August continues to be a month of firsts for me, and one of those firsts wasn’t pretty.
For the first time since I moved to Myrtle Beach 13 years ago, there was a significant fish kill along the Grand Strand. Dead pompano, ribbon fishes, flounders, stingrays and croakers lined the beach. The pungeant odor of decay was pervasive along shore, relentlessly wafting in the wind, especially as the days warmed.
The most likely cause was oxygen depletion in the sea, a phenomenon that occurs when concentrations of dissolved oxygen — molecular oxygen dissolved into water — are reduced to the point that it becomes harmful to fish and other aquatic organisms.
Oxygen depletion is often a consequence of pollution, but it can also result from a number of natural factors.
I returned two live Atlantic stingrays to the ocean after they washed ashore, nudging them from sand to water with a stick.
“If this thing gets me with that barb, one of y’all will have to run me to the hospital,” I said to bystanders. “Don’t try this at home.”
“We can’t,” one guy said.
I knew that. I reckon he misinterpreted my sarcasm.
The rays looked lethargic, even after they were returned to their habitat. One was washed back ashore three times.
“There’s something wrong with that thing,” noted one tourist.
I had never before had the opportunity to assist rays back into the water. I felt good about it, but the reality is: they were probably too sick to survive at that point.
At least the tourists got to see a live ray; many took pictures.
I cut the tails off three dead rays, took the tails home, and boiled them until the barbs fell away from the cartilage to which they were attached. The barbs are now in my display case. I was sure to tell two separate small groups of people that I never kill anything to take home as a trophy. “I don’t care if I find the prettiest shell that I’ve ever found. If the animal is still alive in that shell, it goes back in the ocean.”
On a happier note:
Another first of mine — on the same day — was the opportunity to meet a really nice man named Shawn.
Shawn, a local, told me that he works in the insurance business. He said he loves his job, but he listens to other people’s problems all day. As we all know, it’s hard enough to deal with our own problems, much less go to work and deal with the issues of others.
His solution was brilliant and profound. He showed me a handful of broken shells and told me that he mentally transfers those problems to the shells. Then he tosses the shells into the ocean and the ocean washes the problems away. Isn’t that beautiful?
We’ve passed each other since. He was knee deep in the surf with a handful of shells; I was following the foot of the dunes, hoping to walk up on a big tooth. I watched him as he threw shells out into the waves. Then I started gathering some.