National Geographic is running a short story contest (must be less than 500 words) on the topic of the negative impact of plastics in our oceans. This is my entry.

When I was his age, I used to run up and down this beach every day, playing fetch with my old dog Blue using driftwood as a stick. Now, there's nothing that washes ashore that's fit for a young one to play with or touch. Everything is coated with oil residue, and the beach is littered with trash. When I was young, I could walk among the tide pools and marvel at the little creatures that made their homes within. Sea urchins clung to the rocks and tiny crabs scuttled around. Now, the hermit crabs make their homes in plastic bottle caps, and I see what appears to be a dead seahorse, its tail coiled around a discarded cotton swab. If only it had held onto some coral or seaweed instead, maybe it would have survived.

I watch as a bloated seagull lands on the shore and gobbles up the dead seahorse, cotton swab and all. It makes a gagging sound as it swallows yet another piece of plastic that will make its way into its stomach from which it will never escape.

I watch my grandson run around on the beach. Occasionally he runs up to me and shows me the things he finds, but instead of sand dollars and sea shells, he's holding a cracked plastic cup with the faded design of some long-forgotten cartoon character painted on the side.

"We can use it to make a sandcastle!" he exclaims before scooting aside a half-decayed soda bottle to create a somewhat clear patch, and he begins using his found object to pack the greasy sand into shape.

I try not to cry as I watch him struggling to make the sand take shape into something beautiful, but it's hard because I'm to blame.

How much of this garbage is mine? I never cared or thought about it, none of us did. We enjoyed life and all its little luxuries like a smoked salmon that was laid out on a platter for us, and when we were done, we left the bones for our children and grandchildren. We left a mess, and they have to clean it up because the future is theirs, not ours. This is what we have given them. This is all that's left.

This is what I have given him.

I'm sorry.