It was the end of Angelina’s Spring Bonfire Party, one of the office’s top parties of the year. Despite the wind, the cold, the ocean spray, and the overall antics of Sheila’s coworkers, it was a great party. The sun had set an hour before and the fire was dowsed. Everyone was either summoning Ubers or being herded to cars by their designated drivers. Except Sheila.
She walked down the beach, flipping the hood of her jacket up, with the sound of Angelina orchestrating the party cleanup behind her. Angelina was pretty, smart, popular. Sheila almost wanted to hate her but wouldn’t allow herself to; Angelina was the one to invite her to the party, after all. The games and food were fantastic, plus the bonfire had colored everyone in such a warm, comforting light. Sheila thought she should be grateful for being invited but it was hard to ignore how awkward it had first felt to see the look of surprise in her coworkers’ eyes when they spotted her. Six months into the job and she still felt like the newbie.
Angelina’s voice grew fainter until the sound of the tide rolling in drowned her out completely. Sheila crossed her arms, hugging herself as the wind seemed to grow colder. She looked over her shoulder and realized how long she had walked since she could no longer see Angelina or the fire pit. As she pulled out her phone to call for an Uber, she heard a bark.
Then another. And then a slew of barks down by the water. They weren’t the barks of a dog, too whooping. She jogged down to the water’s edge whereupon she saw a dark mass writhing on the water-packed sand. She stopped as she tried to process what this thing was, squinting through the dark to see it clearer. It barked again. It was--
A seal. A seal wrapped in netting tangled with seaweed and stretches of rope that constricted the whole ensemble together. Another wave came in, Sheila backed away instinctively. The barking stopped as the water partially submerged the tangled mess. The water withdrew and a sound of snorting and coughing started before the whooping bark resumed.
Sheila never considered herself heroic. But heroics were for things that saved people. This was just blind sympathy for an animal in danger in response to that coughing that made something clench in her chest. She rushed over, even as a tiny part of her mind screamed how stupid she was being, clutched the netting and tugged. She pulled with all her weight, frequently losing her footing in the sand, huffing and struggling with the weight of the seal.
She released the netting with her next collapse into the sand. Sheila just breathed for a moment then sat up to review her progress. It was a few feet, barely progress but enough to escape the waves for a few minutes. Animal control could get the seal out but how long would they take to get there? Would they beat the tide?
She patted her pockets until she found her house keys. She pulled them out and flipped open her tiny Swiss army knife keychain. It was a pathetic excuse for a knife but away she went into cutting the net, kneeling next to the animal. She freed the end near its neck and head. With its gray head free, it looked at her with its large black eyes and stopped its barking. They held each other’s gaze, both panting with fear and adrenaline. Sheila blinked hard and went back to cutting.
The rope was the real problem. It was a thick polymer blend rope and her knife did next to nothing. It helped that the seal had settled down, though.
Until it didn’t. The creature stirred, moving the mess of rope and net as well.
“Can you hold still, you stupid seal?” she grumbled. She turned to see the seal whipping its head back and forth as though it was dislodging something. She focused back on cutting the net. The seal stilled. She huffed in relief, “Thank y—”
A man was looking at her from within the net.
She jumped back and screamed, “Who are you?”
“I’m the seal!” He yelled back in an Irish brogue. “Now, help with my arms so I can get out of this thing.”
The sensible part of Sheila said she should get up and run away. Unfortunately, Sensible Sheila had clocked-out for the evening. She obeyed him and cut the sides near his arms.
Between her (careful) cutting and his wriggling, the man was out of the mess. He took several deep breaths once he was free, and she realized how constricting the whole mess had been around him.
“What…” she gulped, her throat was dry. “What are you?”
The man, dressed in a wetsuit, reached into the net and withdrew a large, grey thing that looked like a rug or a floor mat or--
“Is that a fur coat?”
“It’s a skin. My seal skin,” the man said, folding the skin up neatly. She finally had a moment to really look at him: a narrow, pale face; crewcut brown hair; long, thin arms and legs. He looked up at her with dark near-black eyes, then gave a half-smile.
“Good thing I wasn’t heavier, or you couldn’t have budged me.”
Sheila looked apprehensively at him.
He coughed awkwardly, “So, uh, do you have a phone I can borrow?”
Twenty minutes later, Sheila found herself in an Irish Cultural Center. It had seemed to happen so fast. The seal-man called someone, a car pulled up on the road, she demanded answers, then she was invited into the car, and this is where they arrived.
“To my rescuer!”
A cheer resounded around the crowded space, which seemed to function as a restaurant as well. A plate of corned beef was placed before her. Others in the crowd wore seal skins of their own over their shoulders or around their waists like accessories.
