And it’s not just the strandings that is a concern, trash litters this beach as far as we can see. Everywhere we look, there is garbage. Where is it coming from? I decide to start picking up pieces that I feel are a danger to the animals: plastic pop caps and bottles, pink plastic bags, blue plastic bags, white plastic bags, these are items that can be found at the convenience store, and I recognize these blue and pink bags from the farmers market. Presently I dig up a large rice bag, now I have something to put the trash in. As I work, I am conscious to keep up with the group who are still identifying the carcasses. When I started my marine debris campaign as an undergraduate student at Sheldon Jackson college, I was often asked the question “why bother to clean it up? It comes right back, and after all, you are just filling up the landfills”. Since that time, we have learned that anthropogenic marine debris accumulates in the ocean, especially plastic, and that it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. These pieces have been found to accumulate POPs, or persistant organic pollutants. Studies have indicated that fish in the ocean are mistaking these very small pieces of plastic for plankton, and may very well be ingesting the POPs, which in turn are eaten by larger fish, and so on. I still can’t help but think “what am I going to do with this bag of trash when I am done?” There are no garbage cans at Pampa Lachuza, my group is probably thinks that I need to pay attention to the carcasses on not the trash...blah blah blah my mind says but still I keep picking up trash and stuffing it in the rice bag.
Carlos tells me that the cab driver will not transport our garbage out with us, that we must leave it on the side of the road for the Park rangers to pick up. Our trash from camping goes right next to my rice bag full of beach trash. I can't help but think if it will sit there for an eternity, to be knocked over and scattered, or what.
Our last stop of the day is in the town of Paracas, where the devastation from the 2007 quake is still evident. Paracas is a colorful tourist town with many souvenir vendors, restaurants, and a beautiful marina with many brightly painted fishing boats. Residents drive around in brand new cars purchased by the oil industry (that pipeline to the rainforest that I mentioned is not far from here), yet many houses are in disrepair or are uninhabitable. We are here to survey the locals to find out if ORCA Peru should have a presence, especially as contributing educators in the schools. We ate lunch at a small cantina and then spread out to do our survey. Patty and I interviewed several vendors and three fishermen; all of the vendors felt that sea lions and cetaceans are on the decline and that protection and education were needed. One young fisherman wanted to see protection for sea lions, and two elderly fishermen were hostile to the sea lions. Yet all wanted someone to come and help educate them on ocean sustainability.
One thing that I would like to add before closing; don't let ANYONE tell you that your actions, no matter how small they may seem, don't make a difference! While I was picking up trash at the reserve, and thinking my thoughts, the Park Rangers were watching me through the binoculars, effectively taking the focus off of Carlos' group who was making their assessment of the sea lion deaths (if you watched the above video you will notice that this is important). Not only were they paying attention to me and not the ORCAS, they were admonishing their crew for the shame of allowing a tourist to pick up beach garbage-thus the reason that we saw six people cleaning the beach as we were leaving! And lastly I would like to add that despite the deaths of the sea lions, and the endless human generated garbage on the beach, it was apparent to me that people wanted to see change, and that the beauty of the Paracas Peninsula and Pampa Lachuza was more overpowering than the devastation-If we all work together we CAN make the ocean a better place~