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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday's Sequel (Re 9/16's Costal Cleanup)

The Canadian geese since in the photographs atop this entry were ones I encountered yesterday, September the sixteenth, when I participated in an event sponsored by Audubon Society NYC, which involved costal clean-up.

In fact, costal clean-up was an event that took place across the entire globe on this day. According to a web-page, "Coastal Cleanup Day was established by the Ocean Conservancy, an organization that work to help protect the ocean from the challenges it faces every year. They serve as a voice for the ocean, speaking of the issues that aren’t often represented through social networking, publicized updates, and challenges like asking your waitress to skip the straw for your drink. Efforts like that work towards a trash free ocean.

Trash in the water impacts the world on many levels, including harming wildlife, humans, and impacting the livelihood of those who work on the ocean. It causes economic damage by affecting tourism and recreation and the money they bring into those communities that are the ocean shore. The Ocean Conservatory knows that solving these issues requires bold initiatives and eliminating the sources of the trash that damages the ocean.

Empowering people to take an active role in the preservation and cleaning up of the ocean are important parts of helping conservation of the ocean. By spreading tips and techniques to help reduce trash they help people everywhere aid the cleanup of our oceans."

My participation led me (via a bus) to The North Channel Bridge area in NYC, where along with a number of other volunteers (some of who can be seen in the image following picture,

which was taken by Danielle Sherman of Audubon Society NYC after we had completed three hours of attempting to clear the beach of items on a form-style check list (as well as items not listed on that form).

The results of labor are in the trash bags seen in the aforementioned image, as well as in the one that's directly  below.

When the photos of the volunteers and trash were taken, we had finished our 10:00 AM -1:00PM shift, which had been done in pairs. I was blessed to be partnered with Patty A, who had volunteered for this event in bygone years; therefore, she was very familiar with what we had to remove from this coastline, which was far more than what was listed on our forms.

Moreover, she knew a great deal about the backstory re a number of items that were littering this area, including the discarded foods, flower petals, and bowls seen in the first two pictures.

The aforementioned things had presumably been left by members of the Hindu community who come to this location (on a frequent basis) to perform ritual associated with Puja.

The Queen's Chronicle reports that "For the past several decades, Hindus living in the area, notably among the Indo-Caribbean community in South Queens, have offered their sacrifices to Ganga on the shores of Jamaica Bay.

The rituals feature offerings that usually include flowers, fruits and coconuts. Hindus will offer the unused or leftover items back to Ganga to return them to the earth. But sometimes, non-natural items are offered, including articles of clothing, plates and other objects that are often seen as nothing more than litter polluting the bay, which has struggled to come back from decades of neglect.

Jamaica Bay is more than 7,000 miles away from the Ganges River in India, the body of water that is sacred to Hindus, but for those who practice the ancient faith in Queens, the estuary is the perfect substitute.

According to Hindu tradition, the goddess Ganga is the personification of the Ganges River, and the faithful often perform rituals called puja — in which offerings are given to the goddess — on its banks.

For the tens of thousands of Hindus living in Queens and the surrounding area, the sacred sites of India, where the third-largest religion in the world was born, are too far away — including the Ganges. So how do devotees of a religion that relies on a river thousands of miles away compensate?"

The controversy over members of the Hindu community leaving so many items behind (which they do as a means  of adhering to their ritual) that pose great threat to the environment has been publicized via a number of newspapers, television news shows and, a movie titled “The Divine Waters of Jamaica Bay,” which is" about the Indo-Caribbean community and how it uses the bay for religious rituals."

Be that as it may, members of the geese community don't seen to mind the fact that items left behind may impact their own health! You might surmise this from viewing the first two photographs which  accompany this entry.

However, it looked as if someone is apparently concerned about these geese, as evidenced by the "ID bracelets" that a number of them were wearing (which probably has nothing to do with the impact of items left behind by members of the Hindu community after rituals are performed).

But, unlike the Canadian geese, a number of people are not as laissez-faire re the threat posed by items left on the coastline after a Puga ritual. These concerned persons also include members of the Hindu community.

Sadhana is one such group and they had representatives (for their Project Prithvi ) present at the costal clean-up event near to The North Channel Bridge. As one of their web-pages states, "Project Prithvi is Sadhana's grassroots green initiative through which we mobilize Hindus, especially youth, and local community members to live out the principle of ahimsa (non-violence) by taking care of the environment."

Others who practice the Hindu faith have also tried to raise awareness re Puga's impact on the coastline in Queens.

In a blog post published during 2011, by blogger Kamelia Culture, the following is stated:

"On Earth Day April 22nd, 2011, "over one-hundred and twenty volunteers from Hindu mandirs across New York including the Shri Trimurti Bhavan located in Ozone Park, Shiva Mandir located in East Elmhurst, and Bhavanee Maa Mandir located in Brooklyn, came out to clean up Jamaica Bay in celebration of Earth Day and also to eliminate the misconception that Hinduism promotes an unhealthy environment.

According to Dr. Dhanpaul Narine, the founding leader of the clean-up campaign, over the past five years there has been a noticeable build up of Hindu ritual offerings. The offerings include: flowers, saris, aluminum foil pans, coconuts, flags, and pictures of Hindu deities.

This build up has not only received the attention of the Indo-Caribbean community, but also the attention of major media networks including The New York Times, CNN, and televised coverage on NY1 and NBC."

