This morning I saw a pod of whales swim past. I missed the dolphins in the harbour a couple of weeks ago, when the children went in to swim with them. But I think I may have been the only one to see the whales.
I went out in the early morning to bin the rubbish, and walked up to the edge of the cliff to look out to sea. The sea was calm and almost silver, the sky so pale and clear, that the horizon and sky almost merged.
As I stood there in the stillness, a fin appeared, and then the rest of the whale, and a white fountain before it plunged back into the trackless sea. And then another, a little further over, and then another, fins and fountains of water…less than quarter of a mile away.
For a few minutes they sprang and blew and dived. Then I saw them no more. But I was blissed out… just to know that there was still life in the sea. It’s only in the last twenty years that anything has been known in this country about orcas, or killer whales as they’re also known. There are three groups, it’s now estimated, and about three hundred only in New Zealand waters. They live in pods of two or three according to researchers, but I’ve seen up to a dozen adults and their babies cruising up Auckland Harbour.
The ones I saw this morning were Antarctic orcas, a steely grey, compared to the black of other groups… and a long way from the Antarctic. They travel fast at more than 50 kilometres an hour, and though the males are between 20 and 30 feet long, the females slightly smaller, they are not truly whales, but belong to the dolphin family.
We have a marine reserve a few miles north of our harbour – the first to be established in the world – and it teems with fish of all kinds, the way the sea used to be before man pillaged these unpolluted waters and in less than two hundred years managed to deplete them to the point of worry. I sometimes wonder if the fish know they’re safe in the reserve, the way the ducks all fly to safety in the lakes and ponds in the parks around the city, in the days before the duck shooting season starts.( how do they know the date ?)
When Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian anthropologist who sailed across the Pacific in 1947, made his voyage, the world was still fairly un-despoiled. (writers may be cheered to know that his book, The Kontiki Expedition, which was a best seller, was turned down about two hundred times by agents and publishers, including author William Saroyan)
Heyerdahl, who wanted to prove that people had sailed from South America across the Pacific and peopled islands in the Pacific, made his boat the way the ancient Incas would have done – a sort of raft out of balsa-wood. I’ve recently re-read this book and the picture he gives of the ocean made me ache for the same experience.
He described the intimacy of being at sea-level, with the sea washing over the raft, so that they never sank in rough weather, and how when they killed a big fish like a shark to eat, all the shark’s pilot fish then attached themselves to the raft. The natural balsa wood of the structure also began to grow its own collection of sea-weed under the water, and among the pilot fish and the sea-weed, hermit crabs and barnacles began to make their home.
So this floating travelling home for six men became an organic part of the ocean, with its own micro-life, bobbing along like a cork on top of the water, but also in it. They were part of the life of the great ocean, visited by strange un-named and unknown forms of deep sea life, and travelling with the winds and the currents, accompanied sometimes by dolphins, sometimes by sharks, flying fish landing on the raft, and at all times, living as an integral part of the sea and the winds, the storms and the stars.
The immense nostalgia that I feel on reading Heyerdahl’s description of what was a pristine ocean, untouched by pollution, is because of course, it is a very different experience today. The water is now filled with floating plastic on its way along the currents to tag onto the huge continents of plastic rubbish which kill birds and fish, and slowly bio-degrade into tiny particles which will make their way into the fish, and finally into the human race, a well-deserved fate. And not just plastic rubbish, of course, but floating lost containers, hidden in the water, which are a constant hazard for boats.
A couple of years ago, David de Rothschild and a handful of adventurers, including Heyerdahl’s grandson Olav, built a similar raft, called Plastiki. Rothschild wanted to make the point about all the waste that we don’t recycle. His boat was built, from amongst other things, 12,500 used plastic bottles, and fitted with solar panels, propeller turbines, urine to water recovery systems, and was completely ‘green”.
He sailed from Sausalito, California to Sydney, taking nearly four months. His report on the ocean was devastating. He saw hardly any fish, – the crew couldn’t have survived by fishing every day, as Heyerdahl had done – the ocean was empty, except for plastic rubbish and other floating discards. The plastic of course, was heading for the Great Pacific Rubbish Dump, which I see official sources have tried to downplay, and suggest is not as bad as it seems.
But if you follow up the unbiased reports, the pictures are horrifying; of dying seals entangled in nets, dead ones with plastic rings clamping their mouths shut; fish and birds strangled by plastic bags and fishing lines; and worst of all, a turtle who must have got entangled in a plastic ring less than a foot wide as a baby, who is now a grown animal, strangled in his middle by this plastic ring and completely deformed. These pictures will prick your conscience.
The plastic mountain is not just growing, but also breaking down, so that shards of plastic are entering the food chain through the fish. So the chances that we too may start to ingest the rubbish from the oceans is quite high – sailors passing across the Atlantic have also reported that they were never out of sight of rubbish floating in that great ocean too.
So what can we do? We are consumers. We can start to refuse to buy stuff that’s wrapped in plastic, and everything is. We can lobby our politicians and convince them that doing something about this issue is quite as important as drilling for oil. We can spread the word so that more and more people become aware that we are endangering our oceans.
One English scientist was so appalled when she saw the Great Pacific Rubbish Dump, that she went home, and lobbied her home town, and they are now plastic- free; no more plastic bags in shops and supermarkets, and they are now working on the rest of the plastic menace.
The crazy thing is, if we all used string bags and baskets like we used to, we wouldn’t need a lot of that oil that they’re looking for under the ocean. Bloggers of the world unite, and refuse to go on using plastic wrappings and plastic bags and all the other plastic throwaway stuff that doesn’t last as long as a china bowl, or a wooden chair. Unwrap the shirt, the scissors, the mosquito repellent, every single item, and leave the rubbish on the counter – let’s be counter revolutionaries and clean up our world.
If you want to know more, there’s lots about it on Google. The Great Pacific Rubbish Dump will take you straight there.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
A friend came for lunch on a chilly spring day, so we had celery soup, followed by one soft cream cheese, and one soft blue one locally made, with tomatoes and celery and hot rolls, followed by my standby, lemon tartlets with homemade lemon curd given me by a friend at the weekend, prettied up with a dab of crème fraiche, and coffee.
The celery soup was good, I added a leek to the sauted onion and celery, for another layer of taste, and a small potato for thickening. When the stock (a couple of vegetarian bouillon cubes) had been added, and the soup had been whizzed and was just about ready, I whizzed up some of the celery leaves and some parsley with half a cup of milk in the blender, poured it onto the soup and brought it back to hot to serve straight away. The sharp green flecks of parsley looked lovely in the smooth pale green soup, and the celery leaves gave it a zingy peppery taste. We had a nice chilled Pinot Gris with the cheese.
Food for Thought
If it is to be it is up to me.
Advice from an anonymous English schoolmaster to his new students. I’ve used it before, but it seemed appropriate today.