“So, the skins…?” she left as an open question.
“We can turn into seals with them,” Seal-man piped in happily. “Oh, sorry, didn’t introduce myself. Name’s Douglas.”
Before she could respond, two men sat down at their table.
“What’d you get caught in?” the redheaded one asked. The bearded man next him leaned forward, arms crossed on the table before him.
“It was this great wad of netting. And rope! It’s in Ian’s truck if you want to see.”
“It’s fine. Saw one last month.”
“They’re that frequent?” Douglas responded, astonished. He took a drink from the pint in front of him, muttering something darkly under his breath.
“Does—” Sheila started now that she had found her voice, the two men looked at her inquisitively. “Does this happen often?”
“Not just to our folk. Sometimes, ‘cause we have a human brain, we can try to avoid it.”
Beardy spoke up, “But the animals, they can’t escape. Regular seals, birds, turtles; poor things get stuck in nets like that. And they don’t make it to shore like you, Douglas.”
It was silent around the table, though the activity of the room bustled around them, the subject had quickly sobered them.
“If it’s so dangerous,” Sheila ventured, “why do you go out to swim?”
The red-head responded, “’Cause we’re selkies. We’re called to the sea. Sure, we can poke around on land, own houses and what not, get jobs—have to in this economy, y’know—” he gave a half-grin at that, “but the water is our home.”
Beardy spoke behind his interlocked fingers, “Born in the sea, die in the sea, I suppose.”
“Not like that, though. Not that way,” Douglas muttered.
Sheila almost felt bad for taking a bite of the corned beef with the atmosphere at the table so tense. Then, again she felt worse when she moaned in delight at how delicious it was.
All three men broke out into laughter, it felt like a breath of relief.
“Now, if that’s not a guarantee of taste. Saoirse! Your food’s a hit!” Red-head yelled toward the kitchen. Three more orders were made for the table. As they dug in, their conversation returned to the topic but without the somber attitude.
“What we need to do is make fishermen more accountable,” Beardy—Declan, Sheila now knew—said around a mouthful of cabbage.
“Close your mouth when you eat, you animal. No, no, you’re making it sound like all of them lose their nets on purpose. Now, some do, I won’t argue there. But that’s only part of it. It’s weak equipment. What they need is better equipment—and gear marking, yes, I hear you, Declan,” Douglas argued back. “It’s the stuff that breaks away, that’s the whale portion of it.”
“Boys, what we really need is a better way for them to dispose of it. That’s the source. They keep using near-broken equipment because it costs so much to get rid of it,” Corey—the red-head—interrupted. “There’s a company that takes nets and makes it into yarn—”
“Yarn?” Douglas laughed, “Grandmas running short on knitting materials?”
“I’m serious. It’s used for carpets and tiles. Open your mind. You have to be creative with this stuff. In fact, some people use the old equipment for art.”
Declan snorted, then did an exaggerated shushing with a finger in front of his lips. “Not too loud! The artists of the city will hear you and flock to the waters.”
Douglas snickered, “Or out-right attack fishing boats for art supplies.”
“Bah, that’s the last time I tell you two anything. I’m just saying something like that is the best way—”
“How about awareness?”
They stopped and looked at Sheila. She felt a blush bloom on her cheeks at them staring at her but continued, “I mean, until today, I never thought about this. You could get more support for these ideas if more people knew about it.”
“She’s got a point, you know.”
And the conversation continued energetically in a new direction.
* * *
“You seem different, Sheila,” Angelina remarked a month after the bonfire party.
Sheila looked up from packing up her backpack, folders and her laptop lay on the table ready to be stashed away into it. Angelina had taken the empty seat next to her at the worktable, most of the tech people like Sheila were already gone.
“How so?” Sheila asked as she resumed her packing up.
“More at ease, I suppose,” Angelina said. “I know moving out to the city can be hard when you’re from a small town. You seemed so closed off when you were settling in. But ever since the party you’ve been more vocal. Did you make some new friends at the party?”
Sheila zipped up her backpack, “Actually, I met some people as I was leaving.”
“That late? At the beach?” Angelina tilted her head in curiosity.
She seemed worried. It was really hard to dislike Angelina when she genuinely cared about her coworkers. Sheila pulled out a business card for the Irish Cultural Center and handed it to her.
“Here, they have a band playing tomorrow at seven. I can introduce you to my new friends. Think of it as returning the favor for inviting me to the bonfire party.”
“Oh, Sheila. You don’t have to ‘return the favor’, I invited you because I wanted to. Not because I felt like I had to. But I will come, if only to meet these mystery friends who spend their dark evenings at beaches.”
Sheila smiled, “Sounds good.”
