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David Bly: What we throw on the water will come back

Everything seems right with the world when Saturday turns out to be a sunny day as it did last weekend. Always beautiful, the Island is at its best when it’s sparkling in the sunlight.

Everything seems right with the world when Saturday turns out to be a sunny day as it did last weekend. Always beautiful, the Island is at its best when it’s sparkling in the sunlight.

It was a grand opportunity to show off the area to our son from Alberta, and so we found ourselves taking the Dallas Road-Beach Drive scenic route. We didn’t get far — as we drove past the little Kitty Islet park on McNeill Bay, our son said he wouldn’t mind stopping for a closer look.

Two hours later, we were still there, enjoying the sun, watching the sailboats drift by, checking out the seabirds and probing the beach for treasures. Our son became fascinated with sea glass, and we came away with a generous handful.

Sea glass is an example of trash becoming treasure — pieces of glass polished by the waves and sand, colours often altered by exposure to sun and salt water. Disposing of garbage in the ocean is never a good thing, but it’s comforting to think that something tossed into the sea can eventually become a thing of beauty.

But times are changing. Glass bottles are becoming more uncommon, and sea plastic just doesn’t have the same cachet.

While the shoreline at Kitty Islet was relatively free of trash, I couldn’t help but think of what’s headed for the exposed parts of the coast. The debris from the Japanese tsunami has already started to arrive and, apparently, it will increase. Efforts are underway in places such as Tofino and Ucluelet to remove the debris from the beaches as it arrives.

But B.C. has nearly 26,000 kilometres of coastline, much of it remote and inaccessible. It will be impossible to clear the debris from all beaches and tidal areas.

A large piece of polystyrene foam (usually called Styrofoam) is unsightly, but the real problem is when that big piece becomes thousands of little pieces. Before the plastic era, most of our refuse would eventually decompose and become harmless, if not beneficial. Plastics break down, but even at the molecular level do not decompose.

Creatures that feed on plankton ingest the plastic particles, perceiving it as food. Some of those creatures will starve, having filled up on material that does them no good. Chemicals are introduced into the food chain — which includes some of our food supply.

Larger pieces of plastic and other trash are also eaten — sea turtles, marine mammals and aquatic birds are too often found dead with all kinds of flotsam in their digestive systems.

The tsunami has brought attention to the problem of marine pollution, but the problem existed long before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Way out in the North Pacific is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, thousands, perhaps millions, of square kilometres of swirling trash, brought there and trapped by the rotating currents.

It can’t be cleaned up — too much material is dispersed too widely and much of it is no longer visible.

A few years ago, we took two grandsons on their first coastal vacation. When we brought them back to their parents, the four-year-old jumped out of the car and ran eagerly to tell of his adventures.

“Dad, the ocean is HUGE!” he said.

It is huge, but it’s not limitless. From 1908 to 1958, Victoria, like other cities, hauled its garbage out to sea. Deep-sea dumping has been banned, but garbage still makes its way into the ocean.

I saw a photo this week of a person tossing flowers into the sea in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the tsunami two years ago. It’s a touching gesture, but I also noticed the bouquets of flowers were packaged in plastic. The flowers will decompose; the plastic won’t.

“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” is good spiritual advice, but we should also take it as a literal warning.