Sunday, November 1, 2015

Why Living By The Sea Can Be Awful

I've lived by the sea for the past 14 years.  Ten of those years I've also worked by an ocean or gulf, which has basically been the Best Thing Ever because:

1. Sunrises
2. Wild sea life
3. Who doesn't want to work ten feet from the ocean?
4. Also, hot surfers

Yes please and thank you.

I did my time in a cold, land-locked place.  I even attempted to live in New Hampshire for a few years on the only, tiny little stretch of coast it has.  But as amazing as the North Atlantic is, the winters always sucked.  So I, like so many of us, migrated southward to enjoy the best of both worlds: the beach and the warmth.

Now, my cold weather and/or land-locked friends yell at me: "You're SO LUCKY.  You aren't allowed to say it's cold where you live.  You aren't allowed to complain!"  At a quick glance, they're totally right.  For what could possibly be the downside of such a work/life location?  

The view in late November.  Yeah, it doesn't suck.

Those of you who have never spent a good chunk of time around the ocean might say hurricanes are the worst thing.  Hurricanes are definitely not good*, and they do cause huge problems especially for marine creatures and the humans living around the area.  Aside from the devastating category 4 and 5 storms (which luckily do not happen very often), they are usually treated as just another excuse for: marine mammal trainers to freak out and also for Floridians to drink fancy cocktails.

You also see a lot of stupid people on the beach and in the water.  Like jet-skiiers chasing dolphins, beach-combers littering, or fishermen tossing monofilament into the water.  Where I work right now is located just next to a fishing pier, so we all get to see a lot of sad things.  We've reported some of this stuff, but nothing gets done about it (which is another blog entry in itself).  

But there is something else that sucks about working right on the water.  And we had to deal with it alllll last week.

Hint: It's an invisible force that punches you in the face all day until you go home.

Hint: It kills vertebrates by attacking their central nervous systems and stops them from breathing.

Hint: It is naturally-occuring, but it has been made worse by a certain animal whose name shall not be mentioned but they are a member of the primate family whose natural history involves being born and playing on cell phones for 10 hours a day.

Know what it is?  Of course you do.  

RED TIDE (or, harmful algae blooms but that sounds like some kind of weird Bath and Body Works scent)

Evil, thy name is Red Tide

OMG.  Red tide.  Around my area, it's also known as Karenia brevis (which just sounds like a bitchy name). My eyes are watering just thinking about it.  Or maybe that's because I still have dinoflagellates wedged in microscopic crevices around my eyeballs.  

We had a red tide event in our area recently in addition to a lot of wind, rain, and high seas.  This meant a lot of sadness and death for fish: thousands of fish of various species met a gruesome end this week.  Typically, sea birds and sea turtles also suffer from red tide events.  And if marine mammals eat enough fish affected by red tide, they too can met their end.  

Luckily, the animals at work were fine.  Breathing in the brevetoxins released by our friend Karenia is  an irritant in the concentrations we experienced this past week.  Basically, the only way our warm-blooded animals would be in serious trouble from this red tide was if we trainers went out to the beach, scooped up 400 pounds of red tide fish, and fed it to our animal family.  Obviously, we'd never do such a thing.  Our cold-blooded animal family also fared just fine.  

If Red Tide were a person....

The humans though? Oh, we were hurtin'.  Those little mofo algal creatures wove their way into our respiratory systems and here is my scientific opinion of what happened:

1. One thousand red tide critters got into our noses and throats

2. Then, they pulled out little knives and stabbed us

3. They were also singing merrily while they were doing this

4. All of this joyous, microscopic stabbing influenced other red tide critters to join in

5. Resulting in roughly 359 billion red tide jerks with knives partying/stabbing in each human's body by the end of the day

This x's 359 billion

No amount of involuntary coughing or sneezing displaced the little heathens.  In fact, it worked FOR them quite nicely, because at some point we were coughing so hard, we had to take deep breaths to try to recover from the oxygen debt.

The pain and discomfort increases as the day progresses, so by the time we were ready to go home we were all miserable.  Of course, the animals need to be fed and cared for, so we couldn't just be like, "Peace out, we'll deal with you guys tomorrow."  

We eventually wound up with particle masks on day 3 of this amazing experience, which made a big difference except that it made our job in some circumstances impossible.  For example, if I need to blow my whistle, it's a little difficult to do with a particle mask on.  But with the right attitude, you can do anything....and indeed it is possible (try it sometime).

Not with that attitude!

So there were times throughout that day where we took the mask off, and realized the cumulative effects of red tide.  Like, it starts out just annoying, and eventually gets worse and worse.  But when you get used to breathing normally and pain-free via a particle mask, and then you suddenly need to remove it, it's like all of our little algal party-knife friends have been waiting en masse around your face just to get inside your bronchioles.  They can't believe you haven't invited them in yet.  So the first opportunity to invade you and stab you, they carpe diem (and if you think about it, that's kind of inspiring).  

Basically, when we would remove our masks say, in a dolphin show, it went something like this:

Remove mask ---> start coughing like you have end-stage emphysema ----> but pay it off like a pro

We did try to have some fun with the situation, since we couldn't do a single thing about it.  We polled each other to find out how we felt about red tide:


We also heard some guest comments about it that made us LOL.  We eventually got signage up about what was going on and handed out masks, but not right away.  So we had some guests who came in and seemingly had no problem with the fire-coughing they experienced.  Some asked us what was going on. 

Some thought it was the salt air.  Others just accepted it as a bug going around and went about their day.  They could leave after an hour or so, get into an air-conditioned oasis, and forget it ever happened.  My favorite exchange was this one:  

Guest: Why are we all coughing so much?
Us: Oh, red tide (and we go into explanation of what it is)
Guest: Oh! I thought it was just because we are from Texas

Oh, Texas.

The guests didn't seem to mind actually.  But we just wanted to claw our own faces off. 

The effects waned when we got home and showered, but never fully left.  Each day we went back into work, we prepared to feel that telltale tickle in the back of our throats as soon as we got out of our car.  I'm happy to say, thanks to a lovely shift in the wind, the past couple of days have been glorious for us at the marine park.  Not so for the animals in the wild.  We are still seeing the effects of this red tide event.

So is it worth moving away from a snowy place to a sunny beach, knowing you will likely have to deal with some form of red tide?  In the moment, I say no.  I was ready to move to Kansas City about three days ago.  But I'm sure when I start seeing photos of giant snow drifts and subzero temperatures, I'll feel reassured in my decision to relocate.  

But don't worry, we all suffer in our various geographical locations.  And no matter where we are and what we put up with, we'll always deal with it to make sure our animals get all of the love and care they need and deserve.  It's just part of the package!
* Okay, that's a rough judgment call.  Hurricanes are naturally-occurring weather systems that have positive ecological effects over a long-term period in areas that have adapted to hurricane weather.  But at an individual level, they cause pain and death and sadness and since I am not heartless like Mother Nature, I can confidently state that hurricane are stupid and should go to another planet that would welcome them with open arms, such as Jupiter. /rant

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