The author of this entry titled it Jamaica Bay’s Detrimental Garbage or Divine Offerings?; and she begins her point by stating: "Do you have any garbage?” I walked from each corner of the beach asking the same question. One woman said, “It’s important to say it’s not garbage, and yes, I have some things to throw away here.” She placed a flag with a picture of a Hindu goddess into the bag...
There it was. The conflict of Jamaica Bay, unfolding before my eyes.

... On the scene of the Jamaica Bay clean-up you could sense some volunteers’ regret while picking up objects that were once part of pujas and rituals of Hindu meaning. It was difficult and confusing for some youths to actually consider placing Hindu offerings into a garbage bag.

.... On the other hand, others did view them as garbage promoting hazards to environmental health. But the difference in belief did not affect the mission to clean up. In just about an hour the non-biodegradable remnants of Hindu practices were cleaned and the Hindu promotion of a healthy and pure bay was accomplished for Earth Day."

As you can see, the writer of the aforementioned post (who is known as Kamelia Culture) was passionate as she made her point on Earth Day in 2011. In spite of this, items associated with ritual offerings showed up again right after that Earth Day, and in all the days going forward.

In 2012, efforts were also made to address issues associated with leaving ritual items on the coastline or in the waters and according to a web-page, The National Park Service had this to say:

"At 6:30 A.M. on a summer Sunday morning, most Jamaica Bay beaches see few visitors besides gulls, terns, and sandpipers searching the waves for an early meal. On July 8, 2012, at Congressman Joseph P. Addabbo/NorthChannel Bridge, part of Gateway National Recreation Area, the birds had company. About twenty Hindu men,women and children sat on blankets spread in the sand, as Hindu priests performed the ritual of Ganga Puja.The ritual involves making ceremonial offerings to Ganga Ma, a Hindu goddess associated with water. The shores of Jamaica Bay have become settings for many similar rituals, not merely by Hindus but by other religions as well. However, this day was different. Hindu priests, known as pandits, invited National Park Service staff to attend. Since 2007 the National Park Service has been actively engaged with the local Indo-Caribbean Hindu community to address concerns surrounding the ritual use of the area.

Puja offerings consist of food, flowers, cloth and ceramic or resin statues, among other items. In the past, worshippers often left offerings in the water, which caused problems for humans and wildlife alike. Offerings of cloth can damage boat propellers and smother new shoots of marsh grass in the spring. Marsh grasses are the basis of the salt marsh ecosystem, which acts as a nursery for many recreationally and commercially important fish, crabs and other marine life. The statues offered during the rituals can be a hindrance to barefoot beachgoers. Although food and flowers are biodegradable, they attract rodents and contribute to the overloading of nitrogen in the bay. Nitrogen acts as a fertilizer and causes overgrowths of algae in a process known as eutrophication. When the algal blooms decompose, oxygen is removed from the water, which can cause fish and other marine life to die. The policy of the NPS is to 'Leave No Trace.' No items can be left on our shores, period."

As of today, it's been six years and five months since Kamelia Culture's posting that ends with the statement "Hindu promotion of a healthy and pure bay was accomplished for Earth Day;" and yesterday the coastline we were cleaning up was full of ritual items that included "flowers, saris, aluminum foil pans, coconuts, flags, and pictures of Hindu deities."

Additionally, it's been five years and two months since the statements were made by The National Park Service. In spite of the ongoing efforts to resolve the situation re leaving items on the coastline after a Puja ritual, there were also a number of Hindu statues along the coastline. A small sampling of this can be seen in the next picture.

And, in spite of the public plea to those participating in the rituals, to "Use saris* and fabrics as needed in your puja, but take them home...; there were also a good number of number of saris all along the shoreline and in the water.

I had no idea that this problem re Hindu rituals and the protection of our environment (as well as our protection of our wildlife existed), and I'm thankful to have been made aware of it. However, I'm not sure what I can do on a personal level re anything I have learned (other than participate in events such as yesterday's, which might result in some resolution.)

As some of you may know, I attended the event because of my appreciation for the avian community, and, especially for bird variety known as the American oystercatcher.

The North Channel Bridge area, which is used by species like the American oystercatcher, is also a stone's throw away from the Harbor Heron Island and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, a motivating factor in my decision to participate yesterday.

"The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge—part of Gateway National Recreation Area—is one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the Northeastern United States and one of the best places in New York City to observe migrating species. With more than 330 bird species—nearly half the species in the Northeast—sighted at the refuge over the last 25 years," is said to be "a must-see for avian enthusiasts;" I have not had the opportunity, to visit it; but hopefully I can there at some point.

Meanwhile, I'll try and take solace in the fact that I've had the opportunity to observe the American oystercatcher when I've spent time on Long Beach in Long Island (as seen in the next set of pictures).

I truly pray this bird species and all wildlife are not harmed by what's left behind at Puga rituals; as well any other items left on the coastline which put them in harm's way.

REFERENCE: *A sari, as you most likely know, dear reader, "is a female garment from the Indian subcontinent that consists of a drape varying from five to nine yards (4.5 metres to 8 metres) in length and two to four feet (60 cm to 1.20 m) in breadth that is typically wrapped around the waist, with one end draped over the shoulder, baring the midriff."

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