Underway, transiting in the Tuamotu, French Polynesia
So we left the natural splendor of Fakarava and headed over to Toau, which was a day’s trip away, and also finally got some video of the mouth-wateringly delectable pamplemousse.
For a little over the past month now we have pretty much sustained ourselves on French baguettes and Polynesian grapefruit. Greg will only feel deprived by the situation when this is no longer possible. Tiffany is already dreading the day…
Also, many of you ask what happens to trash when you’re at sea. Here’s what everyone does:
Shocking, isn’t it? What’s nuts is that this is the norm for all ships, commercial and recreational, the world over. Greg remembers the first time he saw trash going overboard. It was his first cruise on a Coast Guard ship and they just tossed bags of garbage over the side while at sea. He was dumbstruck until another sailor explained it all. There is some logic to it. You may not agree with the logic, but at least now you’ll understand it. Since all the popular exposure we’re aware of is primarily focused on tossing garbage overboard as a bad thing, here we’ll take the role of explaining it. As for our own opinions, we’ll give it to you at the end.
First off, there isn’t anywhere to really put garbage on a boat long term that is sanitary for the crew. Also you’d have to deal with the smell, the bugs, attracting rodents in port, leaking etc. Now there are some cruisers that “pack their trash out” by only throwing out garbage when they get to port but we will look into that idea in a minute. Also, these cruisers are typically shorter range cruisers who will pull into an established port with garbage facilities once a week. In Polynesia, most of the locals literally burn their trash (including plastics) because they, like us, have nowhere to put it.
As long as what you throw overboard is bio-degradable, the sea does a heck of a faster job breaking it down than anything on land. Also, you’re not allowed to throw stuff within miles of land, so likely you’re tossing the biodegradable trash into the 80% of the ocean that is barren desert (except for the salt water). That’s why we had so many cans in the video; we hadn’t been far enough from shore while inside Fakarava’s lagoon. To get an idea of what is legally allowed to be tossed over where, here is a handy diagram from Greg’s Coast Guard boarding officer days (yes, we are currently talking about maritime law enforcement, don’t mind Greg while he geeks out, hey maybe you’ll learn something!)
Note the one thing you are never allowed to throw overboard: Plastic. Plastic never degrades. Sailors do their best to avoid having it onboard because they can’t throw it overboard, ever. When they do use plastic they store it. Plastic is a major problem for the ocean and is the primary focus of the whole “Pacific Garbage Patch” dilemma.
Finally, stuff falls into the sea all the time, especially organic waste. Whales poop in the ocean – about 3% of their total body mass each day – and they live for a while, you do the math. So do birds and basically every other creature, at some point or another, has had their fecal matter mixed in with the ocean. Animals die in the ocean and their rotting carcasses often sink. Also, many coastal cities use the sea as a garbage site (surprise!). A couple of decades ago the US government was using the waters off the Farallon Islands (near San Francisco) as a radioactive dumping ground. Once they figured out it made the sharks glow though, they cut that out.
Here’s the scary truth. Live by the coast? Throw stuff away? Then it probably ends up in the sea. Where else is it going to go? Sailors are just a little more direct about the process. If an apple gets tossed into the water, is it littering? Ok, so how about a cardboard box that becomes waterlogged and decomposes before your eyes? See, slippery slope.
By the way, anyone want to go swimming?
On the one hand is the unrealistic goal of a perfect world that no one can live (or poop) in and on the other is an ocean so polluted that the plastic outnumbers the plant life (which, by the way, is apparently true right now in some places of the Pacific.) Ultimately, like everything else, it’s a balancing act that we all have to agree on and do. Right after we finish up that world peace bit.
It worries me that one day God is going to show up and ask us to explain why we broke his planet.
Where do we stand? Hard question. As crew, we don’t really have a choice in the matter because as long as our Captain is obeying the law, we really can’t stop them. It’s easy to be hard-over against dumping anything. Garbage is bad! However, all creatures create waste, it’s part of living. Yes, humans create more. Anyone here willing go without their spaghetti sauce? How about your car? Seeing both sides of the issue, actually living with the logistics and having had both sides impact our lives, we would have to say that we agree some things can be tossed overboard as long as we know we aren’t significantly impacting the environment in the area. Right… now define “significant impact”… We could go on…
But not with plastic. Plastic kills baby turtles and that makes Jesus sad.
What’s your opinion about what is ok and not ok to throw overboard?