Sunday, August 17, 2014

How My Sandy-Bottomed Pool Led Me to the Ocean

Today, in that "last weekend before school starts" sort of way, I spent a large chunk of the day in my backyard pool.

(Disclaimer:  Yes, I know there are environmentalists out there who would crank up the noise on the amount of water that is used in an above-ground, backyard pool.  That water would be seen as "wasted."   However, for me, the pool is my beacon of balance in the summer.  It's where I go to relax, rejuvenate, re-energize and exercise, and hang out with my peeps.  It's my way of restoring my year's worth of workaholic-ness.  But I digress.) 

Some of my pool time was me as a "party of one," and some of that was hanging with my son.  But most of it was hanging with my dog.  He's a Portuguese Water Dog just over a year old, with far too much energy.  The pool satisfies his need for water, and my need to get him to wear himself out!  Two great tastes that taste great together!!!

However, the problem comes when a very wet dog runs like mad in a yard that has just removed a shed. In its place now stands the 8 foot by 8 foot square foundation of dirt where the shed once was.  A dog does what a dog does, and voila!  Sandy dog meets water wonderland. And vice versa and back again. The dog doesn't care that a week ago I spent time and a half vacuuming to de-dirt the pool.  Likewise, he's perfectly fine to swim in it when it's atrociously dirty.  Which it now is.

So, I was in the pool, looking around and growling. I began stirring up the bottom dirt with my foot, feeling the sandy earth on the pool bottom, and it got me thinking. Dirt and water make mud.  Yet my pool is not muddy nor is it murky.  Why isn't it?  Why does the dirt settle to the bottom, more like sediment and less like mud?  Being a swimming scientist, I stirred the bottom grit around, only to watch it all settle again, sediment again.

It got me thinking--this is much like what happens in the ocean with marine debris:  aka, plastic (or sometimes it is called microplastic).  In my pool, fallen leaves (much like big plastic-landing oceanic items) break down, but never disappear.  The grit stays until I stir it up, then it swirls in the water, then settles down again.  It never fully combines.  Never the 'twain shall they meet.  In the ocean, the marine debris photodegrades (or gets broken down by the sun), yet it leaves behind nurdles--these plastic pellets--that never fully break apart.  They are left as floaters in the ocean, mistaken as plankton and sometimes eaten, and they never fully dissipate and disappear.

So now I look at my dirty pool a tad differently than I did a day ago.  I no longer look at it just "in desperate need of a cleaning" and how we need a gate to keep the dog out.  It now connects something as simple (and literal) as the "dirt under our feet" to a bigger, broader, more global issue.  Environmental issues that so many don't see--or choose not to look at.  People have tried for years to shout it from roof tops, and many still are missing the message.  Maybe the view from the pool might make a difference in making the message heard.

Images:  The 4 pool pics are my from my backyard pool, text enhanced with the Skitch app..  Microplastic pic from

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