ocean or the world!
But I ask, all of you, would you throw a bottle overboard without a message inside? Probably not, you think, then it’s just littering. Then, why does a piece of paper make a difference? Remember, only one in 25 are found. The rest stay in the Ocean or wind up buried in sand on a beach somewhere. Plastic or glass, it will break open, leaking water inside. Paper breaks down in 2.5 months, even faster when it’s wet. But the bottle won’t decompose so quickly. It will break and become part of the soupy mess in the garbage patch of whatever ocean or sea you threw it into.
Look, I’m disappointed, too. I swear I don’t usually look for the negative in everything, but this is important. I’m not saying all the magic is gone. It isn’t!
All I’m asking is that we don’t throw anymore bottles overboard. The best part about drift bottles isn’t sending them out, it’s finding them. The romance is alive, the magical feeling of discovery is still there. Drift bottles from the 1800s are still being found today! In January, an Australian woman was picking up trash on a local beach when she discovered a bottle with a message from 1886. It’s the oldest drift bottle message found to date.
So, I suggest that the next time you head to a beach, do a little cleanup. You may find a message that was once lost to time and the waves.
Want to know more about the Friendly Floatees? Check here.
The Drift Bottle Project site. (Notice they don't mention anything about Garbage Patches in the world's oceans.)
The world below the brine,
Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves,
Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds, the thick tangle, openings, and pink turf,
Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold, the play of light through the water,
Dumb swimmers there among the rocks, coral, gluten, grass, rushes, and the aliment of the swimmers,
Sluggish existences grazing there suspended, or slowly crawling close to the bottom,
The sperm-whale at the surface blowing air and spray, or disporting with his flukes,
The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy sea-leopard, and the sting-ray,
Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes, sight in those ocean-depths, breathing that thick-breathing air, as so many do,
The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air breathed by beings like us who walk this sphere,
The change onward from ours to that of beings who walk other spheres. (Whitman)
2017’s Earth Day theme was Environmental and Climate Literacy. This meant educating the masses about the dangers currently presented to the environment and how they can take action to defend it for both the present and future. It was to bring Environmental Literacy of our next generation that we began our Ocean Warriors program.
A year ago, we set out to educate several third-grade classes in the Bay Area about environmental advocacy and how even the smallest action in the everyday can go a long way. If you’re a follower of our Facebook page, then you’ve seen the extent to which our program has succeeded.
This year’s Earth Day theme is End Plastic Pollution. This includes reducing our use of single-use plastics and cleaning them off our beaches. Say no to plastic straws. Use a reusable bag for grocery shopping. Visit one of our Beach Clean Up Stations. Attend one of our cleanups! If we work together, treating every day like Earth Day with simple actions like these, we will be ready for the 50th Earth Day anniversary in 2020.
On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song,
As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef
of the universes and of the future.
A vast similitude interlocks all,
All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets,
All distances of place however wide,
All distances of time, all inanimate forms,
All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different, or in
All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the
All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages,
All identities that have existed or may exist on this globe, or any
All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann'd,
And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them. (Whitman)
Whitman, W. Walt Leaves of Grass. The First (1855) Edition, New York: Penguin Books, 2005.
In 2015, an estimated 8.6 million people visited the state of Hawaii. In comparison, 1.4 million people call Hawaii “home.”
I won’t argue that it’s a wonderful place to visit; the clearness of the water, the white sand beaches, the beautiful flora, the awe-inspiring volcanoes…
You get my point.
But I feel like many people relax a bit too much. They forget to be conscientious of their environment. We’re on vacation, they think. The staff will pick it up for me.
Besides treating the indigenous population like their own personal servants (which is a whole other discussion, in and of itself), they’re endangering the environment. Who’s to say the wind or water won’t grab your plastic cup first?
It may be your paradise vacation, but it’s their home.
And it used to be my dad’s home.
I have visited Hawaii before, but I’ve never lived there. Yet I have a second-hand respect for it and its residents thanks to my dad. Of his many stories, there are plenty about his childhood on Maui.
Oh, how I squirmed in delightful repulsion of his description of the insects that crawled his bedroom floor freely at night. When he needed to get up to use the bathroom, he would turn a flashlight beam to the floor and like convicts evading the spotlight of a police helicopter the vermin would flee, the sounds of tiny legs scuttling away audible.
