Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions

A Teachable Moment


For those that tried to email me last week, you probably got my message that I was “out of the country.”  I was actually cruising the Caribbean with my husband and three-year-old daughter, Mikayla.  But before we boarded the cruise we spent a few days on Miami Beach.

Ahhh, vacation.  What could be better than white sand, blue water, and the sun beating down on you?  But wait, what is that blue plastic-looking thing by the water?  It looked just like a balloon, partly deflated…maybe.  I looked at it again.  I asked my husband, is that a balloon? He shrugged.  I spotted a garbage can nearby.  This was a teachable moment for my three-year-old.  Don’t close your eyes to pollution—do something.

As an environmentalist, I have given dozens of presentations on plastic pollution.  Plastic does not degrade but rather it photo degrades, which means it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces.  Sea life and birds ingest the plastic—either because they think its plankton or because it looks like food.  For example, turtles love to eat jellyfish.  When you see a plastic bag or deflated balloon floating in the water, it looks like a jellyfish.  The turtle will eat the bag, suffocate, and die.  If you have ever done a beach cleanup you are constantly picking up plastic bags.

Now, back to my teachable moment.  I picked up this balloon-looking thing and marched my way to the garbage and threw it out, even tucking it down so it didn’t become airborne and fly back to the water.  I felt good.  I went back to the water’s edge when my husband handed me another deflated balloon.  This looked less like a balloon, but it still looked plastic.  I immediately think there must have been a release of some kind; why else would we find two of these so close together?   I went to march the balloon to the garbage, until I was stopped.

“Ma’am, ma’am—you can’t throw that out, that’s marine life.”

“Marine life?  Are you sure it’s not plastic?”

“No, Ma’am—it’s a Portuguese man of war.”

I feel pretty stupid at this point.  “oh.”

I turn around and place it back on the shoreline.  Then feeling awful that I threw one in the garbage, I went to retrieve it and placed that one back on the shoreline as well.

Ok, so maybe this was not the best teachable moment for my daughter, but if I can’t tell the difference between a jellyfish and plastic how do we expect turtles, dolphins, and whales to know the difference?  What we can do is stop using those flimsy, plastic throwaway bags.  Stop releasing balloons because it’s fun to watch them float high in the sky—eventually they are coming back down and most likely will end up posing as a jellyfish.  In the meantime, I think I’ll brush up on the many types of jellyfish species.

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  1. Sue ditkowsky
    Posted March 12, 2014 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    So true. Breaks my heart to see some birds and small animals entrapped in plastic and helpless. Not something humans should be guilty of.

  2. Jennifer Figueroa
    Posted April 8, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    this is a great story for humor and teaching a lesson. thank you for posting!

  3. Diane Ives
    Posted June 13, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Great story! Very funny, unless you’re a whale or a sea turtle mistaking it for their favorite food!

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