Intent. I was there with an intent. In today’s broken world of waste, refuse and discardment, I wanted to find a place untouched. Somewhere devoid of the signs of progress.

I was disappointed. Bitterly.

I had travelled thousands of kilometers to get here. I had scoured information for any source – and there wasn’t much. Rumours mostly, with some concrete hope in between. I was here to catch a fish so shy that it has become known as the Holy Grail of fly fishing. And here, along this coast, their habits were different to those of their flats cousins around the world. Unique and hardy! Here they are tough, shorebreak surfing feeders that endure the hardships of an exposed and desolate coastline.

But the ‘Yellow Perms” were only a part of the reason for making this… this pilgrimage, I’ll call it. Living in the growing concrete and fluorescent jungle of one of the world’s fastest growing cities – a place full of progress at the expensive of almost everything – had led me to intensely yearn for the wide open spaces that I had left behind me; the seemingly untouched mountains and lagoons of Cape’s South West Coast in South Africa and the flats of the Seychelles. Beautiful coastlines that keep hidden the true state of our oceans through the effort of good people and organisations.

So I packed my 4×4 and left with the intent of breaking out of the concrete jungle to free my soul in nature.

Adventures led me to different beaches; dotted along on the coast in a pearl like fashion. These are the places that these fish are said to be in ‘good’ numbers. I’d seen photos and spent time with guys who caught them there. And I saw them too. I had my shots and, although I’d missed the Yellow Perms, I got enough to keep me quite happy!

Once upon a time, my first trip to a truly isolated coral atoll left me awed – yet hindsight left a nagging bitterness at the state of the windward side of paradise. There was no end to the plastic! Flipflops, fishing buoys, rope, bottles and the odd computer screen littered beaches that should have nothing but old shells and bleached bones.

This coast, despite its incredible beauty and isolation, was no different. The fish were there, not like they used be – I know from pictures and stories of the stalwarts. And despite the hankering that that time for this fishery is running out, I was happy.

On my last morning I woke up under the hulking sandstone cliffs that guard the hinterland of this stark land. I had arrived in the half light of the late dusk, shared a dinner and drinks with a new mate and crashed after a long day of driving.

What greeted me that morning seemed to drain joy from my soul. As I walked the beach I was greeted by the bottles, discarded nets and other plastic debris that lined the highwater mark; it seemed to strangle the little vegetation that existed. It screamed at me: “You can’t escape progress. You can’t escape death!”

Breakfast was an unenthusiastic affair. I didn’t feel in the mood to enjoy something hearty while surrounded by such filth.  I stared out over the green ocean – no longer was it the vibrant crystal blue of a few days ago. It seemed sick, like a mucous from the festering of an infection at the back of your sinuses.

What are we doing to our oceans?

I slowly strung up my fly rod; taking care with the leader and tippet setup. I tied on my fly and got going. My steps were slow; the normal cautious steps of stalking were now confused with a creeping dull fatigue that shouldn’t be present while pursuing such esteemed quarry.

And eventually, at last, I saw a Yellow Perm. It wasn’t tailing or surfing in on the shorebreak. It merely lay there; not glinting silver, sun yellow and full of life but dull. The life once contained in this now tarnished fish had departed. Its eyes now hollow voids, cleaned out by the scavengers. The carrion eaters had torn away the soft flesh.

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I stood over this dead fish. In itself this was not a strange sight on a forgotten beach. The ocean does, after all, have its cycles of life and death and the death of a fish is par for the course. But for a moment in time it became a scathing metaphor for what we are doing to this world.

Here, a seeming million miles from anywhere I suddenly realised that there was death all around me: Plastic bottles and plastics. Old nets. Empty fuel containers. And dead fish. Suddenly there were dead fish everywhere. Grouper, barbel, bream and triggerfish lay in varying degrees of decomposition. Harrowingly empty eye sockets. Flaking scales off hard leathered skin.death of death - 002 death of death - 010 death of death - 009 death of death - 008 death of death - 007 death of death - 005 death of death - 004 death of death - 003

I stopped. Turned my back on the beach and stared out to the ocean hoping to somehow hide my mind from the desolate thoughts creeping up on me. But all I saw was a brand new plastic bottle – label still neatly affixed – slowly get blown in by the wind.

What are we doing to our world?

Fred Davis

Fred Davis

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8 Responses

  1. Reality. Made accessible through your experience, to cut through pretty daft fantasy. Thanks for the questions.

  2. What’s even more disheartening is to have walked this shoreline before it was decimated, and that was just a mere 14 years ago. I’ve watched fidhermen systematically exhaust the variety of species that were once abundant, starting with the large pelagics to last few remaining inshore species. We should head the warnings of Jeremy Jackson who has studied the effects of unregulated fishing, pollution and climate change on fisheries. He suggests that productive predator filled oceans are but a distant memory and that we are entering a period that will be dubbed the Rise of Slime-A Reversal of 600 million years of evolution in which primordial ooze and the population of the ocean’s most basic organic structures will explode resulting in algal and jellyfish blooms, and massive dead zones.

    1. Don’t know if this makes sense: is it better, as a visiting angler to publicize this as widely as possible in a bid to create awareness? Obviously, ethically, one should fish in a responsible fashion, but what sort of wider impact could be targeted? congrats on the cleanup initiatives, it feels like a drop in the ocean maybe, but also must feel good, sweet cleanup with the happy students, I follow Ya on Vimeo it’s cool

  3. Far better writing then my article Fred!!! But, the scary thing is that it is even worse now then in December… depressing.
    What to do with my 4 year old son? Start a new hobby….questions, so many questions!!!

  4. And it’s just about everywhere else too Fred, that’s the bad news. The good news re. plastic and waste is we can each do something starting in our own homes, engaging management and staff at the supermarket, with our friends and families, etc. Pressure, pressure, pressure. Refuse to buy, re-use, re-cycle.

  5. Beautiful, sad and haunting all at the same time Fred… taken me a bit of time to reply to this because its been so difficult to digest… Whilst I haven’t explored the coastlines of Oman you reference in this piece, I will be making my way to Southern Oman again for my 4th trip in September this year and have always viewed its waters as one of the last untouched and undisturbed mainland coastlines I’d ever experienced.. its waters had the feel of what our east coast and southern Moz coastlines probably were like 1000 years ago… And it saddens me no end to see what has become of this idyllic paradise in just a few short years… and sadly looks to only accelerate further…

    Thanks for bringing this uncomfortable state of our human existence to the fore in such a haunting way… this needs more sharing..

  6. Great story Fred – with grim photos that convey an emotional experience…Back in RSA I get angry seeing one plastic packet on my favourite beach(es) when going for a surf. I cannot imagine what I’d go through if I had to see the beaches you wrote about.

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