Our Living World is Dying
Stacey Worman, 2006-2007 Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellow
Date: November 3rd, 2006
To: Undisclosed recipients
Re: It's All Fun and Games Until....
There is a quaint little town in Tasmania called Derby, with an approximate population of 150. And every year, they have their one "big event" called the "Derby River Derby" where people come from far and wide to race their home-made rafts down the river that runs through the center of town.
Derby's derby was not something I had planned to attend. In fact, I didn't even know it existed until I just somehow happened to find myself passing through the town at the same time that it was going on....
I've been to my fair share of carnivals in my day, but I was told by some locals that I 'simply had to check it out'. And so I did....
I walked through the crowd.
It was like any other huge festival....complete with clowns, wood chopping competitions, shopping stalls, blow-up play palaces, funnel cakes and corn dogs...and an estimated 2,000 people poured into the town for it all ...
I watched as people finished their soft drinks and threw their cups on the ground. I noticed people wiping their faces and throwing their napkins on the ground.
I continued walking.
I went and stood along the river bank. I saw many of those dropped cups and many of those discarded napkins blow into the river. And my eyes followed them downstream, but I was quickly distracted by this UFO-of-a-thing that had been launched over my shoulder. I turned around and realized what it was. I then looked upstream. I then looked downstream. And I quickly noticed what was going on around me.
Apparently it's a long standing tradition at the Derby River Derby to throw water balloons at the rafters as they paddle by; and one dollar buys you five of them. I watched children, teenagers, and adults throw water balloons at the rafters. When they made a good throw, they'd turn away from the river and be embraced by their peers with smiles, laughter, and cheers for their job well done. The celebrations would then quickly quiet down, as they either scurried off to buy more balloons or they continued on with other afternoon festivities.
For a good while, I stayed alongside the river. And I'd watched as water balloons were filled, purchased, launched, and until they'd sink out of sight...swallowed by the dark waters of the flowing river. But unlike the people who threw them.....when the balloons disappeared, they stayed in my mind as I began to visualize where they had gone. They stayed in my mind as I thought about the fish in that river. And they stayed in my mind as I thought about that river flowing into the ocean. And they stayed in my mind as I recalled photos I have seen of dissected sea creatures which have washed up on beaches, killed by trash. And they stayed in my mind as I thought about all of the fish, whales, dolphins, and sea turtles I had encountered during my two months at sea. And they stayed in my mind as I visualized all of them mistaking those balloons for food and ingesting them.
And all of this damage....for what? For fun!?!?
I'm all about having fun. And I'm all about letting other people have their fun too. But at what cost and at whose expense?
What was even more upsetting was when I turned to my local host Peter, and asked, 'How do they clean up the river after all of this?'
'Oh well, tomorrow they'll send a few kayaks down the river to do a sweep for trash.'
And well, of course...by tomorrow...it'll be too late to get most of the trash which will be long gone down the river...by tomorrow...most of it will be well on its' way to...
Peter explained that for the last two years, he has talked to the group which runs the event. He's asked them to set up a net downstream from the finish line to catch a majority of the trash, but they didn't understand his concern and simply wouldn't do it. He then told them that they wouldn't have to deal with it and that he would happily do it himself. They thought he was being ridiculous and simply wouldn't allow it.
It wasn't as if he was proposing to stop the balloons all together and a simple net could have been a small step in the right direction. It could have captured many of those balloons. It could have prevented a lot of damage that those balloons will end up causing. And it would not have been a complicated or expensive to do...
But for one reason or another, the idea was met with such strong resistance. And for one reason or another, it is so incredibly hard to do something that should theoretically so incredibly easy...
And yes there are bigger fish to be fried in Tasmania (like the clear-felling of old-growth forests)....but these smaller ones abound and can be found around too....
In a few hours Brenda and I will be embarking on the beginning of our rather lengthy voyage to The Philippines! Pictures from Tasmania are now posted within hours and the scoop on the bigger fish is coming soon as well (I had to ditch my computer for a while for exploration purposes, but will be playing catch-up in the air!)
I wish you all the best,