Some house vermin were less repulsive. Green geckos were common visitors but also quite courteous. If a family member walked anywhere, the geckos were gracious enough to get out of their way. They saw themselves in and would see themselves out. Unless, of course, they found their way to the freezer. As any grade schooler could tell you, geckos are reptiles, which means they are cold-blooded. Meaning as soon as they squirmed their way through the crack in the broken seal of the freezer and took a few steps in, they were as good as frozen. And so, if my dad or any of his five siblings opened the freezer for a popsicle, they would inevitably find a frozen gecko. Then, they would grab their popsicle and pluck the little guy from the freezer shelf and diligently carry him out the door to the front porch. My dad related how he enjoyed watching them thaw out into consciousness in the sun’s rays before racing away, especially when only their front half was thawed and would try to hurry along with its hind legs and tail still frozen stiff.
If you’ve read my story Our Blue Marble, you may remember a recollection the protagonist has about her mother picking up fresh seaweed at low tide. I will admit that was blatantly lifted from my dad’s stories. Whenever my dad would head to the beach early, with friends or his siblings, he said it was a common sight to see these Japanese housewives bending over to pick up the sea-water-slicked vegetation into their colanders. The seaweed ranged from deep green to brown and all together had a powerful briny stench. By the end of that day, the same seaweed would be on someone’s dinner table.
As a kama’aina kid there was no more humbling experience given by the ocean than going out to surf. Plenty of kids had surfmats—a 4’ long rubber inflatable that was popular in the ‘60s with kids learning to surf. If you practiced enough, you could catch a nice wave. North shore on Maui was the best place for big waves, according to my dad. But it was terrible to get caught in the “washing machine” there. This was the part of the breaker wave where the crest overturns onto the body of the wave, creating a spiraling motion inside. If you got caught in one, it was like--
Well, like being inside a washing machine. Hence, the name.
Inevitably, my dad would paddle out, enter the wrong part of the wave, and end up in the “washing machine.” After the dizzying affair and the momentary terror of wondering which way was up, he would surface to cough and spit and gasp for air. Then, he’d paddle back to shore thinking, There’s no way I’m doing that again.
And after about ten minutes of sulking onshore, he’d head back out to try again.
Whether it’s the all-encompassing ocean or creatures that scuttle underfoot, it’s hard to escape the fact that no matter much development occurs on Hawaii you’re still surrounded by nature. Scorpions may try to sting you, coconuts or papayas may try to conk you on the head, or the Ocean itself will beat you in a rough-and-tumble, but, hey, it’s home.
Luckily, my dad left before the Pacific Garbage Patch started flinging large chunks of industrial fishing refuse at the islands. With the way the islands are separated, they act as a sieve, collecting the debris that doesn’t pass between the islands. Becoming a major problem in the 1980s, literal tons of waste have to be collected and burned from beaches. As recently as March, a beach in Ka’u on the Big Island had be cleaned of over 11 tons of waste. In a few months, this will have to be repeated as the ocean currents bring a new round of waste to the shores.
And so, all I ask is that when you vacation at Hawaii, don’t be lazy, don’t be arrogant. Pick up your trash, the islands aren’t that large and trash accumulates so easily. I don’t want my dad to return to the beaches of his childhood and only notice the garbage, instead of the sand, instead of the water, instead of his home.
Helpful Tips If You’re Headed to Hawaii
Abomination In My Generation
All these thoughts got my mind at shake,
Why do we focus on what’s fake?
Kardashian-run materialistic society,
Going by a false propriety.
The other day someone asked me my biggest fear,
I said the future.
Nobody listens, they only hear.
See what they want, focus on desire..
Ignoring the fact that our Earth is on fire.
Shouting our names, screaming for help.
“Our waters are poisoned w plastic, don’t eat the kelp!”
How long is it going to take to realize?-
Must we reach the point of our own demise?
When we’re all buried in our trash,
Or our homes burn down in a flash-
Losing everything you ever thought was yours,
Is that when you understand home is at the shore.
Home is in the mountains,
On the grass~
Earth’s natural fountains.
Home is in the heart,
Home is what you had at the very start--
The day you came outta your mama,
No sense or comprehension of drama~
All you knew was light, and all you felt was love.
Cares as free as a soaring dove~~
Since when did life become a race?
Rather, a chase— to get to the top,
Clearing all out of your way like a mop.
Why do we think we’re better than one another?
We’re all birds who flutter
Back-n-forth-same way, in the same sky~
We all like to get high.
