The conditions that obtained when life had not yet emerged from the oceans have not subsequently changed a great deal for the cells of the human body, bathed by the primordial wave which continues to flow in the arteries. Our blood in fact has a chemical composition analogous to that of the sea of our origins, from which the first living cells and the first multicellular beings derived the oxygen and the other elements necessary to life … The sea where living creatures were at one time immersed is now enclosed within their bodies.
—Italo Calvino, Blood, Sea
What is a beach actually? It is marginalia, a footnote to the essay that is the ocean. Beaches are many things and can range from rocky outcrops to lush vegetation. But the sandy beach of popular imagination is made up of sediment, of particles coming from eroded coral reefs in the ocean, sediment from the sea floor, eroded sections of the continental shelf, or weathered and eroded rocks from nearby cliffs. In Hawai’i, volcanic basalt sometimes contributes to the mix, creating black beaches of small-to-tiny particles that are eroded by the constant, lapping wave action of the ocean. Beaches are far from sedentary. They are in constant motion, as wind and water wear away at rocks, coral, shells, and other matter. They also stretch across time as certain minerals, such as quartz and feldspar, are chemically stable and strong enough to last well through erosion, often forming the base of beaches millennia old. When plastics are released into the ocean, they join this process, being broken down into smaller and smaller parts and adding to the sand mixture on almost all coastal beaches. Note: an archive of pure sand is an impossibility. No wonder that sand is often seen to flow through time, through the glass timer, to ebb and flow, to move liquidly across the face of the Earth.
Kamilo Beach, Hawai’i is a node where the ocean gets rid of foreign substances. The beach has long been known as a way station: stories are told that pre-contact, native Hawai’ians used the beach to harvest logs that had drifted into Kamilo from the Pacific Northwest, and that shipwrecked bodies often turned up there. Currently, Kamilo is a terminal point in the circulation of garbage. The beach and adjacent coastline are covered in plastic: as much as 90 percent of the garbage accumulated in the area is plastic. So much garbage collects here that Kamilo Beach can be found on Atlas Obscura’s compendium of bizarre and obscure places to visit, where it is described as “constantly covered in trash like some sort of tropical New York City gutter.” It is a site of immense efforts at cleanup organized by the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, a group that must constantly contend with the ocean’s supply of new materials.
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