Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Touch that shell and I'll have to shoot you...

The beach near our home.
Perhaps it’s the joy of a surprise find. Or the serendipity of happening upon something bizarre, something glittery, something smooth, something fascinating… Perhaps it's the profound beauty of found objects. But for whatever reason, I have always always loved beachcombing. Not with a metal-detector kind of thing, determinedly mine-sweeping the sand in the hope that some poor bastard has lost a valuable ring or watch or the contents of a coin purse. No, I mean just leisurely shoreline wandering, stooping to gather up treasures rolled like dice by the tide or to study the living art that lies beneath the skin of the water.
Back in the 60s, my brother and I used to play Housie Lotto and Pontoon with our grandparents, using shells they kept in a clip-top jar as the counters and chips. We called them trapdoor shells. Every time we went to the beach, we looked for some to add to the jar. The very best ones were worn bone-white and smooth. I still collect them. You never know, maybe one day I’ll have grandchildren to play old-time welcome-to-the-magical-world-of-betting games with too.


Sign at above beach.
But these days, collecting shells, sea urchins and tumbled glass from the beach we overlook here on The Rock is more like subterfuge than serendipity. You see it’s against the law. Not just frowned upon. Not just advised against. Illegal. A crime.

I understand that minimal environmental impact is important. Very important. I don’t understand why I’m not allowed to walk my dogs along the same cliff-top track where people ride bikes. Apparently my on-leash dogs on the designated pathway cause damage to the nests of ground-dwelling birds but rampaging mountain-bikers are harmless.

  And I don’t understand why I am forbidden to walk my dogs on the same
Another sign at above beach.
beach where hoards of day-trippers pitch their sun tents, teach their kids to pee in the sand dunes or water and then piss-off back to the city leaving the detritus of their daily festivities for locals like me to clean up. Maybe the problem is that when I pick up after my pooches, I might also scoop up some of that precious sand created by the crumbling of those protected-by-law shells. Ptui...

Times have changed, Wendy. We all need to be more respectful of planet earth. 

Photo by F Holmes, Museum Victoria
Yes. I get that.When I was young, back in the days before electricity was invented, we regularly rummaged around the local cliffs and beaches for little fossilized sea urchins. We had a shoebox full of compact sandstone domes, each imprinted with a spiky star. There were bits of bone and teeth in there too.When I was educated enough to comprehend that they belonged where I found them, I returned them all. (OK, so I just dumped them at low-tide and it’s altogether possible that I completely stuffed up some very long-term research about the distribution of fossilized sea urchins along that particular piece of coastline. But hey, at least I was trying to make amends.)  

So I get that nature parks are vital. And I totally get that it was my choice to come and live at a nature park and of course I could just get in my car and drive to some other less protected beach for my walks...but seriously. Is the world so short of sand that beachgoers removing shells should be treated like shoplifters? Let’s face it, the trek back up the cliff is pretty steep. It’d take the Hulk to make-off with more than a handful.

Or should I look at this another way? If all the people who have ever been guilty of removing what they combed from our beach were to put everything back, is there a good chance that the accumulated returned sea-debris would reclaim Bass Strait and Tasmania would once more be connected to the mainland?

The whole scenario reminds me of how whenever my brother and I punctuated our explanation of why we were bickering, or squabbling, or punching-on with the familiar refrain : S/He started it, Dad would respond with the equally familiar refrain: Two wrongs don’t make a right. I never fully understood what the hell that meant either.

I respect our beach. Immensely. I never dislodge anything living, or trample where the dear little (but unbelievably hapless) Hooded Plovers make their nests (only about 5 percent reach adulthood). I clear away rubbish and remove sharp objects. 

And I still love beachcombing. 
I always will.