Everyone loves, everyone lies.
Don’t have to trust everyone, but allow them your compassion at the least,
We’re all eating from the same feast.
The feast of time, the way the universe aligns,
Fate they say, is the greatest star that shines.
Sami Koss, poet and 3rd-year psychology major. She currently attends Dominican University.
If you live anywhere near the Bay Area, chances are that you’ve visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you live anywhere in California, it’s probably on your list of places to visit or a highlight of a past tour of Northern California. Speaking with a former college roommate of mine, a native of Monterey, she claimed, “Besides the Aquarium and the otters, there’s nothing exciting there. I can’t tell you how much I hate Steinbeck.”
I have a personal bias, myself. It’s one of my favorite places to visit with my father when he returns from his nomadic wanderings. We have a routine path and script. We’ll start at the Kelp Forest tank where my father will point out, “I’ve swam with him,” at various sea creatures swimming behind the glass. Being a well-seasoned diver, I have no doubt he has. We’ll wind our way through the aquarium with my dad cooing over the bat rays in the touch pools or making fish-faces at me, cheeks sucked in, eyes bugged out, hands out flat by the sides of his face moving to imitate gills. The aquarium is a nostalgic place, I’m biased.
But I was able to bring a fresh set off eyes with me recently as I toured my English friend around Northern California. JC (not his real name) and I had just driven from Yosemite the day before where it had been snowing and the partly cloudy, windy forecast typical for Monterey was “down right balmy”, according to him.
As we step up to purchase our tickets, he asks, “Is this going to ruin every aquarium I visit from now on?”
“Most likely,” I answer truthfully.
We start with the kelp forest. He takes a picture of the tall, concave glass and we move on. JC is not one for dawdling. He does not read every informative plaque to learn every miniscule detail. There were also a gaggle of shrieking toddlers nearby, so I could understand his trepidation on lingering there.
We go upstairs to the touch pools. A volunteer with a Jamaican accent labels every living creature in the shallow water. JC and he continue talking while I stroke a Decorator Crab, a mix of seaweed, bits of sea sponge, and other organic matter adorning its shell. The volunteer is so enthusiastic, its amusing. He insinuates that JC and I are a couple, we both laugh in order to avoid any awkwardness and politely (but hastily) retreat.
Next is the penguins. JC coos over them as a trainer inside trades out the toys in their exhibit. One of the interactive displays about penguin communication is broken but JC just shrugs over it. You can definitely smell the penguins here.
Or perhaps it’s the children’s area next to the penguin exhibit. We pass through as I think back to when I was a small kid running through here. I see a crawl tunnel where there’s a display of clown fish inside. I miss ducking in there as a kid, which I mention to JC.
“You can probably still fit,” he quips. I’m only 5’3. He could be right. But I don’t attempt it.
“Do you want to see the otters?” I deflect.
His face lights up, “Do I!”
I shepherd him downstairs and across the lobby to the other large exhibit display: two whole stories of otter watching. They have a devoted fan club. We head to the second landing for a better look. I can’t see much through the crowd but JC is rewarded with a view due to his 6’0 stature. We back off as the crowd moves closer to the glass. It’s ten minutes until feeding time. I ask if he wants to stay.
“No, it will only get worse from here, I’ll bet.”
He’s right. We head towards the Jellyfish exhibit but become distracted by a display for the aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Videos cycle through several screens on the wall about ongoing conservation and marine biology projects run by the aquarium. Slots in the wall are filled with their folded consumer guides, separate slots are labeled by different U.S. regions. I see “Midwest”, “Northeast”, “Southeast”, and so on, there’s even a guide devoted solely for Hawaii. JC and I scan the rows for one labeled “English” or perhaps “Northern European”.
There isn’t one. We ask an Aquarium volunteer standing by the display.
“Oh, sorry,” she says. “We only have American guides right now.” I see JC’s shoulders sag in disappointment out of the corner of my eye. “But we’re working with our European partners to make an International Atlantic one.” Later, I find that an English group, the Marine Conservation Society, that is partnered with the Aquarium has their own “Good Fish Guide.”
I take a West Coast guide for myself. JC grumbles by my side.
