The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
It all starts with the first touch of ocean water. Whether it’s a child’s foot, or an adult’s caress on the surface with fingertips, the first experience with the sea is never forgotten.
I believe it starts a life-long love affair that lingers long after the first connection is made.
It doesn’t matter which ocean or sea — what’s magical is the fluidity, the connection and flow. The water in Laguna, in many ways, is the same as that in the Arctic Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico. Winds move the upper 70 feet in patterns that angle off from the prevailing winds that circumnavigate the globe in a similar fashion to air currents. Deep below the surface, sinking and upwelling drive circulation in a ribbon-like pattern throughout and around the bases of the continents.
What brings me to write about the sea is not its staggering beauty, which even to the uninitiated is indisputable. No, it’s my fears for the sea that bring me to beg for her protection.
The ocean is in trouble, and no amount of political rhetoric will change foundational science.
What is peculiar is how little we respect the ocean as our source of life. The seas provide what no other planet yet discovered in the solar system contains: unfrozen water. Salty as it may be, the seas cool our atmosphere and expire droplets to the heavens that return as rain. She inhales and absorbs carbon dioxide, which maintains oxygen ratios and modulates weather.
Imagine a world without the oceans — scorched desert landscapes fill the mind.
We are the biggest threat to our seas. Whether it is our ignorance, our blatant disregard for her health, a collective blindness toward the effects of our actions, or our inability to craft apolitical solutions, we seem set on a nearly irreversible course.
The list of threats has been simplified for public consumption: pollution/contamination, climate change, overfishing and habitat destruction.
The Gulf oil spill last year provided an overwhelming sense of how our lifestyle choices are involved in ocean health. Oil consumption drives production, and we move into deeper waters to satisfy our thirst for dark crude. The spill killed thousands of birds, untold numbers of fish and marine mammals and irreparable damage to the seabed.
A temporary moratorium on drilling focused on safety. But as we all witnessed, the hunger for gasoline pressed above and beyond environmental protection.
Climate change for me is confusing. Is it hotter? Colder? Wetter? Drier? The predictions seem contradictory, and yet, changes are indisputably occurring.
Arctic ice is disappearing at an astonishing rate and, along with it, its habitat and environmental contribution. This ice, which includes sea ice, glacier ice, permafrost and ice sheets, acts like an air conditioner for the planet. Its seasonal blanket of ice and snow sends solar radiation back into the atmosphere, regulating the earth’s temperature. Storms are more frequent and fierce, winds erratic. Spring and summer seasons arrive earlier and are shorter. Islands are disappearing.
Habitat destruction is largely the fault of humans, whether it’s through agricultural run-off that creates hypoxic dead zones, bottom-dragging trawlers that function to feed our insatiable hunger for fish, or coral-bleaching caused by increased temperatures or carbon dioxide concentrations.
Overfishing is occurring, not merely for our personal consumption, which has grown exponentially in the last three decades, but for animal feed. One-third of marine catches are fed to farm-raised fish, pigs and poultry.
I search for small victories, small steps that we can take that have a measureable impact. Recycling programs, the move toward the elimination of plastic bags and water bottles, the push toward bio-degradable packaging and waste management programs are a few visible programs. Street and beach clean-ups go far in preventing more pollutants from washing into the sea.
The expansion of the marine reserve system in Laguna Beach waters is a great cause for celebration. This type of protective program has proven itself globally.
The first marine reserve — a no-take zone — was established in New Zealand in 1975. Goat Island, as the area is known, has now had more than 30 years of repopulation. Today, sea life is plentiful, fishermen report bigger and more bountiful fishing at the edge of the reserves, and it is said fish, no longer afraid of humans, swim with snorkelers like puppies at play.
Seventy percent of our planet’s surface is water. It is our constant choice to protect and nourish these waters. We know them locally as a source of tourist revenue, as well as our own playground for swimming, surfing, stand-up paddling, skimming and simply lying next to the shore in repose.
What one action can you take this week to both nourish and protect this precious resource? Put it into play. Maybe even play it forward.