Mortalized by plastic

July 2, 2018

Turritopsis dohrnii is a species of small biologically immortal jellyfish capable of reverting back to sexually immature, colonial stage after having reached sexual maturity as a solitary individual through a process called trans-differentiation. 


As the tantalizing wave of debris encumbers me, my only safe haven is no more. The gurgling onslaught of waste seems to be my last encounter in the Japanese waters. As I hold onto the reef, a heart-felt prayer finds its way in the pandemonium. The ever-growing plethora of waste: plastic, tins, bots and other merciless matter pushes against my nimble tentacles. The bell-like plankton that I am, feel insignificant compared to the tons of waste I face. Clinging onto the reef, my body starts to give away. I heave in a deep breath and let go.


I am Turritopsis dohrnii, otherwise known to them as the ‘immortal jellyfish’. I have sheltered in the southern part of the Sea of Japan for a long forgotten time. I would roam through the coral alongside the other plankton and swim in the tide-less blue, un-haunted by predators. The plankton told me that every day or so, the land-dwellers’ trucks would drive up the coast and dump the mass of untreated waste they hoard over time, into the water. Now I see that very waste engulfing my home in darkness.


It is no longer safe here and I must migrate elsewhere, but where is elsewhere but nowhere? In whichever direction I turn, I find myself blocked by the wretched materials they dispose so carelessly into my home; I find myself avoiding the corrosive chemicals their industries let loose;  I find myself looking towards a dark unchartered path which leads to a part of the waters thriving of consumers, hunting for plankton like me. Abandoned by choice, I swim towards that path. I ‘swim for my life’, something I had never done before, owing to my damned immortality. I swim like the dolphins, frantically plunging my body forwards, to avoid being engulfed in that waste; and in all that havoc, for perhaps a fraction of a second, for the first time in my life, I feel what it is like to be chased by death.


Hoping for salvation at the ‘end’ of that path, I dare not look back; rather I continue my gradual ingress into oceanic territory. As I range in these forsaken waters, my body starts to develop a gut-wrenching hunger for food. All this locomotion is taking an unprecedented toll on me, so without another thought, I settle onto the sea-floor for the long nap, imagining a better life in my new abode, when I arise from my rebirth.

When I come around, I feel fragile; I am, after all, a meagre immature medusa (jellyfish), born moments ago. I look around in anticipation, wanting to know where I had ended up after my journey. A new exigency unfolds, as my tentacles shiver with hunger, so I set out taking advantage of my invasion to hunt fearlessly in these foreign waters.


In my search for food, I come across the Kiwa Hirsute, the ‘yeti crab’, a key and notable citizen of the Pacific community. That silky blond setae covering his pereiopods is a sight for the eyes; something natural and nourishing after all that stinky untreated waste I encountered before. I observe that the yeti crab is struggling with something; so I adjust myself to clear my view but after I witness the horrific scene, I wish I had not. He is ruthlessly entangled in layers of polythene bags and so tightly wrapped that jerking around is proving futile; all this will eventually suffocate him. Turning around, I see the feared Bluntnose sixgill shark with the better part of her face stuck behind a plastic bucket, apparently from a summer bash beach party the land-dwellers had held. Gasping with disbelief, I refuse to accept such an endangered and esteemed predator brought down low by merely a timid creation of the land-dwellers.


Feeling unhelpful and disgusted by what lay in front of my eyes I move on through the landscape. How much different this part of the waters is from my home; from jade blue to a lifeless sickening green, rendering the water Janus-faced. The coral, I notice, is largely dead owing to the acidic waste the land-dwellers’ humungous buildings eject.

I pass by a Japanese spider crab, wandering far off from home. He too is acting strangely, shivering like the fish up North. When I observe him from up close, it turns out to be more or less the same. Oil, most probably from a wrecked oil tanker, has accumulated amongst his hair and now he is losing heat to the water at the speed of the Black Marlin; sealing his death from hypothermia. All this melancholic grief is intensified, when I see a sea-turtle innocently chewing off polythene wrapped around the sea-weed. Oh how my community suffers from the wrath of those spiteful creatures above!


Broken and subdued, missing my smack of jellyfish back home and beaten by hunger, I swim away from that hellish depth of despair. I had come all this way, hoping for a merry coral community but what I found out was the contrary. I push myself upwards, the cold dead water whizzes past my body and the pressure around me eases up; I push for a long time. A time comes when I feel like the surface is nigh, but I see no sunlight. It is cold without the warmth of the sun, nevertheless I push again.


Out of nowhere the sky pops up and I find myself partially out of the water. Around me, I see the surface of the water spotted with algae, another abomination of their uncontrolled farming. It was killing all beneath it, cutting off their sunlight and oxygen supply. The vomit-green matter aspires me and reminds me of the wrath and corruption of the land-dwellers. I reach for the light with my tiny tentacles but alas I am all too worn out. The unending expanse of Sun-kissed rusty green lies before me, still and wave-less. It is all but too quiet and that is a bad sign. No dolphins bursting out of the water, no flying squids wandering around frantically in packs and no seagulls to grab them away. I panic.


There is no plankton in sight and for better or for worse, the marine life here is extinct thanks to the predicaments provided by the land-dwellers’ waste. I am most probably going to deteriorate entirely due to starvation and the land-dwellers would not even notice my death and the harm they caused me and my people! Were the land dwellers not privy to our existence? Is this what He planned for me and my people? Are we simply going to be wiped off from the surface of the Earth? Is this it?


At that moment, for the second time in my life, I feel what it is like being chased by death.


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