He quickly forgets his disappointment once we enter the Jellyfish exhibit. I’ve always enjoyed the darkness in the exhibit that allows the jellyfish to take the spotlight. The reflected blue light from their tanks lends a meditative feel to the room. Their calm, repetitive pulsing movements paired with the soft Douglas Morton music arrangement played on a continuous loop makes me want to pull up an armchair to watch them all. However, JC, despite his apparent awe of the jellies and his photo-taking, doesn’t slow his pace on their account. Knowing I had only few moments, I go ahead further into the exhibit—JC is left by the Sea Nettles—to see their newest addition: the spotted comb jelly.
Mostly translucent, the jelly is almost rugby ball-shaped with several vertical rows of cilia, called “combs” for which they are named, and sporting a set of connected tentacles that resembles a bridal veil or a soggy tissue. The cilia would be unperceptively moving were it not for the rainbow shimmer effect as the cilia reflect the light. I try to capture a photo, which is only mildly successful. The still doesn’t capture the rainbow effect but it appears when I play the “Live capture” shot that presents it as a 4 second GIF.
JC catches up and we proceed to the Open Sea exhibit, where we take seats in the upper gallery and enjoy the view of these large sea creatures like tuna and pelagic swim about on display. The interactive screen downstairs wasn’t as interactive as we hoped since the touch screen seemed to be broken with the page open on the Sunfish stats.
“I wish they still had a great white,” I muse.
“It’d probably eat everything else in the tank,” JC notes.
“With any luck, it’d eat that thing,” I say, pointing at the sunfish that’s skirting the curved wall of the enormous tank.
“Why do you sound like that fish personally murdered your family?”
I enlighten him. The sunfish, or Mola Mola, is a fish found around the world’s oceans (mouth gaping, movable eyes bulging) that can grow up to 10 feet in diameter. The Monterey Bay Aquarium only allows their resident Mola Molas to grow up to 6.5 feet in diameter before tagging them and releasing them back to the Ocean. A fish that big ought to be on a lot of animals’ menus, right? No. Because the adult Mola Mola consumes jellyfish which are nutrient-poor, making the fish a slow swimmer and about a fulfilling of a meal as a rye cracker. Creatures take a bite of this fish and then leave it alone because it is so dense and unappealing that they find it not worth eating. This is, essentially, how it has survived: by being so useless nothing wants to eat it. It has circumvented evolution because of this.
“I cannot respect a fish like that,” I conclude to JC. “It’s just—look! Look at it! It’s trying to swim into the wall! Useless sea cracker!”
We move onto better animals with the “Tentacles!” exhibit. The nocturnal cephalopods are sleeping but the exhibit is interactive—with actual functioning pieces—and colorful so it’s not a huge loss. In a blur, I follow JC as we go through “¡Viva Baja!”, “Vanishing Wildlife”, “Mission to the Deep”, the aviary, before we finally seem to slow down at the Bat Ray touch pool.
Backpack tossed to the ground, jacket off, JC reaches into the water, “I’ve never touched a ray.” The excitement and anticipation shines on his face and rings through his words. This, besides the jellies, seems to be the highlight of his visit.
One swims by the edge, allowing JC to stroke its dorsal fin, and he shrieks with a quick recoil of his hand. The ray swims away from the wall in quick retreat.
“It’s slimy!” This doesn’t deter him, however; he just moves to another side of the touch pool. His fingers touch the surface of the water and two rays make their way over in a few moments, one even breaching the water with its nose. This one presses against the wall, slapping its fins against it in a similar way that a dog may wag its tail. JC strokes both their backs. A gaggle of children head over to pet these sociable rays themselves.
While I had never sped through the aquarium at such a pace—we finished it all in two hours—it still had its enchanting moments. Some displays or levers weren’t working but I suppose that’s what happens when you cater to children of all ages. But the staff, both employees and volunteers, were knowledgeable and informative. I’m sure the presentations or feedings would also have been entertaining but we didn’t have time to stop for either of those things. I didn’t get to eat at the café or restaurant, so I can’t review the food. If I had to give it a grade, I’d say this aquarium visit was a B+. This is mostly on us. We were pressed for time, we had to beat the 680 Northbound traffic returning to the East Bay(which we didn’t, in the end).
But the conclusion of our visit at the Bat Ray touch pool was worthwhile. As I guarded JC’s things, a ray approached. I reached into the water as it swam along the wall of the touch pool, the tips of my fingers brushing a dorsal fin. I recoiled at the touch.
Its skin had been smooth, graceful as it undulated under my touch.
But, man, was it slimy.