The tides they are a changin’…

Well, the holidays are nearly over (sadly), as is the king tide period we’ve had recently (happily).

As a former UK scuba diver, I’m well aware of the need for dive planning to take tidal changes into account.  The UK coastline is significantly affected by daily tidal changes.  Getting it wrong can mean problems launching the dive boat, and localised rough seas create turbulence which can cause potentially dangerous rapid depth changes.  Tidal changes can also cause ripping currents.  These can be a fun ride, but can easily and quickly carry you a long, long way from your start point.  The fun definitely stops there if that then means a long trek back in full dive kit, with a cylinder on your back!

But having never lived by the coast before I’ve never really thought, in any meaningful way, about the day to day significance of tides.  So the term ‘king tide’ was new to me when, a few weeks ago, I got an email advising residents to take the necessary precautions in the face of impending possible flooding.  Essentially, the highest of high tides, king tides only happen a few times a year. Still, having your house flooded once is one more time than ideal.  So we waited with a slight sense of nervousness.

We have always quite enjoyed the tropical rains.  Sitting on the balcony with a drink in hand, watching the sky light up as the sheet lightning blazes, the rain roaring so loudly that you can’t hear each other speak. That was when we lived in our first floor apartment, safe and dry and high out of reach.  Now we are in a more family friendly bungalow.  These days the onset of a tropical thunderstorm mostly leads to practical thoughts about drains backing up, air-con units taking in water and spraying it all over our belongings, and how much of our furniture we can realistically move above possible flood level.

So combine the wet season with a period of king tides, and we have had a particularly busy couple of weeks of stacking and un-stacking furniture!  As it turned out, the advised ‘necessary precautions’ of strategically placed sandbags and flood boards in front of doorways were not necessary. But we have woken up for the past week or so, looking out of the windows to find ourselves seemingly afloat.  The bungalow sitting pretty, surrounded by a temporary lake as the entire wrap-around garden steeped in about five centimetres of rain.

On the plus side, all this water has enticed some rather unexpected wildlife.  A little sandpiper, normally more likely to be found along the shoreline of a beach or lake, has taken up temporary residence, foraging in the artificial shallows. He is justifiably wary though – the hoards of local cats would no doubt find him a very appealing delicacy!

The flood waters are subsiding now, leaving in their wake piles of debris. Coconuts strewn across the roads, foliage blocking the grids over the already clogged drains.  But it is the plastic bottles bobbing about at the margins that are most noticeable. In much of South East Asia, the throw-away approach to plastic is sadly very literal.  For water, all roads eventually lead to the sea, and it is frustratingly common to see beautiful beaches marred by piles of plastic bottles, bags and packets. Centuries ago, tidal waters were seen as potentially dangerous and destructive, but also cleansing and rejuvenating. Wiping the slate clean. Today, king tides are still powerful, but no match against the range of non-biodegradable materials so prevalent in our consumer society. Instead of being a cleansing force they simply throw our rubbish back at us now, reminding us how much of a mess we are making of our beautiful planet.  It is a sobering thought.

plastic seas

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