Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Tides of Change

Why is it impossible to recreate the first time you experience something?

The weekend was spent relaxing on the beaches of the Outer Banks, NC. The weather was fine: occasionally threatening rain, but only so cloudy as to take the sting off the midday sun and keep temperatures pleasant. The water was refreshingly chilly. We were far from the only cats on the beach, but never had any problem securing a spot for our chairs. We sunbathed, swam, read, ate, drank, and were merry.

But it wasn't anything like the first time. The first time, OBX felt like a coastal wilderness like I had never experienced back home. I'd had an idea that people escaped to places like this, camping in the dunes and cooking tuna over an open campfire on the beach. Now here was I, feeling a million miles from home and loving it.

So perhaps its not OBX that has changed, but me. And of course if you visit at the end of September, hitting the beach around dinner time, then it's easy to forget that such a majority of the population of the East Coast and beyond (we saw a lot of Quebec plates this time) treat OBX as their Summer playground.

It's heartbreaking to see a beach full of F250's. There's really no reason for it. For an avid fisherman I can see the benefit in him taking his jeep to the surf with all his tackle and bait and supplies for the day. A family on a beach trip need to park the truck in the parking lot, hand the beach chairs to Junior and start walking. The Environmentals are doing what they can to protect the wildlife, but making themselves hugely unpopular in the process. As a chemist all I see is the residue left behind. Hundreds of vehicles carrying material from the roadway onto the sand, laying down a blanket of Carbon monoxide, complex hydrocarbons and trace precious metals. I was always taught that the beach was a vulnerable environment by dint of its nature as a transition from sea to land.

Of course I respect the rights of visitors to recreate on the beach, but as with all things, with rights come responsibility, and little responsibility is being exercised by most of the visitors. What disappoints me is that as the people who have been visiting the area for decades complain about the erosion of their rights, they fail to realize how they have not kept up on their responsibilities to be examples of how to treat the environment with respect, to educate other visitors about the fragility of the beach and it's inhabitants, to exercise a little frugality and not abuse the resources that the barrier islands hold. Having completely ignored these vital roles, now they only have bad things to say of the legislators and civil servants working to do what they didn't do themselves. No, you can't fish from the beach around the inlet, because where the trucks used to be sparsely dotted along the waterline, they are now wing-mirror to wing-mirror. The traffic along the dunes rivals Highway 12. The Oystercatchers and turtles want just a sliver of their home to call their own.


  1. Perhaps there's a way to price beach access that causes such damage to reflect the cost to the environment. Expecting to change their behavior because of moralistic bromides (such as those the eco-crowd specialize in) are naive. But if they start putting the damage in dollar figures - granted, not something simple to do when intangibles like species extinction and habitat destruction have extra-economic aspects - it would at least give people a better context for making the choices they do.

    In the long run, none of us are going to get people to do things they don't want to do. We're going to have to be persuasive if we don't want to be the eco-third-reich.

  2. Personally I think putting a price on the environment sends the wrong message - that those who pay the fee now 'own' a part of what they have paid for and can act as they wish.

    Really the problem is sustainability. Eventually the human race will have to start educating future generations to live sustainably. This extends to all areas of life. Just look at the 'credit crunch'; it was birthed by financial institutions trying to make money in a way that wasn't sustainable.

    I've often heard the argument that when we make everything an economic concern, people will start to act in humanities best interest because of the monetary incentive that appeals to their greed. But apparently people don't even do the right thing when money is involve. Instead they choose to view only the short term.

    Ultimately, the environment is already an economic concern, although current models like GDP don't reflect a nations natural resources yet.