It was a few days into my first bareboat charter off the coast of Maine. It was a stunningly beautiful day, with brilliant blue skies and a steady breeze. My two shipmates and I had been aboard the lovely 35’ sloop, A Cappella continuously since we had boarded her in Southwest Harbor three days earlier, and we were eager to stretch our legs and explore a rocky island beach. Long Island (a small island that’s about seven nautical miles south of Bass Harbor Lighthouse), specifically the hamlet of Frenchboro, was our chosen landing spot.
After securing the boat at a guest mooring, we rowed the dingy to shore, tied up at the town dock, and made for the trailhead at the far end of the small village. Old cracked pavement quickly turned to a rutted dirt track, which in turn morphed into a narrow, stony path lined with ferns and moss and low, fragrant wild blueberries.
Within what seemed like just a few steps (but was probably a hundred yards or more), the path narrowed, curved gently to the right, and almost magically we were in wilderness. There was no sign of the small but busy little harbor we had just left behind-- no sound except for the occasional songbird or raven and the light wind in the spruce trees. Within a few short minutes we heard the sound of waves pounding the rugged, uninhabited, southwest shore of the island.
We walked a little further and the dense forest gave way to sweeping views of the Gulf of Maine to the south. Looking northwest and past a wave-washed point of land, we could just make out the western end of Swan’s Island. As our eyes panned back to the west and southwest, we could see the specks of Heron and Brimstone Islands, with Marshall and Isle Au Haut beyond.
From this perspective we could once again see a few, scant signs of human activity: a navigational buoy a half-mile off shore; a radio tower on the mainland in the far distance; a few passing boats. But looking up and down the dramatic curve of this island shoreline, with its ancient granite, bleached driftwood, and stunted, wind-twisted trees, it seemed that this was a place where only the forces of nature held sway.
That is, until we saw the trash.
Yes, trash. And it was everywhere. As we adjusted our vision from taking in the wide vistas and began to look closely at our immediate surroundings, the mood went from awe, inspired by the rugged beauty, to sadness and disgust at the pervasiveness of this trash. And we are not just talking about a small amount of litter such as discarded candy wrappers and beer cans, although samples of these items were evident. We are talking about waste that is representative of modern life on land and sea: plastic bags and utensils; discarded plastic water bottles; chunks and beads of crushed Styrofoam; plastic-coated metal lobster pots, mangled beyond recognition and use; strands and tangles of heavy monofilament line; miles of frayed and crumbling polypropylene rope. There were bits of detritus trapped in tiny tidal pools. There were masses of debris hanging, half-submerged in the surging waves. There were piles and pieces caught and stranded in the wild shrubs above the high water mark.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s not as if we had found ourselves on a vast urban landfill with nothing but trash as far as the eye can see. Natural beauty still abounded, but the trash was evident, in varying quantities, nearly everywhere we turned.
Nature persists in doing what it can to break down these foreign objects. Heat, cold, wind, rain, sun, ice, and waves all work against a rising tide of plastics. These forces may break the plastic into smaller and smaller bits, but those bits don’t biodegrade. Gone are the days of wooden lobster pots and sisal ropes that, when lost, would be reclaimed by the sea in relatively short order. Now plastics prevail, bury our beaches and permeate the food chain. Nature can’t keep up.
I share these observations not to cast aspersions on any particular group or industry. Tourism, shipping, sport and commercial fishing, and recreational boating, and yes, even just day-to-day modern life are all human activities that have contributed to the rich culture and history of the Maine coast. All of these activities, (and more), have contributed in one way or another to the growing problem of ocean trash, so it seems to me that we all share some responsibility for cleaning it up.
I share these observations as my way of expressing why I have decided to support the Rozalia Project. The Rozalia Project is a non-profit organization whose mission is to clean the oceans and remove plastics and other non-biodegradable ocean debris, from the surface to the sea floor. They do this through action, technology, research and outreach. It’s a young organization, but they are already making a difference. If I stand on a deserted Maine beach with a small group of friends and witness ocean trash first-hand, it is easy to feel small, hopeless and helpless in the face of such a daunting problem. But if I stand with the Rozalia Project, I know there is action. And where there is action, there is hope and opportunity. And perhaps even solutions.
Like many thousands of souls before me, I have fallen deeply in love with Maine’s wild coast. So I decided to put my money where my heart is. I sent a check to The Rozalia Project to sponsor 35 miles of ocean clean-up. This is roughly the distance from Southwest Harbor, to Frenchboro, past Marshall and Swan’s Islands, and into Bass Harbor…all places that have taken up residence deep in my heart.
Is there a special island or stretch of shoreline that occupies a special place in your soul? Is it special enough for you to take an active role in protecting it? Consider sponsoring some ocean clean-up miles of your own as a tribute to your special place. These may be small steps, but they are steps in the right direction. And, thanks to the Rozalia Project, they are steps we don’t have to take alone.