The Silent Shorebird

Julia was a strange girl. At least most of sixth class thought so. She enjoyed social media like the rest but her occasional messages were about issues in which they had little or no interest. To keep in with her class mates she found herself wading through commentary about body image, shopping bargains and celebrity gossip.
Julia’s passion was beachcombing. She liked nothing more than strolling along the shoreline listening to seabirds and collecting washed up items from the seaweed. Her bedroom was a collector’s curiosity shop. All kinds of sea shells – whelks, oysters, scallops- adorned her window sill. An enormous glass bottle full of colourful winkles and sand stood on her bedside table and a fisherman’s net replete with dried seaweed, cuttlefish shells and seabird feathers was draped on the wall at the bedstead. A gorgeously coloured mural, decorating the back wall, painted by Julia, featured seaside wildlife.
Julia’s home was a mere kilometre from the shore so that when the COVID-19 pandemic struck she was still able to continue with her walks. She had no problem with the social distancing rules since she invariably went alone.
One afternoon as she took her usual shore walk she became aware of an unusual amount of man-made rubbish in the seaweed. Discarded beer cans, coffee cartons, baling twine and plastic bottles littered the high tide line. Usually she gathered what she could and heaped it at the pier-side for the county council lorry to remove. She had tried to organise litter collections in the school grounds, but found to her surprise that not everyone was enthusiastic. Some of the negative reaction was quite personalized and hurtful. So she eventually gave up on it.
As she walked she suddenly came upon a dead bird. She had found dead birds before and always found it sad but she was also philosophical about it aware of the harsh cycle of nature. But this was different. The bird, a curlew, speckled brown with long legs and a long down-curved bill, had its beak stuck through the tiny opening of a plastic bottle. Julia burst into tears realising that the bird had died of starvation, unable to remove its beak from the bottle. She knew the curlew from its beautiful call and that it probed for its food at low tide. This one clearly had not detected the bottle hidden in the mud.
Next day Julia sent pictures through her I-phone to highlight the awfulness of her find. Reaction was swift. Tweet after tweet came back sympathising with her. Other, less sympathetic comments suggested that she should ‘get over herself’ or find a ‘proper cause’ to be concerned about. One criticized her as a ‘Greta wanna-be’. Though hurt by the negativity Julia decided that she was not going to let it get to her.
A week later to her surprise she received an unusual email.
‘’Dear Julia, we at Wildlife International are most impressed with your efforts at publicising the world-wide problem of plastic in the sea. That an endangered bird – the curlew – was involved in your sad experience highlights the issue…’’
Julia read excitedly to the last sentence…’’We have decided to award you as ‘Clean Sea Ambassador’ and are sending a certificate and €1000…’’
When Julia arrived at school the next day everyone knew about the award. She was hailed as a school celebrity. A special award ceremony followed with the principal’s speech and photos and videos galore.
That weekend with COVID-19restrictions finally lifted, the entire sixth class turned out to undertake a ‘shore clean-up’, organised, of course, by Julia.