I was in middle school in the mid 80’s when one day I threw a wrapper on the floor in a hallway. Unfortunately for me, I did it in front of a teacher without realizing it. That day I spent my lunch-hour picking up garbage around the yard with much embarrassment. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized just how valuable of a lesson it was. In my early days of learning photography I spotted this beautiful lake with an early morning fog lifting during sunrise. When I got back the prints I quickly realized that the horizon was not straight and the sky washed out; however that’s not what bothered me the most about this photo. If you look in the lower left corner you’ll see the cup from a fast food restaurant that likely got thrown out a car window and blew into the grass. That’s what ruined the picture for me. Suddenly I had a flashback to that day in middle school and I realized how important the lesson was my that teacher taught me about putting garbage in its place.
This past week I received an email from a friend introducing me to a new movie called Midway which is schedule to premier later this year. (Please take the four minutes to watch the trailer, it’s worth it). I have watched it several times now and still can’t believe the stark contrast in the images and video that Chris Jordan has captured. Some of the photos are so beautiful, yet many of them very disturbing and demonstrate the horrific damage that garbage is having on the wildlife in our oceans. I’ve seen trash many times during my walks along The Bay of Fundy and Atlantic Ocean. It’s quite common to see coffee cups, broken glass, plastic bottles, fishing buoys and other trash lining the beach. I’ve also seen the images and videos of animals and fish injured or killed by trash that is in our coast waters. I’ve watched the documentaries where they empty the contents of a shark’s stomach and then display the trash from it. So the movie by Chris Jordan just adds to the visual evidence which demonstrates the man-made catastrophe we’ve created in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In addition to the Pacific we also have the garbage patches in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. We now have a real mess on our hands. (Visit Howstuffworks.com to learn more about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch).
This past Saturday morning I left the house early to go and watch the sunrise in a small community on the west side of the city. Although I didn’t come home with as many keepers as I hoped for I did discover a few beautiful locations to keep in mind for future reference. After about 20 minutes of shooting the sunrise I wandered around a fishing dock and waited for the sun to rise through the clouds in hopes some God-Beams would appear. It turned out that there were no God-Beams on this day but I did see a few seabirds and what I think were red necked grebes swimming around the area. As I walked around I noticed that the dock was covered with lobster elastics and they were collecting along the cracks in the ties and other pieces of garbage littered the beach. Suddenly I had visions from Chris Jordan’s documentary and little bird bellies full of plastic and other trash.
Over the past 5 or 6 years I’ve been involved with an organization called ACAP (Atlantic Coastal Action Program) in Saint John. The purpose of ACAP is to help restore damaged coastal areas while focusing on water quality, air, land, and wildlife issues. My primary involvement has been with assisting and organizing beach cleanups. The last few years I’ve participated in 2 annual cleanups, one in May and one in September. It’s been encouraging to see the change from one year to the next, and we are noticing that there is less garbage with each year of the cleanup. While all of this is positive I’ve been reminded in recent weeks that there is still lots of work to do and we need to continue to educate on the problem of the trash in and around our waterways. I know most of you reading this are nature photographers and I’m sure you have seen areas filled with litter near your hometowns while out shooting. This is likely as frustrating for you as it is for me. As April approaches and we prepare for Earth Week events please consider donating your time to a beach or park cleanup in your town. If you are looking for a cleanup to take part in you might want to visit http://www.oceanconservancy.org/ or contact a local environmental organization like Ducks Unlimited for information on any events in your area, or you can organize your own. Bringing home the perfect image from a beach or a park is a great feeling but there is something uniquely special about helping to cleanup the environment so others can appreciate it as well. By picking up another man’s trash you might just save some wildlife too.