Several years ago, the activist group Surfers for Cetaceans came to my hometown, Newquay, for the UK mainland premiere of their documentary Minds in the Water. I read about the film in the local press and I was intrigued by the notion of a group of surfers travelling the world at their own expense to campaign for marine protection. I’d recently had a baby and hadn’t been out in the evening for over a year, but I was determined to meet the group and when my friend cancelled at the last moment, I went alone, walking up and down the street before plucking up the courage to walk into the pre-party alone. Within two minutes I made a friend, Laura, who would go on to change my life by teaching me to surf. That evening Laura and I hung out with Surfers for Cetaceans, a group of artists, filmmakers, musicians and pro-surfers, and we were inspired by their passion for their cause and their deep love of the ocean.
Before the event, I’d been pretty ignorant about dolphin hunts. I knew there was an award-winning and bloody documentary called The Cove, set in Japan, but I hadn’t seen it, fearing it would be too upsetting. Minds in the Water covers some of the same territory as The Cove, as well as other issues facing cetaceans in the wild and in captivity. Ultimately the film is hopeful and stresses the importance of individual action in fighting for the preservation of marine environments and the protection of marine species. It invites its audience to do what it can, to participate and contribute in any way possible, however small.
Shortly after watching Minds in the Water, Laura and I organised our own beach clean. We couldn’t do much about a dolphin slaughter six thousand miles away, but we figured we could pick up litter in Newquay, at the very least, and litter is a big problem in this town with its huge influx of holidaymakers.
A group of my friends and neighbours went to Fistral Beach and Towan Head and filled bags with all kinds of rubbish, including bottles, disposable barbecues and yards of black plastic tubing. This was the first of many beach cleans, because afterwards it was impossible to turn a blind eye to the litter pollution of the town, its dunes and beaches. Almost everywhere we went there was discarded rubbish and it kept coming.
The lifeguards of Fistral Beach, who save so many lives each year, are sometimes required to use their loudhailers to insist that summer beachgoers in the process of leaving the beach instead go back and take their rubbish with them, rather than leaving it to blow about on the sand. Newquay’s early rising surfers are in the habit of collecting the broken glass, plastic bottles, cans and wrappers left on the beaches and in the dunes the previous evening. Despite the increasing awareness of marine issues, there are still people who find it totally acceptable to pollute the environment with their rubbish. Even cigarette butts, so easily hidden in the sand, are a problem as they can linger for up to ten years, leaching cadmium, arsenic and lead as they decompose, and unfortunately trillions of them enter the environment each year.
There is a growing movement called Two Minute Beach Clean, which encourages beach users to take two minutes to clear the vicinity of any rubbish they see, but each day more washes ashore, including commercial fishing waste. There was recently a young seal with a blue plastic rope caught around its head, digging into its neck, which rescue organisations were trying to locate as a matter of urgency, before it died a horrible death. This is the reality of marine pollution. It may not be as gory as the dolphin hunts of Taiji but it can be equally fatal, and it falls to all of us to do something about it.
Lisa Glass, author of teen surf trilogy, Blue, Air and Ride.