Harris, oh Isle of Harris

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Hello again! It has been some time since the last blog update – frankly it’s been way too long, and so much has been happening since we hit that sheep on the road, or since I almost got trapped on the Monachs at high tide. It’s such a good memory, straining to hear what Mara, Gerhard, and Sandra were yelling at me across the incoming waters… what was it, oh yes: “you have to take of your pants!” I followed their instructions and lived to tell the tale.

I guess to bring this blog up to speed I have to start with our final activities last summer. At the end of our time in the Hebrides, we ended up riding over to Scarp on the beautiful boat ‘Stiur Mi’ with Donald Macinnes and much of his family (yes, we crashed his 70th birthday party to get a ride over to Scarp!). In some ways he is like the keeper of the island, maybe even the king of the island, his family having been one of the last, if not the very last, to live year-round on the isle of Scarp.

We were able to explore a bit in the short four hours we spent on the island, but really only got a taste for the place. After fighting through the midges, realizing the only remedy was to keep moving, we eventually came upon the south western shore where a large beach called ‘Mol Mor’ (big beach!) presented a strangely colorful collection of ocean debris that had washed up on shore over the years. It didn’t look like much from a distance, but as we came closer and closer to the water, we could clearly see that between all over the beach and piled up between all the large rounded stones was an intense accumulation of plastic, plastic, and more plastic. The stuff had apparently arrived from all corners of the world, as we found stuff from Japan, France, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Russia, China, and other places.

The far-reaching effects of human activity and the careless actions of certain industries have resulted in a huge trash dump on a remote beach. Of course, it’s not just Scarp – it’s a huge problem throughout the world.

One of Donald’s sons suggested we hike to that area of the island and even said that we would probably see what is known as ‘Treasure Beach,” a name they had given it because you might find something interesting. Well, it was definitely fascinating, and probably even more disturbing to think that on this island where no people live anymore, the far-reaching effects of human activity and the careless actions of certain industries have resulted in a huge trash dump on a remote beach. Of course, it’s not just Scarp – it’s a huge problem throughout the world. Not long after we arrived at this incredibly beautiful yet polluted beach, it was time to head back to the pier and make the crossing over the sound of Scarp to Huisinis on the isle of Harris. On the way back our tent, pitched at the amazing Luskentyre beach, we had already decided that we need to get back to Scarp and make an artwork using materials collected from Mol Mor.

This year at the end of June/beginning of July we were hosted for a week by Donald Macinnes on the isle of Harris – his place was a quick drive down the road to the Huisinis pier to easily access Scarp. We couldn’t have picked a better week to go there, it was untypically warm, often wind still, and n 0  r a i n. It was absolutely amazing. The mission this summer was to spend as much time as the weather permitted at Mol Mor, and rid the beach of as much plastic and debris as we could possibly manage. When we arrived on the beach to spend the first day cleaning up, we were a bit overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff – it was more than we had in stored in memory! Nevertheless, we began the task of collecting what we could into large sacks, the kind normally used for stuffing full with freshly-sheared sheep fleece. We also separated all the buoys that we intend to use for an installation coming up this fall in Edinburgh, tying them together with lengths of fishing rope also found on the beach. It is tedious work to try and pick up plastic which has broken apart and been shoved down into the deepest nooks in the rocks over years of pounding surf and shifting tides.

As we cleared several zones of the beach, it became quite apparent that another layer of junk lay just below the rocks, almost invisible to the eye.

Presently, we are coordinating the final pickup of buoys and debris from afar. We’re in contact with the Scarp boys about how and when to drag the web of buoys off from the beach that we’ve left behind. You see, the biggest obstacle in this whole project is that Mol Mor is tricky to access by boat even on a day of perfect weather. The Atlantic swell doesn’t calm itself whatsoever when it reaches this small bay, and the rocks beneath the water add another challenge to navigate safely with a boat. It has been rather cool and very windy the last few weeks on the islands, but they’re hoping to get over to Mol Mor the next moment that the weather seems fair enough – and we’re hoping that happens very soon!

We’ve decided that because Mol Mor will take a lot more hours and a lot more hands to truly be cleaned up, a trip to Scarp will become an annual one, making this a long-term project. We’ll continue to document the progress, and hope that this can serve as an example to care for wild and beautiful places plagued by pollution, namely plastic. It’s also ever present in the mind that this problem extends to all corners of the globe, and it’s much worse in some places! The main purpose of this project is to encourage better choices about plastic use, meaning let’s decide not to use it (or at least re-use it)! The more awareness there is about the plastic problem, the more momentum there will be to advance beyond it.

It was an inspiring time on Harris and Scarp, and we really appreciate the people and places we met – and Archie the border collie of course!        -T




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