The Haul of the Seal
2015, Middle School, Prose
The cold wind whipped across the ocean, grey froth clinging to the boat and sending needle-like bits of foam into the air. The surface of the boat, slippery with spray, rolled and tumbled beneath his feet, throwing Tom off balance as he lunged for the wall.
“Tom!” somebody shouted, and he turned to face the source of the sound. “One last haul and then we go. We’ll see if we can catch anything before we call it a day, there’s supposed to be a second front coming in.”
The ocean gave another heave, and he was spared from responding as he struggled to pull up the net. Through the spray he saw several glimmering fish twisting in the net. A flash of red told him that Jek was moving to the front of the vessel, and he redoubled his effort in turning the crank.
As the net slowly rose from the steely water, the fish gradually fell back into the water, plopping back into the water as if they were diamonds falling from a broken crown.
“The net’s torn!” he said, and Jek let out a stream of curses, pausing from where he was opening the storage compartment.
Motioning toward a knife that lay on the deck, he nodded towards the net. “Cut the thing and let’s get out of here. I’m done with the ocean today.”
Tom nodded, crouching down next to the rope. Sawing at the wet cloth, he watched as it fell into the water. It spread out like a spider web for a moment, and then began to sink. A crashing wave folded over it, and then it sunk below the surface.
It was silent beneath the ocean. A seal swam through the murky water, fluidly sliding in and out in between the columns of bubbles. Above her, the surface swirled and tumbled in a sparkling mass, the tips of the green water turning steel as it met the frigid air. She dove farther down, ghostly fish swimming besides her. Lunging, she tried to grab one, but this was different from the regular. It caught around her muzzle, catching in her throat as she tried to tear and swallow it. Shaking it away, she dove farther down.
The bottom was rough, and she avoided scraping her belly against it. Sharp points stuck out, some clear, others multi-color. Seal saw several more of the ghostly fish, and she was tempted to try again and eat it. Lunging towards one, she turned through a black hoop half buried in a sand bar.
This ghostly fish was even worse. It clogged her throat and tore the top of her mouth, and she flailed around, trying to get it out, tangling herself in a mess of ropes that had recently sunk around the sandbar. She settled down, the ropes digging into her skin, and managed to choke up the ghostly fish. Thin filaments of red drifted into the water from where the ropes had cut her, and Seal struggled to swim to shore.
Tom leaned of the deck, jumping into the water. The waves lapped around him, and he impatiently brushed away a clump of plastic that floated towards him, almost tripping as he got caught onto a fishing line trailing behind it. He grimaced, watching as Jek docked the boat. He has cut himself on the line, and he watched as a trail of blood dotted the water.
“Bring a bandage,” he said.
He looked around. The beach was covered in plastic, the sand cluttered with bottles and bits of bags and nets, as well as small plastic pellets. Nurdles, he managed to recollect, they were called. He wrinkled his nose. Dead birds lay on the beach, mixed between the litter, small piles of these plastic debris emerging as their stomachs decomposed. Turning around he walked towards the boat, sickened.
Seal struggled to get the net off her, managing to wiggle towards shallower water. It weighed her down, but fear laced her instincts and caused her to swim harder. She had remembered seeing the great green turtles, caught in the ropes, and her eyes dilated as she remembered the way their shells had deformed when trapped by the plastic.
Her cuts were getting deeper now, exhaustion weighing down her tail. She feebly struggled onto the beaching, laying still on the sand. Her eyes closed as the waves washed over her.
Jogging to the boat, Tom helped Jek lift out the storage compartment. The stink of fish filled the air and Jek smiled.
“There’s the smell of a paycheck.” He tossed his can into the ocean, where it joined another clump of debris. Farther down the beach, Tom saw a group of volunteers picking up the trash, in vain trying to clear the beach. But there was so much garbage from the constant boats coming in and landfill runoff that they were swamped in their efforts. He felt a small twinge as he dropped his own can discreetly into the water.
“What’s that?” Jek said, his tone puzzled. A dark clump lay among a tangle of nets, similar to the one they had just abandoned.
“I think it’s a seal,” Tom said. He grabbed his knife and dropped into the water, wading towards the beach.
“It’s not worth your effort, it’s going to die anyway,” his companion yelled after him. “Hey, Tom, aren’t you listening?”
Seal saw something approaching her, and she flicked her tail feebly. It was a human. It had dropped its net on her. She struggled, trying to inch away, but she was trapped on the sand. She let out a small breath, the crimson blood blossoming in the water along her. The energy leaked it’s way out of her body with it, and she watched the human fade in and out of focus. Something sharp dug into her side, and Seal labored to breath as the ropes grew tighter.
As Tom neared the seal, he saw that it was already greatly weakened. Kneeling down, he began to cut the ropes. As he chopped it away, he noticed the tear was in the exact same place as it had been in their net. His heart sank.
The seal looked at him. It’s eyes were wide and brown. Dark. Sad. The water was getting thick with blood now, and he managed to drag off the last of the rope, trying to push it back into the water.
It blinked at him. As it blinked, he saw millions and millions of tons of garbage reflected in the dark orbs. Sea turtles getting caught in nets. Birds swooping down and mistaking plastic pellets for food. Plastic bags tumbling into the sea and oil spills staining the blue of the ocean. The Earth, surrounded in an atmosphere of garbage, crumbling and rotting in waste.
He stumbled back, falling onto his hands. With a weak snuffle of it’s nose, the seal grew still. The waves gently swept over the body.
“I told you it was no use,” said Jek, joining him. The latter stood up, shaking slightly.
“No, there is use,” he said quietly. He picked up the net, looking at it, and then watched the ocean. “We just have to be conscious enough to start it.”
He walked back up the beach, leaving his companion. Behind him, the waves crashed onto the beach, the foamy crest spraying the water angrily into the air as it gradually covered the seal. The netting caught in the sunlight, flashing for a moment and then fading below the water as it joined the other sunken debris trapped forever among the sand, the footsteps washing away in the swirls of green.
I wrote this piece to give readers an insight on how plastic pollutants affect humans, the environment, and the animals living in marine habitats, hoping to encourage people to defend the ocean. After seeing documentaries and visiting beaches swamped in plastic waste, I jumped at the opportunity to use my writing to try and advocate against plastic pollution. My story signifies the way humans can unknowingly be harming animals, such as seals, turtles, and sea birds, and how there can be devastating consequences if we don’t take charge of this problem immediately. Because I felt so strongly about plastic pollution this story didn’t take me as long to write as it usually does, only about a few days. I hope it manages to strike a chord in whoever reads it—writing it certainly changed me.