Buy a Cheap Garden Tool…Kill a Coral Reef


“It wasn’t the Exxon Valdez captain’s driving that caused the Alaskan oil spill. It was yours.”                             Greenpeace Advertisement 1990

I fell in love with the sea when I was ten-years old – the only problem being that at the time I lived in the most landlocked city in all of Canada…Winnipeg. My prairie existence kept me a mere 4704 miles from the Pacific Ocean, 5215 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and 910 from Hudson Bay – but despite the distance, I could still somehow smell the salt air. It was 1971 and this infatuation with all things marine didn’t suddenly materialize out of thin air, I definitely had co-conspirators: ‘The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau’ was running on primetime television, my grandmother had just sent me an ‘ Exploring the Oceans’ Red Rose tea card album and the kindly owners of a seafood store on Corydon avenue let me hang around and study their live crabs, lobsters and numerous shellfish while doing my marine biology science fair project, which earned an honorable mention. Then there was the girl who lived across the street (sorry, but I can’t seem to remember her name) who told all the neighborhood kids that she had an alligator in her bathroom. Since I was the only one who believed her (albeit a bit half-heartedly) she took me in to see it – sure enough, there was a 2 foot long Caiman living in her bathtub. Her dad was also studying freshwater biology at a local university and his thesis involved raising several hundred Rainbow trout in an above-ground pool in their garage, which impressed me immensely.

Like any kid, I collected seashells, raised Sea Monkeys (although those brine shrimp in no way resembled the comic book ads) and dreamed of the day when I would see my first shark in person. Little did I know that it would take me thirty-five years to realize that dream, but it was worth the wait because I got to share that love of the sea with my daughters. So whether we were snorkeling the Florida Keys, visiting sea turtles on the black sand beaches of Hawaii, surfing (or trying to surf) the majestic waves of Tofino or diving the Great Blue Hole in Belize – I could tell by the look of wonder in their eyes that they were cut out of the same cloth as their father. It was during that week of scuba diving in Belize that I realized that most of the coral formations I had seen in Florida were dead, mere skeletal remains of their once glorious self and like terrestrial ghost towns, they too were virtually uninhabited. Still, on several of my dives in Belize I noticed a few of the Elkhorn coral formations exhibiting signs of bleaching – which is essentially heat stress caused by high water temperatures that damage symbiotic algae – leaving white or dead portions. Those higher ocean temperatures are a result of worldwide atmospheric pollution, fertilizer and sewage runoff, and deforestation (causing localized silting). The reef system in Belize (the second largest in the world) is still relatively pristine and is home to an incredibly rich ecosystem – on any given day you’ll see sharks, rays, sea turtles, Moray eels and myriad fish species. But it’s only when I compare this to more affected and much less diverse reefs, like those in the Florida Keys (where 80% of the coral has died) that I despair to see even a hint of bleaching here.

As gardeners, most of us are fairly environmentally aware – switching to organic-based pesticides, composting wherever possible and limiting fertilizer use to necessity – but when it comes to buying pruners or shovels, we often go the cheap route. The popular belief that using inexpensive tools saves you money in the long run is totally false, as it is future generations that will continue to pay the price for our wasteful buying habits. Every time a tool is forged – be it well designed or poor quality – energy is expended, natural resources ( iron, manganese, chromium) are mined and refined, packaging is created and more fossil fuels are wasted on shipping (much of it long distance), all of which increase greenhouse gases and accelerate global warming. Buying a good quality tool will definitely cost you more initially, but it will last you a lifetime and you can go to bed at night with a good conscience. Remember, at the edge of every garden is an ocean, and even though you may not be able to physically see it, the well-being of every living creature it holds – from the tiniest coral polyp to massive whale sharks – much depends on decisions that you and countless other gardeners will make.

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