Menemsha, a fishing village on Martha’s Vineyard, has stayed largely unchanged for the last 50 or 60 years, with its hillside cottages and dockside fisherman’s shacks. Located on the West shore of the Vineyard, hundreds flock to the town’s beach in the summer to catch the dramatic sunsets, stopping to pick up a fish sandwich. One of the popular places to stop is the Menemsha Fish Market, where most everyone seems to know Stan Larsen, the friendly owner behind the counter.
Stan has been a fisherman all his working life, and he wishes all those visitors to Menemsha could understand what he sees in the waters in the harbor and off the coast: a wave of discarded plastics that’s killing sea life.
“When I go out in my boat,” Stan says, “we find what we call “floaters”—junk like deflated plastic balloons, plastic bags and plastic bottles. Potato chip bags—people on boats eat the chips and toss them into the water. The kids whose parents buy them helium balloons don’t realize the damage those plastics do once they end up in the ocean.”
One of the big problems is that bits of plastic get mistaken for jellyfish, Stan says, “and the birds and turtles eat them. I’ve seen see sea life dissected and they are full of plastics.”
Troubled by what he sees, Stan has started a one-man campaign. After the summer tourist season quiets down he’s planning to take some Islanders out on his fishing boat to the Sargasso Current, which runs by the Vineyard just off the Atlantic-facing beach at Aquinnah. Whales and fish of all kinds come there to feed. There they will trawl with a special net to collect plastics floating by.
“People,” Stan says, “just aren’t aware.”
Daniel Goleman is a New York Times bestselling author. His latest book is A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World.