Let’s Not Make it Worse.

Today is World Oceans Day.

I am extremely fortunate to have dived in some amazing places, I’ve seen critters and corals and sea life that are beyond my wildest imagination. An inner mermaid, perhaps, impels me, calling me to return to the undersea world time and again.

Thriving, conserved reef in Saba, Dutch Caribbean (yet, we still we see invasive fish like this lionfish, apparently introduced due to a combination of human and natural forces, native to Indo-Pacific waters)

I’m afraid for our oceans. I’m afraid that our human sprawl and a clinging, thing-ing greed is driving a mort lente, a slow death, to the base of our ecosystem.

When I walk the beach in the morning and casually pick up handfuls upon handfuls of plastic and Styrofoam and other discarded debris that won’t degrade in my lifetime or the next ten, I’m saddened. I think, “we can do better than this.”

When I dive a reef that should be thriving, and yet what I see looks like gray, broken bones, it’s simply heart-wrenching. And yet we humans have contributed to this; we’ve added stressors to the naturally-occurring ebbing and flowing cyclic rhythms of the Universe that allow for slough in order to regenerate a healthier ecosystem.

Koh Tachai, Thailand; one of the recently-closed islands

We can’t fix it. We can’t bring nature back to its original, pristine state. We can’t un-kill reefs. We can’t un-build over-developed shorelines. We can’t un-poison or un-pollute what’s been already decimated. We must be realistic: it’s most certainly too late for that. But what we can do is Not Make It Worse.

Thailand has recently indefinitely closed some of its hardest-hit sites in order to give the reefs time to breathe, to grow again, to gain some much-needed strength back. One hopes that this isn’t the start of yet another cycle of grow-exploit-pause-repeat. It’s a start. It’s not making it worse — for now.

Nemo, found. Richelieu Rock, Thailand (protected, but under threat)

Sea turtles eat jellyfish. Plastic bags drifting in open water look a lot like tasty treats to a hungry loggerhead. Whales are washing up in Germany with tonnes of plastic and car parts in their bellies. Sea birds eat fish that have spent countless hours in the sea ingesting tiny bits of plastic which doesn’t ever quite go away. Frigatebirds eat wrappers that look like silversides. Gulls eat bottle tops because they’ve spied colourful treats bobbing on the surface, and they’re hungry— hungry because even though they’re filling their bellies, there’s no nutritional value in a plastic straw. These seabirds die, like the whales, and leave carcasses on the beach that better resemble a toybox than an albatross.

So how do we Not Make It Worse?

I think it starts with paying attention. And making conscious consumption decisions. And shifting habits towards a less plastic-filled life; recycling or repurposing, making do with last year’s knick-knacks, using a refillable water bottle or coffee cup, shifting patronage to better-minded retailers. I pick up trash on the beach almost daily; so often that it’s become somewhat a subconscious act, like looking for sea glass. Subconsciously, I hope it’s contagious.

The hope is that by doing the small daily acts, we’re moving the needle just a tiny bit. But there’s always more that can be done, and I’m not claiming to be crowned queen of zero waste. It’s hard. We can’t go back in time, we can’t undo ours or others’ missteps, but we can open our eyes a little wider, open our hearts a little deeper, and on the days the needle stays put, perhaps merely contributing to Not Making It Worse is the best possible outcome.

Happy #WorldOceansDay

[Aside: this is a travelogue I wrote about Saba and its amazing conservation efforts]


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