Yesterday was the bi-annual Hawaiian Monk Seal Count. Volunteers canvassed beaches around the state between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. searching for all the endangered marine mammals that they could find. It was my third count. My zone consisted of two connecting beaches–Aliomanu and Anahola–on Kauai’s northeast coast, like they have for the past two seal count days. I was hoping this time would be different. It is not common for seals to haul out and sleep on my neighborhood beaches, but it is not uncommon, either. I have seen seals here numerous times, and I have even staked signs and strung rope like we volunteers do, so beachgoers don’t mistake one of our precious seals for a rock, which can happen. But I had yet to see any seals on these two beaches on the day of the semi-annual count. After a couple miles of walking, scrambling over rocks and peering into the surf for the chance sighting of a seal about to haul out, I finished my duties and, again, marked “0″ on the official tally sheet. Sigh.
Zero seal sightings, though, doesn’t mean the day wasn’t interesting. Earlier in the week, I’d heard there was a Portuguese Man-of-War warning for all northeast-facing beaches, thanks to heavy winds and a recent swell from the north.
Soon, I started seeing them on the beach along the high tide line. Many people confuse these interesting critters for jellyfish, but they are really floating colonies of hydrozoan polyps and medusae. Swimmers and surfers shy away from them, because their single, long tentacle can leave a painful welt.
I ran across a few other items on the beach. They weren’t as pretty or as natural as these two. In fact, they are a threat to the long-term survival of our Hawaiian Monk Seals. And, because October is “Marine Debris Awareness Month,” I will share them with you. Warning: Some images are disturbing.
These are derelict fishing nets. They tangle up in a ball like an undercooked pot of spaghetti. What’s worse is some seals have been snagged by such a floating island and have actually drowned. Here’s what balls of fishing nets look like when they wash ashore.
And this is what happens to that water bottle that accidentally gets left behind at the beach or flies overboard.
Now, I can understand how fishing nets and water bottles can end up in the ocean, but this? How did this TV wind up in our seas?
As much as I would have liked, there was no way I could drag home every fishing net and television set that I ran across yesterday, however, I recalled Krista Heide with ReefCheck Hawaii suggested that everyone pick up five pieces of trash whenever they go to the beach, so I did haul off a sky blue-colored detergent bottle, three plastic lobster traps and this watch.