2017, Middle School, Prose
Once upon a time there was a man. Now, I say “once upon a time” as a way to start my story, not to make you, the reader, believe that this story is unrealistic or that it doesn’t happen in the real world, because it most certainly does. This story happens every day, and it doesn’t only happen “once.” It happens and has happened hundreds of millions of times with many different men and women (it just happens to be a man in this particular story that I’ve written). But the thing is, this story isn’t just about the humans – it’s about the things that the humans do with their hundreds of millions of plastic bags, and the animals that they impact.
A man walks down the street wrapped in a thick winter coat. Snowflakes swirl from the sky and stick to warm skin. He speaks quickly into his cell phone, his breath visible in the frosty air. In the other hand, the man holds an empty plastic bag that had held his lunch. The bag inflates like a balloon, and the wind threatens to pull it away. As the man turns the corner, the beach comes into view. The beach is a funny thing in the winter. When the harsh winds of solitude blow across the salty surface of the sea, we seem to forget that it’s alive. While the man considers what television program he wants to watch when he gets home, the bag pulls on his icy fingertips like a dog on a leash. Tired of the slight amount of effort it requires to keep the plastic bag in place, the man lets go. The bag tumbles gracefully across the sandy shore into the ocean. The man keeps walking.
The bag twirls in the air. Free at last! It soars like a cloud drifting above the water, a bird flying over crashing waves, the mist that fogs the horizon line, and finally a fish jumping in and out of the sea. Soon, the bag fills with water and the line between floating and falling blurs. It sinks with the waves as the current pulls it further from the shore. The bag waits. It waits long after the man who discarded it moves away from the beach to the countryside, gets married, has children, and dies.
The sperm whale swims, tilting and turning its majestic body. Endangered, yet still alive. As the whale swims, something catches its eye. A squid?
The wait is over. The plastic bag has lived many lives: a cloud, a bird, the mist, a flying fish. Now, a squid.
The sperm whale approaches the squid. Quickly, the whale shoots through the open sea, pounces on the squid, and consumes it in one bite.
Over the course of his life, the whale mistakes dozens of castaway plastic bags for small squid, shrimp, and other fish. After many years of this toxic diet, his stomach fills with plastic, and the whale, who once swam freely through the waves, washes up on a distant shore. Never to explore the open seas again.
So as your mind fills with sadness over the death of this innocent whale, do me a favor: think about what happens to all the other plastic bags that we humans have thrown into the oceans. And more importantly, while you’re thinking about that, ponder the solutions. Try to imagine a better way for this story to end. What if …
A man walks down the street wrapped in a thick winter coat. Snowflakes swirl from the sky and stick to warm skin. He speaks quickly into his cell phone, breath visible in the frosty air. In the other hand, the man holds an empty paper bag that had held his lunch. The bag rumbles and rattles with the wind, but doesn’t put up a fight when the man folds it and tucks it under his arm. As he turns the corner, the beach comes into view. The man thinks to himself: The ocean is a beautiful thing in the winter. Always alive, always moving, and always changing. How similar the ocean is to the creatures within it. Instinctively, the man checks to make sure that the bag is still tucked securely under his arm. He is reminded of a documentary he watched years prior about ocean pollution. While watching, sorrow and guilt, along with disappointment in himself and in humanity, flooded his heart. One question filled his mind: What can we do? That’s when he, among millions of others, started listening to ocean awareness organizations. As the man walks, still contemplating the now well-known problem of ocean pollution, he sees a plastic bottle rolling down the beach towards the surf. He sprints after it and plucks it out of the sand before it reaches the water. He deposits it in a nearby recycling bin along with his paper bag. The man continues on. He passes a bus bench advertising solar energy. Solar or other types of affordable clean energy power everything these days. Back in my day, we couldn’t imagine a world without gas. Everyone knew it was bad. It wasn’t a secret the impact it had on the environment. But no one wanted to listen. I guess it’s the same with water pollution: no one listened until it impacted everyone and we could do nothing but listen in hopes of reversing the damage we had done to our environment. The man keeps walking.
The plastic bag doesn’t exist anymore.
The sperm whale swims, tilting and turning its majestic body. No longer endangered, it drifts through the waves. Something catches its eye. A squid. A real one this time.
Laboratory, National Marine Mammal. “Sperm Whales.” National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration. National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, 21 Aug. 2006. Web. 19 June 2017.
Stevens, Alison Pearce. “Tiny Plastic, Big Problem.” Science News for Students. Science News Media, 16 June 2015. Web. 19 June 2017.
Groden, Claire. “Ocean Plastic Pollution Is Reaching Crisis Levels.” Fortune. Fortune, 01 Oct. 2015. Web. 19 June 2017.
“Sperm Whale.” Our Endangered World. Our Endangered World, 24 Nov. 2013. Web. 19 June 2017.
Swimming with a Friendly Sperm Whale. YouTube. Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris, 18 Nov. 2017. Web. 19 June 2017.
MailOnline, Philip Hoare for. “How Plastic Bags Are Poisoning the Planet’s Greatest Predators: 65ft Long Sperm Whales Are Being Killed by Human Pollution.” Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 08 Feb. 2012. Web. 19 June 2017.
Sperm Whale Vs Giant Squid. YouTube. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 18 Dec. 2007. Web. 19 June 2017.
Secret Life of the Sperm Whale (animal Documentary). YouTube. Docofmentaries, 10 Oct. 2013. Web. 19 June 2017.
This project helped me make personal connections about how ocean pollution impacts my life, and how as an individual I can make a change. One of the things I wanted to focus on in my writing was how closely connected humans and animals are to each other as well as the impact that their environments have on them and their lives. This Contest was incredibly interesting and exciting to me because it was a way for me to combine my passion for creative writing, my love of the ocean and interest in its ecosystems, and my desire to make a positive change in the world.