Travel Stories

Fragile Seas

clean ocean

"Fragile Seas!"

“No water, no life. No blue, No green.”

Dr. Sylvia Earle

After returning from Hawaii, we revved up Big Blue and returned to San Pedro near Los Angeles to see our favorite canine, Coco. Her owner had returned to Fiji to attend to her tumeric business and had asked us to dog and house sit while she was away. With much more we wanted to explore in the area and with the prospect of it being deep into spring when we ventured west, we accepted her offer. So this morning while the housekeepers were tidying up the home, we headed to Rancho Palos Verdes, a coastal community, to do some hiking.

Rancho Palos Verdes CA

As the sun was starting to break through the receding fog, we sat on the rocky beach admiring the view and having a snack. We had just hiked down the steep cliffside to see what treasures lurked below. As we munched on our PB&J sandwiches, nature provided us with lots of eye candy. To our right and left, the cliffsides painted with wildflowers reached out into the ocean like fingers stretching toward the horizon. Waves rolled in, chasing one another to the shore, while two surfers paddled out. I closed my eyes to hear the unmistakeable sound of water rushing over rocks while being sucked back into the ocean, music only nature can provide. Catalina Island was barely visible on the horizon, covered with a warm blanket of fog. We soaked in all the beauty surrounding us. However, when our eyes settled on the rocky beach right in front of our nose, we quickly discovered that the beach was not full of treasure. Instead, it was full of trash - mainly plastic.

Rocky Beach

Setting our sandwiches down, we grabbed the plastic within arms reach. We picked up a straw, a top, then a medicine bottle, then a food container, then another straw. A bit surprised, we set down our sandwiches and wandered down the beach. Within seconds, we had found a five gallon bucket covered by seaweed and small pieces of driftwood. Then a Big Gulp cup. Then a ripped black garbage bag. Then an unidentifiable piece of plastic. Then another medicine bottle. Then a plastic top from a spray paint can. Another straw. Another top. Another straw. Another unidentifiable piece of plastic. Another straw. “So much plastic! “ remarked Sam. We had only walked 20 feet down the rocky beach, and the bucket, along with our hands, was filled with plastic. We were shocked and appalled. So much plastic. And from where? It was time to play detective.

Plastic Trash

We were not in a spot that would be frequented by picnicking families or late-nighters having a bonfire. Although trash left by careless beach goers is a problem on other parts of the coast, the rocky cliffside and difficult beach access here makes a beach picnic less enticing for most. Some plastic likely came from the city streets and traveled to the beach by way of the storm drains. Yes, it is very true that everything does flow to the ocean, eventually. Given all the rain in California this past winter, a plastic bag blown out of a shopping cart miles from the ocean may have found a home here on the rocky beach. However, using the many damaged crab pots and the fishing gear we found on the beach as clues, we realized that much of this plastic may have been brought from off shore and deposited here by the waves and rough winter ocean storms.

Crab Pots

With so much plastic on this small section of the coast, we wondered how much plastic is swirling out in the ocean. A quick Google search answered our question. The answer? Too much! Eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year. Too much plastic to even begin to imagine or comprehend.

Who is to blame for all the plastic in the ocean? The short answer: Everyone - from corporations that continue to produce more and more plastic to consumers who appreciate a cheap, disposable “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” lifestyle.

Who suffers from this irresponsible behavior? Again, the same short answer: Everyone. Polluted water contaminates water supplies and food chains and ultimately affects marine populations and us. Some of the plastic we found today may have entered the ocean decades ago. During our research today, we learned that it takes an astonishing 400 years for one plastic water bottle to break down in the ocean. Wow! After reading this grim thought, we looked at each other stunned and saddened. It is not only plastic, but it is pollution in general, of many types, that is ruining our oceans and therefore ruining life. Water is truly life.


With our bucket overflowing and our hands full, we made the steep trek up to the top of the cliff, realizing that what initially started as a hike to the beach had turned into an eye opening experience. I had heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, swirling between Hawaii and California, and I knew it was a whirlpool of plastic. However, until I saw such a great amount of plastic on one small section of beach, it really had been “out-of-sight, out of mind.” After arriving at the top of the cliff, we loaded the trash into “Big Blue” to ensure it would be properly deposited into a recycling bin. We wondered if our small efforts would make a difference. We had to believe they would. We all have to believe it does.

Road Rule #17: Malama ka ‘aina (care for the land in Hawaiian)

It is my duty. It is my family’s duty. It is everyone’s duty.

One thought on “Fragile Seas

  1. Great story. I too am a garbage collector. I have found that sometimes people look at me funny when I pick up random garbage. But, sometimes my garbage collection influences others to do the same. While I was in Vietnam kayaking off the island of Phu Quoc, I did some garbage collection and it was hard-breaking, but rewarding. So much trash out there in the water….one plastic bottle at a time.

    Thanks for the story

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