The Fish Story

The Killing Side of Sunscreens; Making Bread With a Bolo Knife

By JAY MANN | Jun 06, 2018

As we pick away at the insanely expanding selection of sunscreen products – I’m going hoity-toity with Shiseido 50 SPF select, found near the checkout at TJ Maxx – one of the most unlikely places in the world is about to ban sunscreen: Hawaii.

A bill passed by the Aloha State’s legislature will specifically ban sunscreens with the most common ultraviolet thwarters: oxybenzone and octinoxate, beginning Jan. 1, 2021. It’s part of that state’s Coral Bleaching Recovery Plan, to promote coral reef recovery following the 2014-15 global coral bleaching event. It’s that “global” part that hits a tad closer to home, as in the Florida Keys and many a Caribbean island, which have implemented similar sunscreen-ban action plans.

Back to Hawaii, I was thrown into an instant lather upon reading how much sunscreen is being rinsed into one of my all-time favorite diving sites: Hanauma Bay, on Oahu. Per the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, a very active blue group – a green group for the ocean – an average of 412 pounds of sunscreen is offloaded into the bay’s over-beloved waters … daily! Say what!? What’s more, those coral killing gallons of goop come from a very modest 2,600 swimmers a day. Other beaches in Waikiki make those Hanauma swimmer numbers look scant. I can tell you first hand, those rinsed-upon Waikiki coral reefs are dead as doornails. Astounding what damage second-hand sunscreen can do to large reef ecologies.

I’ll alert you, here and now, that I’m not going where you might think. Despite the likelihood that the equivalent of 50-gallon drums of sunscreen is washed off ocean-entering folks on LBI, we fortuitously have an ocean that lives up to the toughness reputation of the state itself, as exemplified by my favorite unofficial state motto: “New Jersey – You Gotta a Problem With That?”

Even with a tsunami worth of shore folks converging on our ocean’s edge, their chemical tailings generally do squat to alter the chemistry of nearby suds and sea. There’s simply too much motion to our ocean, which constantly offers a water exchange rate that can almost instantly dilute sunscreen compounds to sheer nothingness. That assured, many an over-reactionary will surely sound alarms over the swirling perils of sunscreens attacking our shores.  And I’ll be the first to change my no-damage song … should science someday prove sunscreen residue in the water is a threat to marine life and such. For now, I just tolerate enviro-nuts doing their alarmist thing. It’s actually a very good thing to have them keeping an over-worrisome eye out for sordid maritime dangers. Thanks much, enviro-nuts. At the same time, there’s no need to get burnt up at sunscreens. Save that heat for fighting plastic pollution and an atmosphere hellbent on burning you up in a far realer sense.

I’d be environmentally remiss if I didn’t mention that our bayside swimming beaches do, in fact, have the potential to get a little stickier when it comes to the trickledown effects from bodily runoff. The waters of Barnegat Bay swimming beaches are far more inclined to experience calm, lazy, hazy, scalding summer days, rendering the shallows a bit ripe. However, any breakouts of piss-poor water quality thereabouts are almost always the result of large-scale festerings, like algae blooms caused by home, yard, garden and road runoff – a huge eco anger point for many of us.

Helping the water-consciousness cause, the NJDEP and federal EPA marine water testing/monitoring is the most rigorous in the nation. Tests are routinely done, both ocean and bay. That begs the question: Should those routine tests now include sniffing around for any alert-worthy bayside showings of sunscreen chemicals, considering how close bayside bathing beaches are to ultra-vital eelgrass beds? Just keep in mind that Barnegat Bay waters are also plenty dynamic, via tidal water exchanges. They are active enough to render as harmless the juices melting off a water-frolicking mankind. What’s more, the number of jumpers-in on the bayside is very low, especially when compared to Hawaii … or oceanside LBI, for that matter.

Next column, I’ll offer a read on what sunscreen options allow you to be a blue planeteer – and nix oxybenzone and octinoxate.

STUDENTS … GET TO WORK: Schools have been trying to compensate for a plowful of snow days, but some kids won’t be getting out until fireworks start popping. Locally, the adding of days is paining shoreline businesses, which rely on school kids for seasonal workers, despite many of them tending to want off for all of August.

On that belaboring note, I really must offer a flashback moment. What else is new, right? Hey, the older you get, the more flashbacks come a-knockin’.

Back in my Maui school days, we’d end the school year as early as May 1, due to a desperate need for pineapple pickers. I once tried some of that-there professional pickin’. Big frickin’ mistake. I instantly found out that pineapple plants are one nasty-ass bromeliad, despite being distant kissing cousins to kind and snuggly Spanish moss. The skin-penetrating tips of a pineapple plant’s thick and rigid leaves can give cactus needles a run for the bloody money.