Douglas pulled up outside to pick her up that evening. He had his seal skin over his shoulder, his wet suit already on.
“Have you gotten any looks for wearing a wet suit while driving?”
“Oh,” he chuckled, “So many. But let me tell you about this new non-profit we’re looking at—” He continued on. Sheila looked to the seal skin, had a thought, and mulled it over before interrupting Douglas.
“Hey… Do mermaids exist, too?”
Douglas scoffed, “The Mean Girls of the Ocean, let me tell you.”
Douglas gave her a look, “After everything you’ve learned, that’s what surprises you?”
Sheila admitted it did.
If you find a stranded animal, please call Animal Control. They will give you instructions on how to help the animal until they can arrive.
SF Animal Care & Control
Temp Care instructions
If you want to know more about the impact of ghost fishing, read through NOAA's 2015 Impact of Ghost Fishing Report. You can read more about the efforts the Selkies mentioned on how the problem is being combatted. (Yes, the converted yarn is a thing.)
The topic of San Francisco bonfires got some extra press a few years ago when the city considered banning them due to reckless partiers and the air pollution of the nearby neighborhoods. But bad press is good press, I suppose.
To strike a balance between saving a San Francisco tradition and being kinder to our environment, the Ocean Beach Fire Program was created. The Program establishes new rules and regulation with more outreach and education by the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department. Like a gift to SF residents, curfew has been raised to 9:30 p.m. and there are now 16 fire pits between stairwells 15 and 20 on Ocean Beach. The Program also establishes the months of March through October as Burn Season.
And as we enter our 2018 Burn Season, I’d like to reacquaint everyone with some bonfire rules:
As for what you should do:
If you follow these simple rules, there’s no reason you can’t have a fun bonfire party while being mindful of the environment.
To learn more about the Ocean Beach Fire Program, read here.
To see if your planned bonfire is on a Spare the Air Day, check here.
If only Trump said, “I hate the Ocean.”
Last month, amidst the Stormy Daniel’s coverage, she told reporters that Trump said “I donate to all these charities and I would never donate to any charity that helps sharks. I hope all the sharks die.”
Suddenly, nonprofits like the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society were flooded with donations. A bulk of the donations came from first-time donors, often specifically mentioning Trump’s comments.
Truly, there is no nation that would be prompted into such a grand movement of charity out of pettiness and spite. I revel in it.
It is also so in our nature to respond to words than actions. Because this wasn’t Trump’s first offense against sharks. He earned plenty of stink-eyes from conservationists last November when he ate shark fin stew in China. But there was no influx of donations then. No, only conservationists noticed. The general public only reacted when it was reported that he said something. It’s not enough if he does something, he has to say something to get a real rise out of the population. In Trump’s case, words speak louder than action.
That’s why I wish Trump said something along the lines of “I hate the Ocean.”
It’s not enough that he’s planning to allow off-shore drilling along the coasts. If we want the entire nation on our side, not just a dozen states out of fifty, he needs to say only those four words to provoke the public. Imagine the hordes of people rushing to the coast, picking up trash, protesting outside of state capitols, writing letters to Congress, indignantly thinking “How dare he threaten our Ocean!”
It shouldn’t have to be that way. We shouldn’t have to wait for him to speak to get our hackles raised. We should be enraged by this new oil leasing. By his approval of the DAPL. We should have been enraged his first day in office when they removed the Environment tab off the White House website. We shouldn’t have to wait for words, because his actions speak more than a stupid Tweet.
You can do something now.
If you live in a coastal state, contact your state representatives. The Interior Department says it will take public opinion in to account on oil drilling leases. Just such a case occurred in Florida. If you don’t count on the Federal government honoring public opinion, talk to your representatives about California’s plan. California legislatures are working on a bill that would ban drilling-based infrastructure in state-controlled waters, which can reach up to three miles from shore. This distance may be too much of an inconvenience for drilling companies to consider setting up in off-shore areas.
Do it for your Ocean. Do it for your beaches. Do it to go against Trump.
Or at the very least, do it for the sharks. They live there, too.
This is Logan! She’s a Bay Area resident who recently went hiking in Tennessee Valley with her parents. When they reached Muir Beach, they saw our Muir Beach Clean Up Station and did a spontaneous beach cleanup! Way to go, Logan!
When more people see our Ocean Warriors at work, they get inspired to do a cleanup, too. Help Logan be a trend-setter and grab one of our BCUS bags when you next head to the beach!
Having grown up in rural Sonoma County, California, Ben often observed the high amounts of trash blowing in from surrounding areas. As a young child, he would often spend his summers backpacking at different camps, such as one in Pt. Reyes which had a lasting impact. During the camp whenever the kids were leaving a site they were asked to pick up at least one piece of trash in order to leave the area nicer then they had found it. Although a small act, the idea of picking up litter to create a better world would eventually blossom into a passion to help others and the environment.
