Poking About the Mangrove Roots

Marine debris on the IRL, (c) SML

Over the weekend I hit the Lagoon once more for a serious cleanup. Instead of showing up in flipflops and a tanktop with a single bag to use I came with an absolute arsenal against trash. Pocket knives, a roll of bags, watershoes to go hunting in the shallows for marine debris, oatmeal bars, and a whole gallon of ice water. I stayed out on the shoreline for four hours and picked up over fifty pounds of trash.

While I’ve been annoyed that the same areas I regularly cleanup become quickly trashed there is a huge difference between the spots I typically clean and the sides of the shoreline and the shallows where I haven’t ventured. So perhaps I am making a dent afterall. In between the roots of red and black mangrove was a tangled heap of plastic bag remnants shredded into veritable cobwebs. It took over thirty minutes to cleanup a stand of just three lonely trees.

In the process I disturbed large schools of bay anchovy, diamond killifish, and saltwater mollies that had taken up refuge in the plastic stand-ins for macroalgae. I even had a moment of self-doubt about removing their safe havens, but the threat of serious harm from plastic simply outweighs the potential short term gain for a few dozen tiny fish.

I attracted quite a bit of attention. So much so that I’m seriously considering making t-shirts to wear when I go on these little campaigns. One side could mention WaterNotes and the other side might say, “Ask Me About Plastic In the Oceans — Yes You Can Join Me!”

There was a baffling outcome of all this attention and my friendly interactions with curious windsurfers, beach walkers, and lunching visitors. While everyone agreed the trash was a serious problem, no one said yes when I asked if they wanted to join me. Perhaps there was an implied expectation I gave off that prevented them from assisting – such as feeling they wouldn’t be able to do much or that they did not have enough time – but any help would’ve been wonderful. As it was I had to haul giant squares of carpet out of the lagoon after digging out trenches by hand to remove them from the sand! And it took forever to pull down long lengths of monofilament from the mangroves, primarily because I’m vertically challenged. I’m not sure how I can be more approachable. Perhaps when this “crusade” (as one windsurfer put it) gets a bit more formalized there will be more volunteers for cleanups.

And, since I was involved, there was one hilarious moment. I was reaching for a long skinny peice of black rubber tubing while clearing out the mangrove stand. When I touched it the tube wriggled and I yelped and fell backward into the water with the most embarassingly enormous splash. Black racer snakes aren’t exactly marine debris.