Sunday, May 31, 2015

Micro-Garbage and the Footprints We Leave

By Bob Ferris

My wife and I recently spent a couple of days at Pinnacles National Park.  It was my first visit to the
Carlene's sketch of the reservoir at Pinnacles National Park.
park proper in some 30 years and its proximity to the Hollister Hills SVRA brought back memories of my past research on deer in the area.  Aside from some sore muscles and the family of pack rats that decided that our engine compartment was a good place to chew and nest, our stay was a wonderful one.

Our pile of micro-garbage after a minute long search.
Our campsite was clean and seemed freshly raked.  But once we were settled in and looked around we found that we were surrounded by a sea of micro-garbage—a rubber band here and a shred of plastic bag there.  These items were accompanied by bottle caps, floss, twist-ties, condiment pack corners, a plastic lens and wine cork.  To be clear this was not some trashed urban park where the substrate seems equal parts of dirt, broken glass and cigarette butts; this was a clean, well-maintained, and pleasant place frequented by acorn woodpeckers, California quail, wild turkeys and perhaps a few too many wood rats and raccoons.

Scanning electronic microscope
image of Giardia.
The experience also illustrates that some of our impacts though pervasive are also relatively invisible. It is important that we remember that clear waters and skies—just like this wonderful campsite—might not actually be clean or un-impacted.  In fact, many of the chemicals causing the most harm and peril like carbon dioxide and methane are often not measureable visually.  Likewise mountain water ladened with Giardia—the micro-organism that causes giardiasis—seems much the same as waters that are not though ingestion of one versus the other has significant consequence.

I am not complaining about the site or the concessionaire at all but rather commenting on the fact that wherever we go even the wildest and seemingly cleanest places we are leaving or have left a “footprint.” My desire is that we should be conscious of that and do a better job even when it looks like we are “perfect.” I would like folks to think when they rip packaging or open a bottle that all of it needs to be cleaned up rather than just most of it.  Who knows what we can accomplish and on what fronts if this awareness and ethic becomes broadly adopted?

The Pinnacles are wonderful place to hike and gain vistas.


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