Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Trashy Pilgrimage

The wild end of South Padre Island is to the north. The town is located on the southern 7 miles of a 34-mile beach. So get out there you drive up Route 100 and get on the beach at County Access 5 or 6. Work was slow on Thursday so I hooked ‘em out to the wild beach with my new digital camera.

My, how the beach had changed over the years. It used to be a suicide run to get through the loose sugar sand and then down by the dark, compacted sand next to the surf. In the old days there would be an old man in an old truck, sitting there grinning, waiting for yet another car to haul out of the sugar sand - $20. Well, all that is changed now. The county uses heavy machinery and water trucks and has paved miles and miles of beach like a two-lane highway. No, not as in paved with asphalt, but there absolutely no chance of being stuck anywhere. Plus, Hurricane Emily has sculpted the beach in a very strange manner, creating a berm just next to the shore.

The easy driving made it easy for my main target of inquiry, trash, as in beverage containers, plastic bags, shoes and sandals, old tires, restaurant wrappers, and so forth. I did see some cool birds and need to get better with the camera because every time I’d sneak up on them they’d poop and fly away. That’s a tune for a different day, since I was on a mission from God just like the Blues Brothers.

First thing is that the area between Access 5 and 6, about 2 miles, is actually groomed very well. It was obvious that beach rakes on tractors were used to clean up the mess. “Not too bad” I thought to myself. There were hundreds of vehicles parked in this area and it didn’t look all that bad in the least. I was surprised. Acting on “the call of nature” I stopped and headed up to the dunes for a pee. That’s where I discovered that every plastic bag on the beach had blown up into the dunes, like tinsel covering a Christmas tree. It was so quiet you could hear the bags – Walmart blue, HEB white, and all kinds – rustling in the wind. This was not a happy discovery because blowing plastic is one of the most difficult things to remove from the beach. And, one could not fault the County for not policing several hundred acres of dune that may or may not have blowing plastic.

After passing Access #6, where the road is currently blockaded on Route 100, things kind of deteriorated because there were no more trash cans and the beach raking stopped. The road was still good, though, so I pressed on another 6 miles. From what I saw, trash was very spread out and not dumped in piles anywhere. There was much less plastic up in the dunes (OK, I had to go the kitty box after driving another hour). My impression was like one piece of trash every 10-20 feet or so – a sandal here, a dead soldier beer there, some trailer trash over here. It would have been nice if people dumped in one nice fat pile instead of using the broadcast method! I think all the wind and waves had something to do with it though.

On the way back down the beach I planned to stop at two places. One looked like a landfill near an area of high dunes about 2-3 miles north of Access #6. It turned out to be just a bunch of stuff washed up from the beach, including some major hookey that looked like it belonged on a shrimp boat. The other site was a pile of what the beach rake had collected, much closer to town. As would be expected, most of the pile was seaweed mixed in with beach sand. But there was is significant amount of trash in there too, since obviously the backhoe operator can’t hand-pick all the trash out of his load (they rake it until it gets to be a big mess and then use the front bucket to pile the stuff up). Not much was visible, however until you started rooting like a pig. And yes, I did get some weird looks! I was glad the cops didn’t catch me like that.

I covered a little les than half of the 26 miles of beach at the wild end of the island. At my average speed of 15-20 MPH, even my short jaunt took several hours, including several stops for pictures and the nature thing. It was a mixture of fun, relaxation, and disgust.


Everett said...

Hi Sam, there are a lot of times when I'm glad that we are as small an Island as we are. I just can't imagine trting to police 34 miles of coastline to keep it clear of trash! We have a couple of days a year where most of ours gets a good cleanup. Alot of stuff is brought to us by the sea, waves and wind, but of course tracing backwards, that all comes to the sea courtesy of homo slobians who think anything pitched overboard disappears into the ether.When you get better with your new camera, out up some pic's on the blog. It is real easy believe it or not. I use a program called Picasa2 which I downloaded off the net. It is real easy and intuitive to use. Hell if I can do it anyone can. I have been gathering some pic's of the Island to try to tie to any blogs I might put up.

Sam said...

Thanks Everett, will look into the program ya mentioned.

I seem to remember that BLock island got quite a bit of lumber on the beaches, a few lobster pots, and some flotsam and jetsam (why are they picking on "sam"?), but not much garbage. The currents up there go round and round like a toilet bowl. OK< not a good analogy, but the tide charts are complicated! And, think about it, you've got about 30 miles of coastline all around the Island. You just can't drive it all.

Down here we mainly get two kinds of trash - the kind sent up from Mexico courtesy of the Gulf Current and what the people conveniently bring along with them in their vehicles. The latter is a problem because you can drive the entire coast on the unincorporated north end, the wild side. -sam