I should have sensed something was a-poke when first gearing up, which involved my assuming a kinda cool cowboyish look. Somewhere in my Ship Bottom attic, I still have my original pair of mandatory leather chaps, which cost me a King Kamehameha ransom. Even though those thick leg coverings afforded me a quite-cool “Howdy, pardner” look, like that of Roy and Gene, I still got poked to bloody hell and back by those dadburn, stinkin’, sidewindin’ pineapple plants. Oh, I also wore a brand-new Cisco Kid-ish sun-thwarting sombrero. Strutting kinda bull-legged out of the dorm where all us harvesters lived, I was one well-appointed pineapple picker.

Then came the “bolo knife,” an absurdly sharp, medium-sized harvesting machete. It was mandatory that a picker wield a bolo knife like some cinema samurai. I was at the other end of the samurai spectrum. I brought to the harvesting table an ability to slowly open clams using a knife so dull that even slicing a cold butter stick presented a challenge. My lack of bolo proficiency was laughably apparent. I’d be in the field, mildly sawing away at a lone pineapple – having named it Myron – as if I were giving it a barber shave, while surrounded by a veritable harvesting militia of highly-trained Filipinos, slashing off fruits like they were the heads of attacking zombies. Those professional pickers would go into a cutting trance, become one with the flashing bolo blade. This was all going on only inches away from me and Myron. I truly feared that once they became one with the knife, everything looked like a pineapple to them. A needless fear. They were bolo masters. What’s more, those fully fine Filipino fellows would offer me tons of harvesting tips – though I could have done without their tendency to emphasize certain key points by flicking a bolo knife in front of my face.

Long story short, it took only a handful of numbingly hard harvesting days for me to realize this career move was both a cultural and physical mistake, though I absolutely relished the trade-wind-cooled dormitory nights, marked by a ton of ukulele playing, sometimes a dozen ukes harmoniously playing at a time. I just couldn’t get in tune with making $50 for a grueling 10-hour day. So instead, I de-chapped and off-sombreroed – nixing a summer of slaving on Maui by rushing back to LBI, where I could tread up twice as much money by clamming just a single three-hour low tide.

Upon leaving the harvesters’ dorm, I gave my N.J. address to a couple pineapple-pickin’ buddies. I always thought it would be funny if they came here and I taught them how to harvest clams … and to have them rush back to Hawaii for the far easier money made by picking pineapples.

RUNDOWN: As you know all too well, the weekend weather turned crappified on a dime. That turnabout might have been the most frustrating yet, within this weather-crazed spring. Why so? Some hot bites had begun to surface on many a fishing front, highlighted by south bay waters (Little Egg Harbor), where some of the best fluking in many a year had settled in. Calmer weather helped make that prime flattie zone a breeze to fish fluke. But there was a sultry-weather downside, namely the waves … as in wave after wave of biting gnats. No-see-ums love dead-calm air. Saturday, they were thick as bricks – albeit tiny, tiny bricks with wings and bloodsucking devices capable of delivering bites a hundred times their size.

By the by, as insanely annoying as no-see-ums are, these biting gnats do not transmit diseases to humans in the U.S. However, they’ve been found to be a primary transmitter of a nasty disease called Blue Tongue disease, which hits horses quite hard.

As to where these tiny-ass biters reside, while awaiting a good bloodsucking session compliments of human skin, experiments show they are very poor fliers. There’s a good chance the ones attacking you when you’re out hanging towels in the backyard are essentially homegrown, living their entire lives and times well within your midst. However, going on a no-see-um extermination mission, cocked and loaded spray can of insecticide in hand, will likely have a minimal overall impact on their numbers. Such target-unseen spraying will end up exterminating loads of useful bugs, the types you need in a home/garden/yard ecosystem.

Skin-based insect repellents, even those capable of warding off mosquitoes, are oddly ineffectual in thwarting biting gnats, at least for any decent length of time. What’s more, any small area of skin that hasn’t been protected with repellent will offer more than enough surface meat for these minuscule flies. Many a lathered-up-but-still-bitten angler will attest to that.

I might also add another factor to the arrival of poor-flying gnats: west winds. Even crappy fliers can look like aces with a brisk tailwind. I have no doubt there is a correlation between arriving clouds of gnats and offshore winds. Science will catch up to that notion sooner or later.

Back to fishing, boat bassing was tossing trophy stripers (50 pounds, on one occasion) to topwater anglers. The big gals were being taken at a fair clip, though not lights-out by any stretch. A load of smaller bass are hanging along the beachfront and even around inlets. There are still nighttime schoolies, bayside – which might be the only fishable place with this brisk blow, pushing 30 mph out of the ENE.

For those going after black sea bass, another “meat fish,” the takes remain excellent, bordering on epic for at least one angler I know – who happens to know the ideal spots/structures and when to tap them. Amazing what a difference a tide can make even when fishing structure.

Got word that a sizable deceased sturgeon washed up on a south end beach. It was likely a bycatch fatality, since these are generally powerful survivors. It’s a shame.

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