For most of this month, I’m working from Business Insider’s beach office, which is located on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts (Nantucket).
It’s hot here, which means it must be absolutely miserable back at BI headquarters in New York City. So my gratitude and sympathy goes out to my colleagues and tens of millions of other folks who are working in the city and stifling mainland instead of here.
(There’s no air conditioning here, if that’s any consolation. At least not at the BI office.)
There has been some local news here that I figured you might find interesting.
For example, the beach erosion on a small section of the island, which many people assume is exacerbated by climate change, has become so severe that a bunch of $5-$10 million houses are about to fall into the Atlantic.
The folks who own these houses, who are mostly summer residents who draw their salaries from global economy, have been begging the town to let them spend millions of dollars of their own money to build a “hard armour” seawall on the beach to slow or stop the erosion. But year-round residents, who draw their salaries from the local economy, are opposed to that idea, in part, some suspect, because the year-round residents see cosmic justice in the idea that the folks who invade their island every summer are finally being confronted with something that they can’t buy or control.
Vanity Fair’s William Cohan, who lives on the affected bluff, and whose own house will soon plunge into the Atlantic if the erosion isn’t stopped, wrote an impressively restrained story about this confrontation in this month’s issue. If you’re interested, you can check that out here.
Another thing that happened here recently is that, during a community beach potluck a couple of nights ago, a seal hopped up out of the surf.
It was a grey seal, Google said.
The seal pulled itself up out of the waves, flopped down on the dry sand above the water line, and then began to stretch and yawn.
Naturally, a crowd of adults and kids immediately gathered around the seal. The seal looked at several faces in the crowd, stretched and yawned some more, and then began rubbing its face with its absurdly dexterous, anthropomorphic, and charismatic flippers. If you’ve ever stopped by the Central Park Zoo and watched the sea lion show, you’ll know exactly what the seal was doing. And you’ll also know how cute the seal was.
Someone soon spoiled the moment by theorizing that the seal was obviously sick or dying–why else would it crawl up on to a beach full of people and seem unperturbed by them?
So someone else called a seal expert on a cell phone.
No, the seal expert said, the seal probably just wanted to take a nap.
That mollified the concerned crowd for a while, but after another hour went by, and the seal’s fur dried out, and the seal still seemed listless and unbothered by the people around it, some of the kids at the potluck got anxious again. This time, the seal expert could not be located to reassure the kids that the seal wasn’t about to die. In the end, one of the kids couldn’t bear to watch anymore and went home in tears.
In any event…
This seal thing has exploded into another major controversy on Nantucket, one that once again pits man against nature.
30 years ago, there were no seals on Nantucket. There were just waves and fish.
The seals came back a decade or two ago. And now, on some parts of the island, if you watch the ocean carefully, you’ll see one float by every once in a while, with its head sticking out of the water like a dog’s.
If you go to a remote section of the island called “Great Point,” meanwhile, you’ll see hundreds of seals. The seals love Great Point, because there’s a huge rip-tide that attracts and traps fish, making the surf off the point a veritable cafeteria.
When they’re not wolfing down fish in the rip, the seals at Great Point are napping on the beach. And, of course, these seals are cute–the very definition of “charismatic mega-fauna” whose prosperity and freedom armchair environmentalists everywhere love to champion. But there are hundreds of them now–in a small, popular location. And, of course, they’re peeing and crapping all over the place.
Great Point also used to be one of the most popular human-fishing spots on the island. But now that the seals have taken over, the fish are scarcer and hard to catch. And when you do hook one, frequent fisherman say, you’d better hope a seal isn’t floating nearby. Because there’s no easier meal for a seal than gulping down a striped bass or bluefish that a fisherman has distracted by trying to haul it up on the beach.
And, of course, the proliferation of seals in the waters around the island has also attracted the attention of the next rung of the aquatic food chain–namely, Great White Sharks. And human swimmers on the island aren’t wild about that.
So now there’s this big fight going on about the seals.
Some commercial fishermen and others regard them as a polluting, dangerous menace.
Others think they’re a sign that man and nature are once again living in greater harmony.
It’s not clear what will happen to the seals.
Or the houses on the bluff.
I am happy to report, however, that the seal that flopped up on the sand during the beach potluck the other night did not expire in the middle of it.
A couple of hours after he (she?) showed up, he/she flopped back down to the waves, hesitated for a moment (the water’s cold!), and then plunged back in.
The seal expert, it appears, was right.
That particular grey seal, who has apparently gotten used to being the centre of attention, just wanted to take a nap.
So this one small interaction between man and nature, at least, turned out OK.
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