Sunday, July 3, 2011

Turning Tides

I've got the ocean on my mind lately. Spending a day on the shore will do that to you - that salt air and that constant low tidal rumble stay with you long after you've left. I live within a day's drive of the Northern Atlantic, but I still only get there once or twice each year and each visit is a cherished memory.

This year we stayed on Cape Cod and spent a simply perfect day on Martha's Vineyard. I love my mountains, but I'd leave them behind for a life by the sea in a heartbeat.

When I got home and turned my attention to my radio show, I found a feature story on a Maine woman who has made her living harvesting sea snails, known as periwinkles or "wrinkles", in a sleepy little northern town called Lubec. I've been to Lubec - it's not a tourist town by the sea, it's a working village where the people rely on the sea for their livelihoods. But according to the story I found, fishing is dying there. As one species after another is overfished, the economy crashes further and Lubec's people are struggling.

Julie Keene and her son got by harvesting periwinkles - not getting wealthy, but not starving. Then the rockweed which is essential to the periwinkles' habitat began to disappear.

Apparently rockweed, that bladder covered seaweed that proliferates along the rocky Atlantic coast, is valued by industry as an emulsifier. Commercial harvesters are cutting rockweed off the rocks, leaving a barren landscape of stubs and wiping out a unique habitat.

Julie Keene, a rough, independent woman, has traded her harvesting basket for a camera and has been photographing the devastation left by the commercial harvesters. She testified at the state capitol in hopes of convincing legislators to ban the harvesting of rockweed.

She's not alone. There's a coalition trying to raise awareness of the issue.

There is a pile of swirling garbage hundreds of miles across in the Pacific. There's another in the Atlantic. Industry is scalping the rocks for the plants that grow there. There are environmental emergencies all around us. And it feels too damned big to do anything about.

But Julie Keene is doing something. We can, too, even if it's only to learn more and spread the word.


Whitney Lee said...

Thanks for this. There's always something we can do, right, even if it's only in shouting the news so that awareness grows.

Susan said...

It's an interesting and sad debate - in a place with no work, cutting rockweed is steady work. But it will destroy the habitat and then there will be even less hope for work.

Similar to horizontal gas drilling - a quick buck that will result in long term problems.

But it's a hard argument to sell when folks have no money at all.