Ocean Pollution First Hand

We’ve all read about or seen videos and photos of marine animals suffering the effects of pollution and global warming. We recently experienced something that brought it home in a way none of us had experienced before.

It happened during sunset, after the day Luke collaborated with the Wilderness Nature Project in Santa Barbara and organized a day trip to the beach for a group of sixteen 4th graders to help with a beach clean up.

We had finished surfing and were doing our normal end-of-the-day trash patrol, when there, not ten feet away, was a baby seal staring at us….with fishing line wrapped around his neck and a huge net dragging behind him as he crawled along on the sand. The plastic line had cut into his body and cuts covered his body where the constant pull of the ropes against him had created large swaths of broken skin. The blood shone through his dark fur. His big brown eyes looked innocent and wise at the same time. “How can you humans do this to us?” he seemed to be asking.

Though you are not normally supposed to interact with sea life, we knew that with the sun setting, our phone calls to animal rescue would go unanswered until the next day. And the next day would be too late for this little guy. We knew he did not stand a chance if we just left him alone.

My aunt, Nicole MacNaughton, was able to get ahold of a friend who is a naturalist and she suggested that if possible, we gently cover the head of the seal with a blanket, hold him down, and cut the fishing line and nets. Within seconds one of the moms in our group, Sherry McConkey of the McConkey EcoChallenge, sprang into action, trying to keep the little guy on shore so we could help him. My mom ran to get blankets, towels, and scissors. We all gathered around to form a protective circle. My uncle, Justin MacNaughton, and two other surfers who had seen what was going on came to help. It worked. We got the fishing line cut away from his body and then freed him from the net. Afterward we quickly left him alone, hoping that by giving him back his privacy he could recover from the shock and begin his healing process.

We walked away feeling heavy hearted and sad, many of us were crying. We don’t really know if we did the right thing. Like I said, most often you’re supposed to leave wildlife alone and avoid human interaction. But we knew we had to try to help because it was human interaction who had caused this little seal’s suffering. Humans leave their traces all over the earth, and this time it was a fisherman’s plastic trash that had caused the seal’s suffering.

According to Elena Polisana from Oceans Campaign for Greenpeace, “Plastic waste has been discovered just about everywhere. It’s in the Arctic ocean, the middle of the Pacific ocean, the bottom of the Marianas Trench, in whales, sea turtles, and up to 90 percent of sea birds, and also in our table salt, our tap water and our beer.”She said: “we urgently need to rethink how we use plastic.

600 species worldwide are being harmed by this pollution and a lot of people are now considering this the sixth mass extinction of life on earth.

Problem: Only 30% of Americans have seen the ocean so fewer than 70% of citizens really care about protecting it.

Theory of Change: People will only fight to protect that which they love.

Solution: Find ways for more people to experience the ocean and empower them with information to protect it.

Thank you to organizations such as NatureBridge and Outward Bound who help people who would not normally get outside, get outside.

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