In which seaweed turns me environmentalist for an hour

I recently got back from a family reunion in Maine. One of our stops was Newport, Rhode Island, a highly historical town containing the highest number of colonial buildings out of any US city.

Newport, as I gathered from my sidelong impressions from a moving car, is a rather ritzy place. My family drove through downtown, where it was full of cute souvenir stores, little restaurants, and alluring specialty shops. The people looked well-dressed. Victorian bed-and-breakfasts peppered the streets.  Heck, Newport is home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

But that day, my family was not there to visit the town. We were there to visit the famous Cliff Walk, a public walkway that winds down the shoreline. We drove down to Easton’s Beach, where we could enter the path.

As we got closer and closer, though, a strange stench began to creep into our car.

And then we parked our car and exited.

My family had been driving for hours, so it was only natural that we’d use the restrooms at that beach. I went to the sink to wash my hands when I saw it:

I asked my cousins about it.

That’s not a discoloration– the waves were colored a deep reddish-brown. The entire beach smelled horrible, like sewage and rotting fish. My cousins and I were overcome by shock.

For some reason, people still dared to swim in the mahogany ocean. I didn’t dare step a toe into the water– especially after one resident told us,

And on the brave swimmers, we could see the residue left from the ocean. Swimmers emerged covered in the red slime. Even those who had only dipped their legs couldn’t escape.

Could it be? The red tideThe algal blooms caused by pollution that stain the beaches, choke out the wildlife, and release toxins into the sea? The stench of the red, rotting slime haunted me for the rest of the day. The red tide was something that we read about in a paragraph of our biology textbooks, not actually experience! The red tide?! Truly?! How could we let this happen to our oceans?

I go to school in Boston. I live in a town of hipsters and young college activists and tree huggers. I quickly went up in arms:

I felt horror. I felt desperation. What is our environment going through? And also, was I going through some sort of revelation? Perhaps I’m studying bio to save the oceans, save the world? 

After a couple hours of this, I decided that I needed to know more. So I can learn! How to stop the red tide! AND SAVE! THE OCEAN!

And thus ended my 3-hour environmental campaign.