What does it take for the will of the people to coalesce around a single issue, to be informed and changed into a voice for change?
Every June 8th we celebrate World Oceans Day, a date designated by the United Nations to recognize our relationship with the ocean through so many different means of global connection. Events take place to highlight the value of ocean resources and conservation, hosted and facilitated by many organizations with ocean interests. There are maritime festivals and beach cleanups, school projects and environmental presentations the world over. What was once a bright idea is now an international event that for one brief moment focuses some part of world interest on the ocean and its benefit for all mankind.
Of course, every day is ocean day. We can claim that with the authority of the headlines that point to some ocean issue of import: the catastrophic disaster of a failed drilling rig or shipping accident; piracy and fisheries crime on the high seas; the trade impact of an expanded Panama Canal; the security implications of the opening of Northern Arctic passages; the decline of fisheries across the world economy; acidification and major bleaching events on coral reefs; the vast plastic wastelands swirling in gyres around the globe; and the continuing, growing evidence of the negative impact of climate change on the ocean and its capacity for supporting all aspects of human survival.
What is World Oceans Day meant to do?
When we coalesce around an issue, when all those concerned with ocean issues shout at once, there makes a compelling noise, enough to let us know that others around the world also care, enough to give us confidence that our whole is greater by the sum of our individual voices, and perhaps enough to penetrate the consciousness of a political structure that for the most part continues to ignore ocean issues, willfully waiting until it is too late. Sadly, typically, if we hear anything at all, it is either the silence of indifference, or the shrill pitch of denial, or occasionally, the clear, discerning voice of science and reality.
What does it take for the will of the people to coalesce around a single issue, to be informed and changed into a voice for change, and to counter the apathy and cynicism? The analogy that occurs is the ocean itself, believed to be infinite in its capacity to dissolve toxins, absorb oil, sequester CO2, cleanse waste, circulate protein and fresh water, and heal itself along with the poisons of others.
Cleaning the beaches on World Oceans Day is a reminder of what the ocean cannot assimilate — poly nets and fishing lines, plastic bags and containers, and congealed residue of too much oil spilled or chemicals deposited. This detritus, both natural and social, is ample evidence that the ocean has reached its limit and that, if we continue to despoil it, we risk a vast, terrible, irretrievable loss.
When we stand by the sea, or when we imagine it in our minds, we perceive nature in the reality of its movement, shifting light, and sense of life. When we study the ocean, we understand its contribution to our health and well being through water, food, energy, and economic, cultural, and spiritual connection. Why would we put such a valuable thing at risk? Why would we subvert a national policy to protect it? Why would we ignore a system of governance and law for the sea to manage it? Why, through acts of commission and omission, would we allow such a vital, precious thing to be compromised, poisoned, and killed? Surely, if on this World Ocean Day we can come to the realization that such acts are truly self-destructive, we can then use every other day to spread the word, to act in some overt way to change our behaviors, and to otherwise transform the will of one Citizen of the Ocean to become thousands, to become millions, who demand that the ocean be returned from scarcity to abundance, from conflict to accommodation, from exploitation to sustainability, from ignorance to intelligent action for our future.
The ocean will serve us well forever, if only we demand now to serve it better.
WORLD OCEANS DAY IS JUNE 8TH. LEARN MORE AT WORLDOCEANSDAY.ORG