Growing up, his passion for the outdoors was somewhat dormant. It was not until he reached college and graduate school that the interest in sustainability and a cleaner planet began to arise. Ben spent a few years in Los Angeles for law school which he soon discovered he did not have a passion for. Instead he cofounded a community arts organization and eventually moved to running a co-working space. During this time, he found himself focusing more on the increasing amounts of trash, such as plastic water bottles, that were accumulating in natural places such as parks.
Although having loved LA, Ben moved back to SF in August of 2016 to begin exploring and experimenting with different ways to help people and the earth, which is where the counting of litter and many other things began. The idea to tally the amounts of litter he collected started in February when he was doing an art project with a clicker that was left over so he thought he would count trash- it became somewhat of a competitive game between himself and his friends.
For instance, at Dolores Park Ben and his friends will go and see how fast they can pick up 100 pieces of litter. Ben uses the word Moop for trash which is a term that comes from the art festival Burning Man. Moop stand for matter out of place (man made poop). Sometimes in addition to counting the litter he will take pictures as well. Although he does keep a monthly count of the trash he picks up, he is still unsure of where he wants to take the idea as it is so new.
Over the summer he began getting into outdoors mentorship and education programs such as Big City Mountaineers. He mentored one of their youth trips where they take underserved urban youth on week long expeditions. He became very engaged but he is exploring where he would want to have his singular focus. Ben currently works at Patagonia which he loves because Patagonia takes a lot of responsibility around materials they use and the culture is great. He is also working on a neighborhood parks project where they have adopted public land adjacent to a public stair case and they are working on rehabilitating the area. Although extremely engaged, Ben hopes to find a singular focus in the near future, and put his passions into one place.
Thanks, Ben, for making the world a little bit better!
The sun is shining brightly overhead and only a few clouds are scattered across the sky. I walk along the white sandy beach, smiling as the cool water flows across my feet and gently recedes back, exposing more dark sand underneath. I hear the laughs of people playing in the ocean and the soft lap of the waves. Everything seems great; everything is great. Then I look down. I see a long line of tiny, brightly colored plastics in the sand right where the water disposed of them. I sigh and kneel down in the sand, sifting through layers of crushed sand and rock to pick out the tiny pieces of plastic that have mixed in with the sand. As I work, I think about where these pieces originated. Did they come from plastics that someone dumped in the water right here in Hawaii? More likely they came from Asia or Australia, thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean, where the current has just now dropped them off on Oahu’s shore.
This is what I have been working on for the past six weeks here in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. I am interning for the second summer at a nonprofit called All One Ocean, an organization that works to educate people about the issue of marine debris and focuses on building beach clean up stations for the public to use. My internship consists of two parts; the first is to connect with members of local beach cleanup organizations to build a more extensive network of contacts for All One Ocean and the second is to collect trash from the island’s beaches and categorize and quantify the data.
I have met and talked with people who work for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, a nonprofit called Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Parks and Recreation Department of the County of Honolulu. It has been very rewarding to talk with people of various backgrounds and perspectives and I have gained great insights on how to combat the issue of marine debris.
I have traveled to beaches all over this island and have spent countless hours scouring the sand and water for anything man-made. This aspect of my internship has truly enlightened me to the omnipresence of trash on beaches and in the ocean. To date, I have picked up 2,728 pieces of trash from beaches scattered across Oahu and most of this has consisted of plastics and cigarette butts.
Sometimes I have found this job frustrating because I spend so much time picking up what other people have left behind and I often wonder why they left it behind in the first place. However, ultimately seeing the trash on the beaches and talking with people who work in the field of marine debris prevention and research has made me even more passionate about this issue and has inspired me to pursue a career in marine biology.
Happy Earth Day one and all!
In honor of our beautiful Earth and her Ocean, will you help us meet our $5000 fundraising goal to pay for our new permanent Beach Clean Up Station signage? See the pictures below of the “before and after”. I believe you will agree with the urgent need.
Donations of all sizes welcome! Click here to donate now.
We hope to see you at either of our Earth Day events tomorrow, Saturday, April 23rd. Join us at Slide Ranch for their Spring Fling event from 10am – 4pm, or, at Heron’s Head Park to celebrate the installation of our first San Francisco Beach Clean Up Station at 12pm.
Enjoy the day and the weekend,
Lauren Winters Weiner
and the All One Ocean Team
Our old signs, such as this year old one for Stinson Beach, do not last long under the Bay Area’s heavy doses of wind, rain and salt. Please help us replace them!