15 November, 2012 15 November, 2012

CAN DO! Trekking for Trash

For some of us, crossing the sand to get to the water’s edge is just the last few steps of the journey. For some of us, those steps are part of the surf and we enjoy the stroll down the beach to a more secluded peak.  Some of us even have that spot round the next headland. It may be working, but if it is you can be sure to have it alone. Those walks are the most rewarding. But imagine walking the entire length of the South African coast for no reward. Imagine walking it for the selflessness of just picking up rubbish.

Two good friends, Camilla Howard and Mike Baretta are doing just that. After starting their mission in Alexander Bay in early October, they have now reached Cape Town and are turning the corner towards the Indian Ocean. 900 kilometres and an estimated 850kgs of trash later.

That may sound like a fairly happy statistic. But remember the west coast is sparsely populated and so litter up there has been minimal. Also, the stuff they find floats – it’s not weighty. “We’ve been finding mostly marine debris – ropes, crayfish traps, bottles and things. But since we’ve been closer to people, things have gotten worse and worse.” On the stretch that I walk with them, a modest 6 kms from Strandfontein to Mnandi along False Bay, we fill up their bin pack twice. Only in the places with less access do we make a noticeable difference. For the parts that are more frequented, it really is a token gesture.

“The nature of it has changed. We started getting lots of chip packets and ear buds. A lot of people don’t think twice about flushing their buds down the toilet.” That plastic ends up in the sea. I have my own think twice moment. There are plenty tangled balls of fishing nylon. Looking up and down the coast at the rods poking towards the breakers, it’s easy to pick out the source. I’ve never been an avid fisherman, but on those few occasions that I’ve dropped a line, I’ve gotten stuck, and lost some. There was never a moment’s moral consideration involved in losing that line.

Now it hits home. “This takes 650 years to disappear.” To put that in perspective, if the first fishing line was old enough to break down now, it would have been made as Europe was emerging from the Dark Ages. The Aztecs ruled Mexico, and the Mongol Empire was still fresh in people’s minds. It’s a long time to wait. And we’ve only had nylon for 70 odd years. Then there’s all the chip packets, flip flops, plastic bags, styrofoam whatevers… All that will accumulate in our grandchildren’s oceans, long before the first of it reaches its sell by date. The good news is they’re yet to find a surfboard. But, they have found one old bodyboard.

The purpose of the trip isn’t so much to raise awareness for this particular plight of marine pollution, but rather to instill a sense of pride of where you live – no matter how far you are from the coast.  Although we pass the occasional storm water drain which is dragging flotsam from the Cape Flats, the majority of what we see was discarded by people who regularly use this beach. It’s disheartening to see people with so little empathy for the place where they fish, swim and play.

While it’s an awesome, inspirational tale, it hasn’t just been a chilled walk. They’ve had their fair share of sunburn and dehydration. They also had to swim across the Olifants River after 10 hours on the trot. “It was 6:00 in the evening, and it was freezing,” says Camilla. “And the place was buzzing with seals, so it felt so sharky.”

But, these moments don’t compare to the vistas they’ve enjoyed, and the creatures they’ve passed by. Highlights include an elephant seal down at Cape Point, and super-pods of Heaviside’s dolphins.

They’re not surfers themselves, but know good stuff when they see it. They strolled past epic, uncrowded Elands and a few other spots, which may or may not even have names. You may want to get friendly with them – they’re sure to stumble across a few more secrets in the next while.

In truth, to date, despite encountering many great people on their trip, surfers have been few and far between. Like most visitors to the diamond coast, they met up with Rocky and revelled in his company at Brazil. They even encountered a soul brother, happily having walked away from high finance in Dubai and New York, to find a rock and solitude of the desert, where he could surf and write in peace.

The plan is to finish in Kosi Bay at the end of April. If it sounds like an awesome trip, the good news is there are options to join them. They will be stopping off in many of the towns along the way to promote their trip. Follow their progress on Facebook here and their website here.  If you’re in Cape Town this weekend, they’re also backtracking slightly and having a beach clean in Muizenberg – be at False Bay Surf Liversavers Club at 10:00am to get involved.

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