[ From the Archives of 365 ]
“So many talk about making big change, but really, it is the small changes that each one of us can do. Whether it’s turning off the lights that we’re not using, picking up the trash on the sidewalk, carpooling, or biking to work. We can actually make a difference.”
I’m on a short vacation in Long Beach, home of the Queen Mary, and harbor to many a commissioned cruise line. But it’s a much shorter excursion that I find myself and my family embarked upon today. For being the land-legged buccaneers that we are, we have decided to hit the high seas… well at least the channel between the coast and Catalina, for a three-hour tour (less a Gilligan’s Island storm). And no, the weather never started getting rough. And if it did, we are covered (thought ahead and took our sea-sickness meds). Pacific Ocean… bring it on!
But storm we do travel through—not rain, not the charging of a Moby Dick sized mammal or the attack of bow breaking waves. A storm that chimes as a narrative voice of loudspeaker charm and enthusiasm, as it informs all on board of the ocean’s wonders.
Her name is Jennifer, and not only is she a wealth of knowledge about the magnificent Blue whales we have spent hours alongside of, but she is a charming advocate for the sea she adores. You can see it in her eyes as she speaks of her love for the ocean and her concern for the way humanity is treating it.
“Everyone needs to realize that every single person in this world has an impact on their environment, more specifically the ocean environment. For those of us who live on the coast, we see it, and we really don’t understand it. For the people who never really see the ocean, they may have a tendency to say, ‘How do I impact the ocean? What do I do here in the middle of the country? How can I touch the ocean? And how does the ocean really impact me…?’”
Jennifer explains, “The truth is, the ocean impacts everyone… every single day.” She throws a couple of facts, “The ocean creates about seventy percent of the oxygen we breathe; the toothpaste we use comes from kelp. It provides us all the sorts of things that we use in everyday life, and what happens to it severely impacts us in every way.
“It does not matter where you live, the impact is the same, even if you drop a piece of trash into the grass, it is going to find its way into the habitat of an animal. That is really important to realize. The lights we leave on, the trash, and pesticides we use.
“So many talk about making big change, but really, it is the small changes that each one of us can do. Whether it’s turning off the lights that we’re not using, picking up the trash on the sidewalk, carpooling, or biking to work. We can actually make a difference. What if we all went around picking up one piece of trash and throwing it away, we would probably reduce the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or all the garbage patches, that are in the ocean right now.
“My words of wisdom? Realize that you can make a difference, even one person; it just takes a little effort. Right now we are sort of standing at a fork, and we can go one of two ways. If we continue to act as we are… to fish irresponsibly… to trash what we want… and to fail to reuse and recycle… basically, to keep taking and dumping more and more, we are going to find ourselves in a really scary position in about twenty-five to fifty years. We see oceans that are a lot emptier. A lot of people look at the ocean and say, ‘That will be there forever.’ We can’t guarantee, if we continue to overfish, that it won’t be gone… and once it is, we can’t bring it back. We are on the brink of losing species like Tuna. Who could imagine a world without Tuna sandwiches?
“If we are not more responsible, we are going to see a very different ecosystem. We’ll lose or grazers, we’ll lose our kelp forests, we are going to lose a lot. But if we can stand at this fork and go the other way… to a place where we each do something, and in working to inform our generation and our generations to come.
“We have to take responsibility to be stewards to the ocean; and if we do, we can potentially look forward to a really beautiful future. We have to accept that we are coming very close to the point of no return… and it’s going to get scary.”
Working at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Jennifer meets many people, a job that brings giggles of joy to her. Working there has given her first-hand communication to hundreds of kids and teens, all of whom she has the greatest admiration.
“There are a lot of really smart kids out there,” Jennifer notes, “and they are teaching us. I know our middle schoolers and our high schoolers are going to do something amazing for the future. We need to listen to them… and we might have some cleaning-up of our own to do.”
And with Jennifer’s calling of us old folk to accountability, she throws rays of hope of what the upcoming generation will do. “There are new ideas to come up with to fix things that we have done. Things that at this point are looking fairly irreversible. So maybe, in the next one hundred years, we will be able to still have this beautiful world… it really deserves our love and care. If you can’t see that when you are out on this ocean… I don’t know what else will tell you how wonderful this planet is.”
It really has been an amazing cruise, and Jennifer’s willingness to spend a bit of on-ship and on-land time with us has been very enlightening. And with the radiant optimism that she emits, Jennifer gives us departing instructions, “A lot of us are disheartened, but everyone will find themselves at a point where they are at the right point to see that they can make a difference. Many will say, ‘There is so much.’ But they have to remember; it is baby steps… we can’t expect to take these giant strides. We need to understand that to make our goal of a cleaner, healthier planet, it just takes baby steps forward.
“We’ll find that each thing that we add to our repertoire of helping out the planet is going to expand, so that fifty years from now, when our kids are old and grey, they’ll be able to look at how much they have learned… how much they will be doing… the lights will be turning off and the trash will be ending up in the right place.
“It just has to start from one point. Its baby steps… not large strides.”
Cast off, Matey! We have an ocean to save!