Treasure or Trash?
In 2014 when I landed Mystique's dinghy ashore in the Ragged Islands and then hiked Hog Cay, I discovered a human trove, of sorts. At first glance this isle appeared paradise-like, but once ashore I noticed humans had left their mark and their carbon footprints everywhere. Flip flops and plastic buoys hanging from branches greeted me as I walked the sandy paths.
And then when I hiked the trail across to the opposite side, I saw more sad reminders of humanity's presence. An container cargo of flip flops overturned and drifted ashore transforming this remote chain of islands. Flip flops everywhere! But it wasn't the sea that decorated the island with summer footware. It was past boaters who hung flip flops everywhere.
At the southernmost part of the Bahamas (appox. 80 miles south of the Exumas Islands and 150 miles north of Cuba), the two of us encountered a beautiful uninhabited, tropical island littered with washed-up debris. On this remote island's exposed easterly ocean-side beach was a line of two miles or so of assorted washed-up items. In contrast, on the other protected western side was a picnic / cookout area punctuating a pristine beach by displaying non-biodegradable waste products as tree and hut ornaments.
This simple island intrigued me and disgusted me at the same; it felt like a paradox to me. It simultaneously possessed and displayed a natural charm and a human repugnance. Of course, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, but I am always amazed many humans feel a need to leave their mark or stamp or touch wherever they go. Some believe they are beautifying nature; some simply clueless and oblivious to their impact on the world; and some care enough to do something about it. Here is but a small sampling of how humans face trash.
And as we all know, because one person's trash is often another's treasure, no consensus will ever exist with one world view. But I would find it difficult to imagine that there are people who like the proliferation of junk, trash and human debris strewn and deposited along the shores and beaches of the world…ah, there will always be beachcombers, treasure hunters, scavengers, horders, curiosity-seekers, collectors, artists, artisans and maybe even aliens who view objects' utility differently. Even if beauty is within the eye of the beholder, it is still difficult to imagine how a pristine beach littered with mostly junk can appeal to anyone. Ah, but it is not litter, it's art...ah, but what happened to Nature's artistry in the process of humans thinking they can beautify a beach
As I walked the few hundred yards across the island, I quickly noticed whenever the trail veered right or left or I came to a path divide, shoes and/or flip-flops hung on tree limbs and bushes to blaze the path. At first glance I found this curious, but then I realized something far more disturbing and disappointing. Not only had the trail been humanized by previous visitors which robbed me some of nature mystery and intrigue from our exploratory walk, but it also began to dawn on me that every man-made object placed on the limbs was actually discarded footwear that some thoughtless or careless person had lost to the sea. And in some ways I felt like I was getting the packaged guided tour handed to me rather than discover it for myself. I felt robbed of that experience.
Then I could not help but feel the contrast of the sole-fullness and soullessness of our walk. Even though beautiful blue water still peaked through the lush greenery around us at almost every clearing, I somehow felt this island's charm had been diminished by past human presence.
The path is marked with flip-flops hanging from branches around each bend.
If some Martian were ever to first land a space craft upon an earthly tropical beach (assuming this event hasn't already happened), chances are at least 50/50 that he/she/it would discover ample, almost immediate evidence of human existence. And this alien inevitably could conclude correctly we earthlings are careless consumers, litter bugs, creative trash collectors, treasure seekers or combinations thereof.
Of course, we earthlings know our trash defines us. What we create, what we use, what we need, what we value, what we don't value. what we discard tells tales about who we are. How we disrespect our environment, how we create products that withstand the test of time, how we treat our trash, how we accept our trash, how we discard or display it, how we collect it and use it...all speak volumes about what we deem important and how we live life. Our trash and what we do with it says who we are as a species. How we treat our planet speaks volumes about our character and cultures.
Prevailing winds and currents deposit flotsam and jetsam mostly on the eastern shores of many of the Caribbean islands. Much of this debris is man-made (see below). All that end up on the beaches are obviously float-able items made of plastic, rubber, glass, wood, straw, hemp, metal and even some paper / cardboard products. Yes, high winds and forceful waves transport these objects, they aren't really the culprits. They simply convey these items ashore.
They in turn create garbage lines along the high water mark and beyond a windward beach. Of course, these scraps originate from either the carelessness or dumplings from fishing vessels, cruise liners, natural and man-made disasters. Because they are I am barely mentioning the toxic substances contained in many of these like oil, gas, aerosols.
Hog Island's treasure-seekers or trash collectors at its western anchorage. Notice how remote Hog Island is
The human and natural debris I observed on the Ragged Islands' Hog Cay. Worth noting that all Nature's debris was biodegradable!
If this is any indication of the mess man has made of his planet, one can only imagine what discarded, non-floatables have sunk to the sea's bottom and have yet to be revealed on a beach or coral reef. And the untold items that have been swallowed by aquatic life.
When people dump at sea without any consciousness or consequences, everyone and everything suffers. A dump is what the world becomes and what we live in. And what also disturbs me is that humans obliviously display trash as artistic expression while destroying the natural setting for others. Did the idea ever dawn on that future boaters may not like your While some might see flip flops adorning a trail and a decorated picnic area as quaint, others may see it detracting from the
No one sails hundreds of miles to a remote island chain to view evidence of previous humans displaying debris. I sailed to these islands to commune with nature and to be inspired by the experience, not to pick up trash or search for human treasure. The treasure I saw was the raw, untouched natural beauty. But part of the treasure for me was how I viewed this sign and its stark reminder. It would not be my first or last indicator that the Earth needs our help to recover.