The Plastic-Hunting Pirates of the Cornish Coast


The Cornish coast — with its excessive cliffs and inlets, lining the peninsula that juts out from England’s southwest nook — has a protracted affiliation with pirates. Its rocky coves, secret anchorages and lengthy winding creeks have traditionally been a haunting floor for seafaring scoundrels and salty sea canine.

Today, it’s the dwelling of a completely totally different breed of renegade. Since 2017, Steve Green and Monika Hertlová have been setting sail of their 112-year-old boat to take away plastic air pollution from the shoreline’s worst affected areas. In the three years since they started working — beneath the banner of Clean Ocean Sailing and alongside a group of devoted volunteers — they’ve eliminated over 44,000 kilos of plastic waste from areas of land which might be inaccessible by foot.

I met Steve and Monika in the galley of their boat, which can also be their dwelling, and which they share with their one-year-old son, Simon, and their labrador, Rosie. They pored over maps and climate reviews as 90 bananas swung from the ceiling above them. The fruit, together with different provides, had been donated to the group by native companies desirous to assist what is supposed to be a 60-mile round-trip voyage to the distant Isles of Scilly, an archipelago some 30 miles southwest of Cornwall.

Luckily for the crew, and the coast, Steve is a native Cornishman with a boundless knowledge of its coastline. So, with a full boat of four volunteers, we pulled free from our moorings, drew up the sails and began to move along the long and winding Helford River, out toward the English Channel and the Celtic Sea.

Spirits were high as we exited the mouth of the river and saw the unmistakable swish of a whale’s tail rise from the waters alongside the boat — clearly an omen of good fortune.

We were armed with a plan to clean 10 of Cornwall’s most polluted beaches over a 10-day period, and, in true piratical nature, to hide from the worst of the storms in the natural harbors and caves of the coast, where we’d spend each night.

We settled into what we hoped would become a familiar rhythm: We’d drop anchor on the 60-foot schooner, then disembark in a flotilla of smaller canoes and rowing boats to land and edge our way along the rocky shore, gathering plastic along the way.

Soon the upward swish of a whale tail again caught our eyes — but this time it was jarring and out of place. We fell quiet and looked harder; the whale was on land. Its huge frame lay helpless on the rough, sharp shoreline. The water around it was retreating.

Despite our best efforts to keep the gigantic creature wet with hastily repurposed dry bags, we watched — four hours later — as it writhed and slammed into the ground in a final, agonizing gasp for air.

But, despite the discomforts, we continued to pick up plastic: toilet seats, bottles, fishing nets, crates, boots. We spent our days prying it from trees, from under rocks and along the shoreline — some of it is so fiercely tangled that it requires knives and multiple pairs of hands to retrieve.

Perhaps most surprising was the condition of the items: an empty packet of chips from 15 years ago seemed as structurally sound as one you might pick up from a grocery shelve.

All of the waste was hoisted back on deck and securely strapped down.

Simon Myers, a volunteer who joined the expedition with his 17-year-old son, Milo, said that the experience gave him a new perspective on climate change, overconsumption and plastic pollution. Before the voyage, he said, it seemed that many such problems were happening elsewhere — “somewhere low lying, somewhere where they don’t know how to process litter.”

“But now we know the problem is everywhere,” he said. “It’s happening on our doorstep. It’s coming home to roost.”

At the end of our 10-day trip, we hauled our spoils back to shore, sorting and weighing the contents: nearly 2,000 pounds of plastic waste.



Source link Nytimes.com

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