The Southerlies Reveal Society’s Sinister Side

March arrived this year like a perfectly choreographed sunset, announcing summer was over and autumn was here. The hot days were pushed aside by a sudden crispness in the hours of dawn and dusk. The afternoons of the nor-easterly breezes have gone and the southerlies begin to beat the shores of Callala Beach. A ‘wet season’ arrived and with it a tropical humidity and the storms.

Hugging the coast, as we do here in Callala Beach, we are privileged to see how these mighty weather systems continuously change our coastline. On one of these early March mornings I took my walk down the beach, head-first into the southerly. The swell was huge and the full moon left a tide mark close to the dunes. Driftwood, pumice, strands of weed revealed the ocean’s lapping. And in amongst nature’s trail I followed a path of carelessness. Brightly coloured plastic objects of all shapes and sizes. In all states of decay – some new, others years old.

It started with a plastic picnic plate, a balloon and some streamers. I wondered if they were connected or if each item held the memories of a different celebration – on a beach…somewhere. An earplug, various sizes of thongs, bottles and the remnants of plastics that had obviously been beneath the surface for so long they were covered in their own eco-systems.

Plastic Picnic

Plastic Picnic by Rowena Sierant


Soon I became overwhelmed by how much I had collected. My arms were full and I asked myself many questions.

Seeing these plastics in Jervis Bay took me back to another time. Nearly 30 years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Koh Samui in Thailand as a part of my university training. I remember arriving in the early hours of the morning by boat as this was the only mode of transport to this atoll paradise in the Gulf of Thailand. I was astounded by the natural beauty. Three years ago, I went back. This time, I was nothing but disappointed. As I stepped into the ocean my feet were lost in the murky water. Bottles, paper, disposable plastics and more disposable plastics. I looked around at the greed of tourism, took my feet out of that water, never went back and hung out by the pool. I wondered why I ‘d spent so much money to travel here when what I have back home is so much more beautiful…for now.

Thai Full Moon Party

The aftermath of a full moon party in Thailand (Photo: Nate Clark Images) on the island of Ko Pha Ngan

In Australia, we are rapidly becoming more aware of the consequences of disposable plastics. Our students at schools are being educated. They know that turtles mistake plastic bags for jelly fish. Many of us have heard of the slogan, ‘Take 3 for the sea.’ So, I ask myself why does this keep happening?

I looked up the definition of disposable. Intended to be thrown away after use. Synonyms: throwaway, expendable, one-use, non-returnable, replaceable. It is such a negative word.

Plastic is a substance our earth and oceans cannot digest. It is believed that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean (by weight) than fish.

Every individual should question their personal use of plastics – especially those that are aimed at single use. Single use plastics can include: plastic bags, straws, coffee cup lids and bottles. Over the years we have become familiar with: Recycle; Reuse and Reduce. Another R has been placed in the mix – Refuse.

We all need to ask ourselves questions such as: Could I live with less? Could I live without single-use plastics? Could I refuse disposable plastics: Sometimes? Most of the time? All the time?



When Life Gives You Lemons …

Recently high seas and rough swells pounded the shores of the east coast. I love walking along Callala Beach, watching and listening, to the fury of the ocean during these times. It is such a contrast to the calm lapping waves so often seen in Jervis Bay.


The flotsam and jetsam in its aftermath always intrigues as fragments of people’s lives are strewn across the sand. You may have also read a previous post I wrote on the creativeness of locals who put these pieces together to make a ‘Sculpture by the Sea’ on Callala Beach. A poignant reminder of the human carelessness that pollutes our oceans and contributes to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Then there was the time huge mountains of red weed were cast upon our shores, piled as high as sand dunes. And Mother Nature revealed more of society’s waste as it struggled with the chore of cleaning the ocean floors. She also magically turned that weed into rich fodder for the fish and bird life.

Weed and Sculpture

However, I am wondering if anyone else has noticed lemons being washed onto the beach? Each time I see one, I not only think of the expression, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’ I wonder where they come from. Have they been carried on the swell for days, weeks or even months? They always look so fresh which makes me think of the recipe for preserved lemons which requires large quantities of salt. Perhaps the salt sustains their vibrant patina.


We all know there is nothing like a squeeze of lemon on fresh seafood. Maybe a lemon tree grows somewhere by the sea dropping its fruit, a gift, for those that like to eat their seafood that way.

I have never seen apples or onions but once came across a coconut! Mali found it an alluring addition to one our beach walks. Coconuts can travel thousands of kilometres in the hope of successful seed dispersal. They are built for these long perilous journeys. Their thick protective shells, layered in hairy husks, provide buoyancy to the fleshy white ‘meat’ inside that is the endosperm. They hope to land on a quiet atoll where crabs won’t gobble them up, moisture is plentiful and the climate just right.


So when I see these little lemons lolling in the shallows I think how did they get here and where are they going? They are at the mercy of the wind and the currents, travelling to an unknown destination. Mostly, I think when life gives you lemons stop for a moment and think, how sweet life really is.

LEmon 3



Sculpture by the Sea?

Sculpture by the Sea? Photo: Rowena Sierant

Every time I walk past the sculpture made from flotsam and jetsam on Callala Beach, I stop to see if any newly found objects have been added. I know he puts a smile on so many faces, including my own. I see tourists stopping and snapping a holiday photograph as they loop an arm over his woody shoulders. I think of the objects that have become his substance. A fisherman’s cap blown off by a sudden gust of wind and lost in Jervis Bay. Sunglasses that have been casually left behind on a beach. A body surfer’s flipper ripped from his foot as he was pounded by a wave, gasping for air.

A diver’s wetsuit gives his body the most sculpted impression. His long tendrils of sea weed hair remind me of Bob Marley’s dreadlocks. Beside him are tennis balls in case he gets bored and a rusted gas bottle if he wants to have a barbeque. In addition, there are extra t-shirts, hats, goggles, thongs and even a car tyre that he can use as a personal flotation device.

I often wonder who started this community sculpture. But what I speculate about most is this: Is the sculptor sending us a deliberate message? Of course, we can see the humour in the comical form of Mr Flotsam Marley. However, it also makes me feel melancholic. So much marine debris just on this 5 kilometre stretch of beach that tourists flock to each year because of its whitest sand and most lucent water. Yet, these fragments that have been carelessly cast or lost are contributing to the demise of many species of marine life. They could also be making their way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Currents and great gyres carry human litter to the North Pacific Ocean combining with collections in the Eastern Garbage Patch near Japan and the Western Garbage Patch near Hawaii. Like a great vortex (it is also known as the North Pacific Trash Vortex), it accumulates non biodegradable materials, mostly plastic. As these pieces never decompose but instead break up into even smaller pieces, humans are producing a murky soup that has become so very appetising to marine life, such as the Loggerhead Turtle and various Albatross species.

It is estimated that what we are seeing on our beaches comprises only 15% of marine debris. 70% of it ends up on the ocean floors and the remaining 15% is what is found floating in our oceans. The old adage,’ Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there,’ holds very true.

So I would like to thank the Callala Beach sculptor for inspiring me to ponder about Mr Flotsam Marley and his unique looks. Art can provoke thought and sometimes make people take action. That debris has been personified and stands there on my beach as a reminder. I say thank you for motivating me to think more about the reckless rubble of human consumption. Thank you for encouraging me to delve into the subject of marine debris. It may only be one person who changes but I now carry a bag while out walking and make my contribution to easing the flow of waste and making that sordid garbage patch that tiny bit smaller.