Posted by Ken Campbell November 4, 2012 0 Comment 1358 views

“Right now, on both the Washington and Oregon coasts, the beaches seem to be pretty pristine.”

The words in the quote above are from a state-level representative briefing the Clallam County commissioners last month. It may be that we have different definitions of the word pristine, and I’m not particularly interested in picking a fight over what the correct one is, but this comment and others like it from government employees makes me wonder: Why is government not taking the lead with regard to tsunami debris and plastic on our beaches?

In Washington, organizations like Coastsavers and the Surfrider Foundation have been on the front lines for some time now. The Makah tribe has been inspiringly proactive, putting together a detailed approach on how they intend to cope with the incoming flotsam. The government, especially at the Federal level, has been less visible on the beaches and curiously seems to want to downplay the debris that’s on its way as well as the stuff that’s already here.

Might it be a political point of view that’s in play here rather than anything empirical? Is there a budgetary down side to admitting that there is a problem? Could it be that, once you’ve acknowledged that some beaches are littered with plastic, you might then be considered liable for cleaning them up?  That the shoreline in some places looks more like a landfill than a wildlife sanctuary? With money – especially government money – so tight these days, is it financially more sensible to deny that the problem exists for as long as possible, putting off the expense of cleanup until next month? Next year? Maybe let the next administration deal with it?

These are just questions. I’m not a reporter and I make no claim to objectivity. But, what I do know is that, whenever I read a quote like the one above, it is always a government official that is being quoted. It’s never a private citizen, never a beachcomber or a wildlife biologist. It is always someone who is acting in some official capacity, from some level of government, that has skin in the game. That might have something to lose if the entire truth got out.

I only bring this up because what I am reading is wrong. That statement at the top of the page is not the truth.

(8:36am PST: After initially posting this at 5:00 this morning, it strikes me that I need to add a little bit of nuance to what I said before the sun came up. There are some government agencies, and some government employees, that should not be painted with the broad brush I used above. The Ikkatsu Project has received outstanding assistance from individuals who work for NOAA and others from the Washington State DNR, for example. Any interpretation of my earlier comments that comes up with the idea that I am a closet anarchist, that I don’t like government or that I think they are all a bunch of bums is incorrect.) 

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