The Plastic Ocean

The Plastic Ocean

See Naples and Die
Sun, 23 Apr 2017

While man marks the earth and waters with ruin our President has a plan

There was a German adventurer who came up with the phrase “see Naples and die” and I can’t remember whether it was either Volker Koch or another fine swimmer,  Johann W. Goethe. But plastic is today's story.

Volker, a Serpentine SC member, swam the English Channel, while Goethe philoseaphically preferred sublime moonlight swims where he could see the lunar reflection shimmer as he moved through the water with ease.

In a way, Goethe was different to that English chap Byron who loved the rough and tumble of the sea.

I'm meandering in an elastic more than plastic way, so beyond Byron's poem below, lies the President's plastic goal. The foul deed has a common good, so please read on .

'‘This Byron chap’ as the German philoseapher called him, wrote of the sea in his poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

 There is a rapture on the lonely shore,   

There is society where none intrudes,   

By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:   

I love not Man the less, but Nature more,   

From these our interviews, in which I steal 

 From all I may be, or have been before,   

To mingle with the Universe, and feel

What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.


Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean--roll!   

Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;   

Man marks the earth with ruin--his control   

Stops with the shore;--upon the watery plain   

The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain

   A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,   

When for a moment, like a drop of rain,   

He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,

Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.


His steps are not upon thy paths,--thy fields   

Are not a spoil for him,--thou dost arise   

And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields   

For earth’s destruction thou dost all despise,   

Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,   

And send’st him, shivering in thy playful spray   

And howling, to his gods, where haply lies   

His petty hope in some near port or bay,

And dashest him again to earth: —there let him lay.

Like plastic, the seam of my story digresses, and I apologise for that. Back to the story.

Our President recently wrote asking people to join him in fishing the foul and hideous plastic from our wondrous Serpentine on Sunday morning 23 April. And for any chaps and chapesses, and swimmers who dont wear chaps, or don’t have nets, nets will be provided by Robin. 

Removing plastic is a fine gesture, but once you watch the horror movie 'A Plastic Ocean' about the waters we swim in, you might think about ways of not using plastic in the home.

Is there a way one can switch from abusing plastic to a more earth friendly existence? Can greaseproof paper do the same job as clingfilm?

The brilliant Tanya Streeter thinks so. Not only is she a world free diving champion, she has also put together a great film called the Plastic Ocean which is well worth the download.

Plot spoiler here: it’s both beautiful and disgusting in parts and mostly because of plastic. 
The link for the film is here 

And the link for the plastic ocean website is here  

So, why the reference to “See Naples and Die”? It was because of a memorable swim I had in the warm waters of the Bay of Naples

When Goethe visited Naples, he wrote that Neapolitans would not allow their city to be questioned, and that all remembrances of Rome could be cast aside. But had Goethe done like me, or that Neapolitanish chap James Norton, and swam underwater in the Bay of Naples, he would have seen the sunlight pierce the sea highlighting a translucent curtain of confetti underwater which stretched as far as the eye could see. It was my saddest swim ever, and swimming is something I will do my whole life, for I love it. This was not an image of the sun just piercing the water, it was tiny tiny shreds of plastic, millions upon millions of them, which were completely invisible from above but blatantly visible below water. It was more like See Naples and cry.

Plastic and plastic microbeads are in our global food chain, toothpastes, soaps, shampoos and more. It is also what we swim in. So let’s support Robin in finding a way to reduce our use of plastic. 


Results from the plastic hunt here 

Yours swimmingly

John Tierney

Twitter: @swimmingdragons