wisdom

Dora Saved the Ocean, Can We?

I’m tired of garbage. It’s hanging from trees, floating in the ocean, bays, rivers and lakes. Garbage we make is being dumped, and we are being duped.

If you think it’s all being recycled, it is truly not. Rather, it ends up in the ocean and we’re ingesting it. We must stop this insanity while we can still breathe fresh air. Water and air go together like fish and mermaids, and fishermen and boats. I am currently visiting Florida, so I am very much in a dolphin state of mind. But I’m angry at what we have done to the waters. The mermaids are crying, I can hear them.

I want to cry. The plastic use down here is over the top, still. Why? Did no one get the memo that single-use plastic is bad, period? Styrofoam should be outlawed. Do we need fake popcorn to pack our breakables? No. Does anyone care?

I read my granddaughter a book when she was two years old, called Dora Saves Mermaid Kingdom. It was from a series called Dora the Explorer, about a fictional child who lives in the rainforest, speaks fluent Spanish and English, and goes on adventures, giving lessons on friendship and respect, mostly to an impish blue monkey called Boots, and also on how we can save the planet.

That story I read to my granddaughter was one of her favorites, probably because of the mermaids. Dora stops the mean octopus from dumping garbage on the mermaids’ heads. She enlists the help of a clam and the mermaids themselves, and saves the day and the ocean from garbage pollution. Oh that it were that simple!

I went to a Mermaid Parade today. It’s more of a mermaid festival, though on a small scale. Everything mermaid, on the island of Matlacha, Mermaid Central down here in Southwest Florida. The Florida Commercial Watermen’s Conservation Coalition sponsored it, along with Bert’s Bar and Grill, to raise money to clean the waters and raise awareness that water is our most important resource going forward.

Maybe it always was. We can do without a lot of things, but we need water to survive. Clean drinking water. Clean rivers and lakes and bays and oceans. The sea cannot be taken for granted.

A 22-year-old Dutch entrepreneur knows it. He built a gyre with his organization The Ocean Cleanup that picks up plastic that has accumulated in the ocean. This isn’t your average plastic bag that some shops are obliviously still using, or those ubiquitous plastic water bottles we don’t need to be using anymore either.

Tiny bits of plastic, that break down from all the plastic that winds up in the ocean, we wind up ingesting ourselves. So in essence you are polluting the ocean by dumping your party balloons and plastic junk anywhere, and you’re poisoning yourself and your children and their children and so on.

It seems an enormous undertaking to tackle such a problem. But like any other task, many hands make light work. And one less bottle, balloon, plastic straw, old toy, hair dryer, XBox, or basically anything you turn over and see Made In China on the bottom, ends up in a dump and eventually in the ocean. What to do? Stop buying plastic crap is one solution. Don’t we have enough?

Recycle, repurpose, reuse is the best answer. I’ve seen some very creative tables made out of both glass and plastic bottles and odds and ends. Old utensils and silverware make cool wind chimes. A friend plays a beat box in a band, which is an empty Pacifico beer carton. Old cigar boxes make great purses or catch-alls for jewelry and notes.

If you’re still smoking, try to quit, you heart will thank you, and maybe you can build a sculpture out of old Marlboro and Parliament boxes. Meanwhile, don’t throw your butts in the water or bury them in the sand either, they don’t break down like hand-rolled tobacco. Plus it’s disgusting. Get paper straws or don’t use straws at all.

Did you know drinking from straws a lot gives you wrinkles over your upper lip, just like sucking on a cigarette does? Put that in your make-up regime and ponder it. So, no to straws. The kids can drink from a cup. Mine did while still in high chairs. No plastic sippy cups necessary. Or at least reuse, repurpose. You can collect their baby teeth and gift them the cup when they go to college.

No plastic baby bottles either. We used glass or the natural mama source. Ditch the sugary juice boxes too. Give them water in a cup, it’s all they need. Simplify. Starbucks or Peet’s will fill your personal metal or glass coffee thermos. Get a cool one you like and reuse the hell out of it. Lead by example. Supersize your brain.

Stop with the styrofoam and plastic boxes. Just, no. If you’re from Boston or Cali or the East End of Long Island, New York, I’m not talking to you. You’ve been using your own bags or reusable paper bags for a long time. You’ve banned plastic and Styrofoam, thank goodness.

Florida, except Sanibel I think, New Jersey, and much of the South and I don’t know where else, but y’all do, are still using those plastic boxes or Styrofoam to pack your leftovers. Come on, people, get with it and ban the Styrofoam, plastic bottles and bags. We can all carry our few greeting cards and bottle of aspirin in our pocket or purse, thank you. It’s overkill, the bag use.

I don’t like plastic milk cartons. FYI, the waxy cardboard ones are recyclable. Eureka! We could easily go back to the glass milk recyclable ones. We used to go to a store called The Milk Jug in Brooklyn, New York, and we older kids brought back the empty half-gallon milk bottles and get fresh ones. Orange juice too. That was in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

We have fallen badly into a plastic hole of carelessness, dumping mindlessly and polluting our habitat. We can be so much better. People recycled years ago. Not just during the Depression when tea bags were used over and over, coffee was rationed, and people had never seen a paper towel yet. They used dish towels and washed them.

We grew up seeing this from our parents and grandparents, yet sadly we became a modern convenience-first, throw-away society. It has to stop or we will be buried under mountains of our own garbage. Or there won’t be a clean drop of water anywhere to be had.

Think you’ve got it sussed and have hoarded stores of water and non-perishables for when the crash comes? Think again. If you remember the gas shortage in the 70’s, then you know how people get when they can’t get something they need. They behave abhorrently with one another, a lawless state ensues.

Lack of clean water will be our demise. Not war, not arguments over political policy or lack thereof, not feared immigrants climbing over a mythical wall, not even race or gender or inequality. It’s the water, darlings. Protect it now, or suffer the consequences later. It is that simple. It is that dire. This is a call to arms. Arms across the water. Come join me, let’s get this done.

I bought a couple of those bracelets the other day, you know the ones that are made from discarded plastic cleaned out of the sea? The money from each one purchased goes towards removing a pound of trash from our oceans and coastlines. Good stuff. But that’s a drop in the vast sea to clean up the mess we’ve made. We need to do more.

First, we can stop the cycle of throwing everything away. Job One. Make it a game, a la Mary Poppins. Kids love to help, and they are sponges when it comes to learning. Teach them to recycle, reuse and repurpose. Stop buying them junky toys they don’t need. They want your attention, not plastic toys and grown-up tablets. Everyone is getting turtle neck from looking at screens all day long.

And speaking of turtles, let’s save them too. 589 sea turtles, hundreds of bottle-nosed dolphins and manatees, not to mention all manner of splendid fish, were killed during the Red Tide and algae bloom in South Florida waters, all stemming from Big Sugar.

The Okeechobee River flows into the Gulf. Sugarcane farms’ runoff flows into the Okeechobee. That situation needs eyeballs and vigilance and new laws protecting both the River and the Gulf waters. It can no longer be we need the farms, the hell with the water, boys. To continue as is is unforgivable.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” ~ John Muir

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Nanci LaGarenne is a freelance writer and author of two fiction novels, Cheap Fish and Refuge. She lives full-time in the East Hampton woods in a small cottage with her husband. She is an activist and passionate speaker on protecting children and women from abuse, women’s rights and respect for women at home and in the public workplace, and saving our planet from environmental destruction and war. She is hard at work on her trip novel set in California, and currently reading a novel about a sea captain who found a real mermaid in England a long time ago.

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