Still Dreaming

I grew up dreaming of the possibility of a better world. My mom worked on John F. Kennedy’s campaign as a teenager. I wasn’t born yet when Kennedy was shot, but the thought of it brings tears to my eyes.

At a time when others turned inward, my mom went on dreaming. Years ago, when plans came up to build a sewage tunnel from Boston to Cape Cod Bay, we went to the beaches and collected signatures against it. The sewage tunnel didn’t make sense to us. Why spend $3.58 billion constructing a tunnel to dump partially treated sewage farther away when that money could be spent fully treating the sewage in Boston Harbor? The tunnel would point toward Stellwagen Bank, a feeding ground for endangered whales. Even though the Cape Cod group that rose up against it gathered thousands of signatures, the tunnel was constructed.

There were so many people against it. We thought for sure we would stop it. My mom went on to fight more environmental battles, but I gave up on politics after that. I started writing articles for newspapers and magazines, hoping that every once in a while, one might make a difference. I have no idea if any of them did.

I’m still dreaming. My novel, Ocean Echoes, centers on the ocean and characters who try to make a difference. More than anything else, I hope it’s a fun adventure story. When it’s published, a percentage of any profit will go toward organizations working to protect the world’s oceans for future generations. I know groups like Oceana and The Ocean Conservancy make a difference. By supporting them, maybe I can make a difference too.

“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” – John F. Kennedy

Are you a dreamer? What do you dream of?

There Won’t Always Be More Fish In the Sea

Imagine that. Everyone is so used to hearing the opposite that it may be hard to believe such a thing could ever be possible.

A recent Newsweek article states that the ocean has changed more in the last 30 years than in all of human history beforehand. In most places, the seas have lost upwards of 75 percent of their large animals such as whales, dolphins, sharks, rays, and turtles.

An adult female bottlenose dolphin with her yo...

An adult female bottlenose dolphin with her young, Moray Firth, Scotland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Atlantic cod, Cape Cod’s namesake, were once plentiful in the North Atlantic. They’ve declined by about 95 percent and are now labled as vulnerable on the threatened species list. Bluefin tuna are also at critically low levels. The Newsweek article by Callum Roberts (excerpted from his book The Ocean of Life), illustrates the decline with a series of photographs taken by a Key West recreational fishing company. The first one from the 1950s shows people dwarfed and surrounded by huge grouper and shark catches. The average catch was 44 lbs. By the 1980s, the fish are noticeably smaller. Groupers and sharks give way to snappers and the average catch is 20 lbs. In 2007, the average catch was 5 lbs. and the size of Key West’s fish had decreased by 88 percent.

Overfishing is only part of the problem. The oceans have absorbed about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide released by human activity since pre-industrial times. If carbon-dioxide emissions continue at the same levels, ocean acidity is expected to rise 150 percent by 2050. Fertilizer and sewage runoff, along with rising temperatures, have created dead zones or low-oxygen areas where few species can survive. Predictions are that by 2050 there may be no more fish left in the sea. By then, the human population is expected to reach nine billion.

A World Bank report determined major fish stocks would produce 40 percent more if we fished them less. By eating large predators like swordfish or tuna, we disrupt the ocean food chain. These predators also contain more toxins and take longer to mature.

According to the nonprofit group Oceana, destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling waste more than 16 billion pounds of fish while obliterating ocean habitats like coral reefs and seamounts that can take decades or centuries to recover. Trawlers annually scrape close to six million square miles of ocean floor. Shrimp trawls are the worst for unintentional catch or bycatch. Trawlers are used to catch shrimp, cod, haddock, flounder and rockfish. Dredges are used to catch scallops and clams.

To see a list of 10 things people can do about these things, click here.

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”  – William James

For Earth Day, Think of the Ocean

During the 2011 International Coastal Cleanup volunteers collected more than NINE MILLION POUNDS of trash (9,184,427) along 20,000 miles of coastlines. While at first this might sound like a good news, it’s also very sad that it’s even possible to collect that much trash from the ocean.

For this Earth Day and every day, we need to make sure to care more for the ocean and all the lives that call it home. Whether trash is left on the beach or the ocean coughs it up, seeing it there is at least an opportunity to pick it up and get it out of circulation before it does more damage.

According to data recently released by the Ocean Conservancy, within the nine million pounds of trash collected, the top ten items found were cigarette butts, plastic caps or lids, plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers or containers, plastic utensils, glass bottles, straws or stirrers, cans, and paper bags. Most of these things (including cigarette butts) are not biodegradable. Sea life and birds often choke on or become entangled in plastic trash. One of the most heartbreaking pictures I’ve seen was of a bird cut open after it died. The bird’s body was completely filled with little plastic pieces.

A few more things Ocean Conservancy volunteers found:

  • Enough food packaging (940,277 pieces) to get takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for the next 858 years.
  • Enough light bulbs (24,384 bulbs) to replace every light on the Eiffel Tower.
  • Enough beverage cans and glass beverage containers that, if recycled, would net $45,489.15.
  • Enough balloons (93,913) to provide one to every person expected to attend the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship.

