Atlantic Ocean, USA - Tommy Kankowski
My Watermark is Long Beach Island, US.
I grew up on the mainland across from of Long Beach Island. While I didn't live directly on the island, my most vibrant memories are from the summers I spent working there.
I was a Beach Badge Checker for most of those summers, an amazing summer job for a 14 year old. We would walk up and down the beach to make sure all of the tourists had their Beach Badge, which was essentially their permit to be on the beach.
One of the perks of the job was in between rounds, we were able to swim and soak up the sun. One day, a group of us were taking a swim break when the lifeguard blew his whistle to call everyone out of the water. Thanks to our youth and perceived status as Beach Badge Checkers, we didn’t think this applied to us, so we ignored it. When the dolphin swam past we realized that maybe we should get out of the water. We did get in trouble for potentially endangering the dolphin, but that was also the day I swam with a wild dolphin. Definitely worth the slap on the wrist.
For such a sunny tourist beach destination, the island’s weather certainly had an impact on my time there. The weather was particularly memorable on the days when as a result of shifting winds, the flies would get so bad we would end up getting sent home from work. They did try to spray for them, but I distinctly remember a day when a friend had her legs absolutely covered in green-heads and black-heads. There was also the time as a result of a slow overcast day, one particular oddball of a lifeguard, appropriately nicknamed “Smiley,” was determined to catch a seagull and enlisted our help. He didn’t succeed that day, though I heard rumours he managed to do it eventually.
Even when the weather was clear and beautiful, I could be caught off guard. My regular responsibilities as a Beach Badge Checker included patrolling up and down the beach, so I became very familiar with the normal sights and sounds. Dead jellyfish were fairly common sight along the beach but I’ll never forget the day I learned they could also make a sound. I’d had plenty of experiences swimming with the live version with no issue, but unfortunately didn’t know this dead one was there until I put the full weight of my foot down on it. I’ll never forget the sensation of exploding jellyfish. It made a sound when it popped; I could not stop gagging.
In my final year working on the island, I had more than a few tense moments with the weather; driving my little car through the regular flooding the island experienced. Because Long Beach Island is so far below sea level, the island would practically drown in a few feet of water every time it rained.
The weather, the wildlife and the water on the island made its mark on my teenage years. As an adult, I can’t help but reflect on it. There was concern for the dolphins, but not flies or seagulls; you can’t get rid of the jellyfish so you know to be gentle so they don’t sting (or pop). The motivation seems to stem from how the island affected us and our experience, not the other way around. Because of the constant flooding and rising sea levels due to climate change, I worry about the island being around for my entire lifetime. I now often wonder which hurricane or storm will be the big one to finally swallow the island whole.
I also wonder how much it would take to keep it from being swallowed up by the ocean. It’s an incredibly profitable place both for the locals and the state of New Jersey. Again, that’s not the best motivation. Instead, the motivation to take care of the island should come from the incredibly fond memories, not just from me, but from everyone who has experienced the thin, 18-mile stretch of beach.