Scotland’s year of Coast and Waters 2020 has been thoughtfully shifted to 2021. Communities and businesses around the country invested imagination and effort into creating celebratory events. To have all that love for the ocean and inland waters swept away by the rising tide of coronavirus was unthinkable. Sailors, fisherfolk and coastal kin are used to the rhythms of sea, its tides and weather, molding their lives. Adapting to the pandemic and saving everyone’s hard work by postponement is a natural progression. Happily, there is a salty event that happens every year on 8th June, since its conception in 1992. World Ocean Day (in case one needs a reason to exalt). For me, I wake each day knowing the state of tide and observing the effect of weather on the shoreline. I witness the gifts and reminders of our human impact on the ocean that each ebb and flow bring.
Living on the Isle of Eigg, our whole island identity is synonymous with the landform created by the ocean. Each indent and bulge that we curl memories and endeavor around is shaped by the pounding of the ocean waves on the rocks – old or new, hard or soft, volcanic or sediment. Our symmetry is eons old and locked immutable with that relationship between land and sea.
Dig a hole on the croft for a building foundation and you will uncover the rubbish of centuries, perhaps millenniums, of human presence. From old ploughs, whisky bottles and broken crockery to knapped arrowheads and shellfish mounds, Islanders will gather around and conjecture on the past and its inhabitants. The shoreline was once a place to find other exotic treasure… an equatorial tree trunk drifting thousands of miles, remnants of a mythical ocean creature. It now presents a different story.
The Plastic Age
The foreshore is the place to witness the new era of human presence. Plastic: an incredibly useful, versatile and cheap material first created in a lab in 1907. Now it is produced on an industrial scale previously unimagined and, until recently, unchecked by consideration of its impact on our planet. In our desire to have more than we need, we make more than we need. We do not give thought to what will happen to our tools when we no longer want them. Add this to our endeavour to entrap and manipulate the marine abundance and we have created untold rubbish that pollutes our oceans and shores.
For all of history we have used the sea as our rubbish dump. What was hidden under the water was out of sight and out of mind. Look along the littoral now and see that we asked too much of the ocean. She has been unable to assimilate our manmade rubbish and we find it vomited back up on our shores. Our beaches are choked, from the tiny micro balls of plastic raw material, to the broken giant pieces of fish farms. Littered around are plastic bottles, plastic razors and plastic tampon applicators; things that we can all lay claim to.
The pristine stretches of white sand from my childhood are now muddied by a new generations souvenirs of beach cleans. Keeping sand from sandwiches is replaced by the new dilemma of rubbish disposal. The shameful truth is that the plastic waste already spread across the globe will be written in the geology of the Earth for the rest of time.
The Ocean has given me a wakeup call: I am using too much; I am living too expensively and the cost to the planet is too burdensome.
World Ocean Day gives us an opportunity to reconnect with our oceans – to recognize the vital role they play in our planet’s health, to revel in their beauty and to introduce others to them. We can pick out the rubbish while gazing into rock pools. Lift up the fronds to wonder at the multicoloured seaweeds, rich in vitamins, incredibly engineered to survive through winter storms. The intertidal zones flora and fauna copes with both under and overwater worlds, twice a day every day. Shout out for the scarlet tentacled anemones and side scurrying crabs, the clams and limpets that bury and cling as the elements rage.
We can watch birds and creatures that sustain and are sustained by these heroic ecosystem and follow the humans who love, study and share their knowledge so that we are all enriched and can make our daily actions count positively for the oceans.
Our world needs healthy oceans. The sea near you sustains your body, mind, heart and possibly bank balance. Whether you catch a wave, dive through the surface, scan the horizon for a fin or paddle you souls in an inch of surf, a visit to the seashore imprints and never washes away with the next tide.
While I am not plying the Minch and Sea of the Hebrides with Selkie, I have an opportunity to find out more about Eigg and her inhabitants’ relationship to the water that surrounds us. I am fired up to learn about the stories of the vessels moored and wrecked here. I am excited to find out about how our young folk view the ocean, what importance it holds. I want to know if my years of parenting and passion for the salty environment has rubbed off onto the next generation. YCW21 means I have TWO years to concentrate my energies on exalting the ocean and her influence on me, on this island, area, creatures and people. World Ocean Day is a great time to jump in!