In the past 26 years of cleanups, volunteers have found:

  • Fifty-five million cigarettes butts, which if stacked vertically, would be as tall as 3,613 Empire State Buildings.
  • Enough glass and plastic bottles to provide every resident of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia a cold beverage on a hot summer day.
  • Enough appliances (125,156) to fill 37,434 single-axle dump trucks.
  • More than 870 thousand (870,935) diapers – enough to put one on every child born in the UK last year.
  • Enough plastic cups, plates, forks, knives and spoons to host a picnic for 2.15 million people.

While walking the beach, I’ve been surprised not only by the amount of deflated balloons to be found, but also those curly ribbons that are usually tied around presents. People must have lots of celebrations at the beach, but why not try celebrating the Earth and ocean by making sure not to leave those things behind? It’s easy to imagine the ribbons and balloons wreaking havoc with sea life and birds. I’ve also found lighters, sneakers (always just one sneaker at a time), a tire, plastic fishing nets, and of course, lots of little plastic pieces. Unfortunately, no messages in bottles. The messages are instead spread out all over the beach.

What are some strange things you’ve found while walking on the beach?

Related:
Ocean Conservancy Home Page
Oceana – Protecting the World’s Oceans
Project Kaisei: Capturing the Plastic Vortex

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Swimming through an Underwater World

Sun, sand, and surf lure us back to the beach each summer. Whether we decide to stretch out and luxuriate or build castles, we might not notice that the threshold to another world beckons right at our feet.

The waves, while hypnotizing us with sun sparkle, occasionally offer gifts: an abandoned home, an ancient creature. We examine these gifts or plunk them into our buckets and walk on without thinking too much about that underwater world or what’s lurking in its depths.

The ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, yet 95 percent of it remains unexplored. In this otherworldly place that covers most of the planet, stars crawl on the ground. Fish fly through the watery skies. Lives more ancient and mysterious than ours climb its mountain ranges.

Even the commonplace can be extraordinary. Horseshoe crabs are living fossils that have remained virtually unchanged for 350 to 400 million years. For comparison, humans have been roaming the Earth for about 200,000 years.

Crabs communicate by drumming and waving their pincers. Scallops can swim by opening and closing their shells. Barnacles spend their lives standing on their heads and eating with their feet.

Snorkelers are surprised to see visitors from the tropics adding their bright colors to the grayer New England ones. In one tropical tank at a local aquarium, northern red and frilled anemone grow like trees from a rocky terrain. Their pink and orange stump-like bodies billow out into delicate tentacles. A flying gunard flaps its fins as a bird would, appearing to fly over these trees and through the water.

Striped searobins use their lower pectoral fins to walk along the seafloor while probing the bottom for food. With warty skin and a humped profile, lumpfish may be difficult to find since they often blend in with the rocky bottom area. Their pelvic fins form a suction disk, allowing them to cling to rocks and other seafloor objects.

Cold-water, eel-like fish called “ocean pout” are sluggish and often hide in holes with only their heads protruding to watch for intruders. Their wide mouths and fleshy lips form a permanent pout and may remind visitors of some people they know.

At fishing docks, harbor seals poke their heads up through the waves. They look like they’re examining us as much as we’re examining them.

Endangered North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales feed at nearby Stellwagen Bank. Defenders of Wildlife estimates that there are about 350 North Atlantic right whales left in the world.

Earlier this year, an unusually large mass stranding occurred on Cape Cod between mid-January and mid-February with 179 dolphins stranded, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). It was the largest single-species stranding event on record in the Northeast. Of the 179 stranded dolphins, 71 were found alive and 53 were successfully released by IFAW volunteers. By early March, the number of stranded dolphins for the year reached up to 190.

These days, marine animals are struggling to survive, whether it’s because of overfishing, accidentally getting caught in fishing nets, boat traffic or pollution. To them, the ocean isn’t a vacation place. It’s their only home.

Related:
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Oceana – Protecting the World’s Oceans
Defenders of Wildlife

Snapthought: A Day at the Beach

we taste the ocean on our skin
salt-encrusted memories
call out as seagulls
dive through crashing waves
feel the undertow pulling
up, down, around
until we surface gasping
laughing

tidal pools appear and disappear
look into the shallow clear
to watch for life scuttling
searching

as the air grows cooler
we stand and brush off the sand
to go home with sun-soaked days clinging
lingering

Ocean Influences

It’s impossible not to be affected by the ocean while living on Cape Cod. Even if I don’t see it every day, I breathe it. The sound of distant fog horns brings the ocean closer to home. The air, after being touched by waves, sounds like waves as the wind roars through the trees. There are many gray, fog-filled days, but then these make us feel closer to the ocean. They smell of seaweed and adventure.

Adventurous people live here. People like whalers and sea captains once used the ocean to roam the planet. To them, the sight or smell of the ocean must have brought up an urge to be off again in wooden ships that would be tossed around like driftwood.

My novel, In the Echo of the Ocean, wouldn’t have been written if I lived in any other place. Even though the story is more about people than the ocean, I hope the sound of the waves and adventure can still be heard through the pages.

To me, the ocean will always bring up memories of salt-encrusted skin, playing in the waves with my brother, and searching for hermit crabs at low tide. I will always cherish it for those memories, for its beauty, and for the stories it tells.

The ocean means different things to different people. What does the ocean mean to you?

Related:
Oceana – Protecting the World’s Oceans