Imagine, while on a family vacation, you come across a fossilized mako shark tooth. How awesome! You may have scored the largest tooth of the day. Excited to run off to your sister, parents and cousins (as an almost 30 year old adult) to show off your winnings, you stumble upon something tangled, smelly, made of plastic and ropes, filled with driftwood and the remains of deceased wildlife. If you guessed marine debris, you are correcto-mundo.

To jump into the past a bit, I grew up on the water in a small beach town in NJ. It was hard to convince us that anywhere other than the beach (and snowy mountains) were cool places to visit. As a kid, my family often spent family vacations along the Potomac River shores (locals refer to it as the rivah, and will now be referred to as the rivah) at my Aunt’s rivah house named Shibumi. The name in is a long story in itself; Japanese word for “effortless perfection”, but that’s for another day. There, we enjoyed water sports, crabbing, bonfires, boats and the most fasci- nating of all – SHARK TOOTH ISLAND (name changed to protect our secret spot).

Being the young paleontologist that I was, I was enthralled. Every summer, until about the time we were in high school, we would head to the rivah to enjoy family, crabbing, swimming and most definitely fossil hunting.

Fast forward to today, this past summer was one for the books. It included defending my masters in marine biology where my thesis was on marine debris, getting a second part time job, and a road trip to Shibumi!. After a 15 year Shibumi hiatus, we made the 993 mile drive to relax and play. Upon our first boat ride in to Shark Tooth Island, I noticed some- thing that was not fossil, plant, animal or even natural. A huge heaping pile of plastic gill net tangled on an old piling 1/2 buried in the sand. Oh no, not just any old pile of rope; this was abandoned, lost, derelict fishing gear (or ALDFG), which, in this case, is a large gill net. One line fitted with a foam core to float the net up to the surface, and one lead weighted line designed to keep the net on the bethos. My first go at this net was unsuccessful. Without gloves, knives and a means to bring it back to Shibumi, it was not going to work. My Mom and Dad decided to make a second reconnaissance mission to remove the net later that day. After 2 hours of struggle, it was detangled and removed by my heroes, two knives and a jetski. To the left is my Dad driving the jetski and my Fiancé Bobby, helping to secure the debris at the dock. After this massive heap was dragged up the beach at Shibumi, questions lingered on how we were going to dispose of it.

Lucky me, I have several friends in the marine debris field and one in particular who was putting the rope to good use.

After my family and I separated the mono- filament from the line, it was sorted, packaged up and shipped off to Tampa, FL to Brittany Webster, a friend of mine who designs marine debris awareness bracelets to be made into works of art. Planet Love Life is a wonderful organization where 100% of their proceeds fund marine debris removal efforts in Eleu- thera Bahamas. Each bracelet, anklet and key chain is one of a kind, actual marine debris, removed from the environment.

Pretty rad don’t you think?

Beyond the wake surfing, doggie stand up paddling, hammock hangs, meteor shower gazing, and family bonding, a great lesson was learned while on my summer vacation. Being exposed and knowledgeable on the marine debris issue makes it hard to ignore, even on vacation. However, how you choose to do something about it may require a little elbow grease and sunblock, but the relief and happiness of a family working together to save thousands of marine organisms was well worth it. Now I realize that our little bit of work made this oasis safer, more beautiful and more…. Shibumi, “effortless perfection”.

Keep on being awesome, and stay curious.


Morgan Knowles, M.S. Marine Biologist

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