When I came onboard the family business I had to promise my sister-in-law one thing: I would remain “cool like the Fonz” not “go mobster” on anyone and threaten to break people’s legs.
Ok. Easy enough.
Except when my mother’s in town, my disposition in pretty much in check, and I don’t spout off about much because being a reporter we all know I am a jack-of-all trades, expert in none.
But, this Sunday a series of three incidents begged for me to document the dirty deeds with a photograph and 350 words.
The observation started as I cross the Bahia Honda Bridge with a colleague on our way to a Sunday smackdown of spreadsheets, and sun.
“What is that?” Lesley Aaron our marketing director screamed!!!
A sandwich wrapper of some sort tumbled out of a dirty, dark blue pick-up truck cruising in the lane beside us.
“Oh, no! It’ll go into the ocean! A turtle could eat the wrapper. Aghhhh! I just talked to Richie (Moretti) last week!”
My littering story takes a wider, Tim Dorsey-esque turn. Apparently, not every tourist knows my brother could be watching, and he’s infamous from removing disruptive wannabe politicians with physical force from public forums.
The next incident about 60 minutes later occurred in a drug store parking lot. Sitting oblivious I suddenly hear, “did that guy just put his empty Styrofoam cup on the ground?”
Look out. The next thing I know, I’m witnessing a confrontation between my brother and a Buick-driving tourist, and his wife who had ran in to grab a stack of Depends®.
He reaches in the window putting the fear of God into an unsuspecting and environmentally unconscious retiree.
“Here’s your cup,” he tries to be diplomatic.
The old man is aloof and does nothing. Refusing to take responsibility.
“This is my town! Do not litter in my town!”
My brother picks up the cup and makes his way to the garbage can, and my sister-in-law who usually scolds us for our hotheaded actions phrased her hubby, “good for you!”
Fast-forward so I can get to my point…
After a sunny day full of spreadsheets, I took off for a quick stroll down the beach. Here’s what I found in a 10×10’area of pristine sand the TDC uses to tout our islands to the world! Three Snickers® wrappers, some small Styrofoam® pieces, small plastic pieces, a tiny, toy truck, an empty Marlboro® container, and enough cigarette butts to fill a fish bowl.
(More times than not when I am walking the beach with my 22-month old nephew I have to prevent him from picking up cigarette butts and sticking them in his mouth along with sand and seashells.)
Back to the turtles.
A quick call to The Turtle Hospital tells us what most of us islanders are already aware of: turtles (and our toddlers) do not understand pollution. Our precious creatures mistake cigarette butts for squid, or shrimp.
Balloons for jellyfish.
“What ends up happening,” explains education coordinator Pat Thomson, “is what we call ‘Intestinal Impaction.’ They eat the trash in the water thinking it’s food and they get to the point they can’t eat… can’t go to the bathroom.
They become weak and are found floating by fishermen and boaters. We have to rescue them and give them mineral oil to pass the garbage. This is the impact pollution has on our poor turtles. It’s sad. It really is.”
So, for those of you who still indulge in the disgusting habit (this is an editorial…I’m allowed my opinion) of smoking the next time I see you throw a cigarette butt into the sand—Look Out! I may not threaten to break your legs, but I will “bum” one off you then nonchalantly burn your arm.
Let the circle scar serve as a reminder.
I know the sheriff. See if you can stop me.
Josie Koler is the Key West Bureau Chief for her family’s Florida Keys news operation.zzzzz
Here is a photo of the items removed from the cavity of one turtle. Imagine, a ruler, lodged in the esophagus. Image courtesy: The Turtle Hospital.