Against Beached Plastic

Plastic debris on my T-shirt

I land on Cala su Puntellu in mid afternoon.

The paddling day was intense. I left from Porto Ferro at early morning headed North,

leaving behind Argentiera

Porto Palmas

Capo Mannu

…and 16 nautical miles, almost 30 km.
We are in Sardinia along the North-West coast, between Alghero and the island of Asinara.

I’m bewitched by the harsh, not obvious beauty of this coast, so different from rounded and smooth Gallura’s granites. Here rocks are dark, iron, even black and full of asperities. They go up abruptly toward the countryside, where they suddenly become pasture and farming land, letting the two environments seem disconnected and competing against each other. The sea erodes land continuously here, taking over inches of it every winter.

The coast seems to be cut with a knife. The cliff engulfing the beach is about 10 m high, a mix of rocky and earthy sediments. It is a huge collection of brown shades. When stroke by crepuscular rays, they fire up and send yellow glares to the quartz pebbles of the beach. The cliff is soft and unstable, erosion works easily on it, carving roofs, cornices, and reliefs piling up each other.

The Leeks Island (Isola dei Porri) shows itself almost in front of me, toward Capo Falcone. This high and stocky island protects a little these inlets from Mistral and storm surges.

I am not so tired that I have to make a stop inevitably, but I love the idea to relax on this marvelous beach during the last hours of daylight.

I take out from my kayak everything I need, loaded inside the watertight bags. I set night camp – I expect the night to be quiet and peaceful. To get here by land needs a long and demanding trekking, there is little chance to have to share this paradise with others for tonight.

Sunset paints on the sky and sea astonishing, almost unreal colors. From orange to violet, then suddenly deep purple and night blue. The dark covers the silent coast abruptly. The sea seems made of oil and there is not the slightest gust of wind.

What would be the castaway’s night – even if a voluntary one, able to set sail at will – without fire! Every time I light one, I have to think of Tom Hanks in Castaway, of the first terrible nights spent on the island without fire, of the enthusiasm when he finally succeeds lighting his first one! How difficult it is to perceive ourselves authentically human beings during a night outside without fire! Without its warmth, the dance of its flames, the concert of its crackle, the sense of security it transmits!
Firewood is abundant here and perfectly dry, carried on this spot by the sea and marooned by storms’ violence. Branches of every kind and size, from enormous trunks even hard to pick up, to canes’ splinters, ideal to light up the fire. A few minutes are enough to collect a huge stock for the whole night. It will make for me possible to enjoy its flames as the last sight after crawling into my bivouac and just before sinking into deep sleep.
The day begins early when the elements give their rhythm to it. At sunrise, I’m already up and ready to work. Firewood – yesterday so providential to warm up my night – is unfortunately not the only stranded rubbish.

In the junction of the two small beaches separated by rocks, a huge quantity of plastic debris has accumulated – of every size, shape, and color. From tiny pellets – used as a raw material in the manufacture – to ripped up hulls, polystyrene packaging, bulkheads, chairs and tables shreds, boxes… but the major part of them is impossible to identify as a part of a specific object.

Some items are more frequent than others: corks and bottle shreds, lollipop sticks, lighters, ropes, nylon threads… but the major part is absolutely unrecognizable, crushed by the violence of elements.

Many fragments are extremely breakable. It’s just enough to take them in hand and they get into pieces without effort. Others are still hard and rounded by the long-standing crushing against the rocks.They are travelling surely for many years, and – in variable percentage – they arrive here from all oceans, often got there through the biggest rivers.
The visible part stranded here is for sure the minor one: the biggest part of them became plastic dust. Pieces so tiny that they are able to penetrate the food chain, with consequent chain effects we don’t know for sure. What we call microplastics.
Here it is. A sick rainbow, which paints with absurd even uncontaminated reefs like this one. During the days spent here there was absolutely not a soul, except for me. Nevertheless, human presence was terribly cumbersome, even if delegated to useless items and therefore just thrown away wherever it happens.

This multitude of colors is fatally similar to their preys, and so it attracts fishes, mammals and birds, gathering in their stomachs and causing death with violent abdominal pain.
Squatting under the baking sun, I do my best picking up as much debris as I can.I don’t have bags where to put them, then I get the idea to use empty water bottles for this purpose. I take many of them with me on my kayak, with such weather I must drink at least 2 liters every day, which is sometimes even not enough.

Clearly, I’m forced to pick up only debris small enough to pass through the bottleneck. But even like that, they are so many, that the biggest part will sadly stay here. The place on my kayak is limited, and so my contribution.

I manage to fill a few of them, which I’m going to throw inside the differentiated waste bins at Argentiera, the first coastal village I will encounter while paddling back to Porto Ferro.

Wandering around the rocks I bump into something else. This enormous tangle of fishing net, nylon threads and ropes is a true killer. It’s easy for an animal to be trapped in it. It can continue to kill fishes, sea creatures and even birds for years.I simply could not leave it on the rocks where I found it.

I don’t know where to put it. But I can’t leave it here for sure. As of last option, I could climb the cliff and leave it outside the reach of waves, where it can be less damaging. But I’m not fond of the idea, I’m in search for a better solution. Ropes coming out from every hole give me the idea: I’ll tie it on my kayak’s bow!It will consistently slow me down during the back paddling trip, which will be hard enough: wind is going to increase and be against my route. But this is a price I am willing to pay.

I’ve got the feeling like I would be Sisyphus. I’ve collected plastic debris for hours, but the sensation I’m committed with a hopeless challenge almost overwhelms me like I would try to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. The debris is thousands, just putting aside some wood or walking along the coast let me discover more and more of it.

I get the feeling that I’m doing something aimless and without any hope to succeed. Nonetheless, I know that even this feeling is an enemy, that discouragement works powerfully against the purpose. Because here I’m alone, but there are so many people out there who have the same long term goal as me. If I could multiply the day of today by the number of all Sardinia’s inhabitants, the West Coast would be cleaned up in one week.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s