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Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Beach blues

Our weekend at the Oregon coast featured one day that was stunningly beautiful. The air was crisp and cool, but not uncomfortable in the bright sun. The sky was as blue as you've ever seen it.

As we strolled along the beach at Manzanita, however, we saw some other blue, which wasn't so pretty.

It was down below our feet.

It was the blue plastic.

Millions -- no, billions -- of tiny shards of light blue plastic now dot the sand at Manzanita (and I suspect at other Oregon beach spots too). No doubt the remnants of garbage dumping somewhere out in the Pacific, these are bits of plastic that have floated around in the ocean so long that all the other colors have been bleached out of them. No reds, no yellows, just blue, light blue, which persists despite the sea and sun to which it has been exposed, along with some white shards, which are by far in the minority.

We first encountered the blue plastic a few years ago on a trip to Hawaii. We were staying along Poipu Beach at the southern tip of Kauai, which was fine, but when we ventured along the island's east side, we found on the beaches literally tons of blue plastic, still intact and recognizable as the household garbage it was. There were whole dishwashing liquid bottles and other plastic tubs, along with a myriad of smaller shards down to the size we saw in Oregon over the weekend (which is about half the size of a dime).

It was sad when we encountered the blue plastic in supposedly pristine Hawaii, and it's even sadder when we found it here in supposedly pristine Oregon.

It got me thinking. Surely it wasn't the Town of Manzanita that dumped this garbage in the ocean. But it's in Manzanita that the ocean said "screw you" and gave it right back to us stupid humans.

We're all connected.

And some of us make pigs look good in comparison.

Probably the worst part of the whole thing is that I can't see how the blue plastic will ever get cleaned up. A couple of times a year, hearty Oregonians grab garbage bags and tools and set out collecting trash from the beaches. But the blue plastic pieces are so small, they can't be cleaned up that way. It would take a half hour to do a space six feet square, and the stuff's spread over about the middle third of the length of the beach -- in Manzanita, that's seven miles long by maybe 40 yards wide. There were even a few shards of blue plastic on the road leading to the beach. It's light enough to blow around, I guess, and so its coverage will only broaden.

Ah, well. We smile and enjoy the rest of the beauty of the coast. But as we step over the blue plastic, I'm once again ashamed of my species.

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