“People protect what they love.” – Jacques Cousteau
The Mission of SeaSource Group is to use art, soul, and the power of story to raise awareness of and advocacy for our oceans. In essence SeaSource helps more people love the ocean so that they too will protect it.
Photo of Molly Matlock by Todd Tinkham.
In his book On Water, Thomas Farber says, “To come back down to the ocean, is to re-experience an essential memory trace, something once known well, to recall that one has been trying to remember.”
Some people attribute this “knowing,” this inherent and familial love of water, to the evolution of all life from a common aquatic ancestor.
Others assert that it’s only natural that people connect with the sea; after all, it covers over 70% of the planet, and water represents two-thirds of our body weight. But such explanations are built on the presumption that all people do feel connected to water. The problem seems to be that many do not.
Ask your wait staff where your seafood originated and you’ll make your tolerant friends blush and consider inviting you to their home for dinner instead of suggesting a restaurant next time. There are plenty of stories about sea turtles choking on plastic bags, about sea level rise and how over-fishing is driving coastal communities to starvation and forced relocation, about how ocean acidification could kill nearly all coral reefs by the year 2041. Current oceanographic statistics show that only 4% of ocean area remains unaffected by human activity, while humans have only directly explored 5% of it.
Most of us know the ocean as a distant acquaintance – a place we visit and lightly brush up against on vacation. But often we feel little more than a passing familiarity, and some of us feel outright fear of and disdain for the sea. When sea-a-phobes think of those many heavy gallons of water, they nearly hyperventilate. They think of the Titanic, or of JAWS, or of the time when they were small and fought mightily against an undertow before a parent or lifeguard rescued them.
It’s comforting to read Farber’s statement and to know that other sea-soaked souls exist, breathing the same air, gazing at the same stars, and drinking the same water molecules as I do. No doubt, Farber’s idea of the marine “memory trace,” while slightly vague, articulates some essential truth that shakes awake a very base, central part of me.
I chalk it up partly to the recordings of Whale Songs my Dad gave me when I was six. The recordings came on a floppy black square of plastic paper that he plucked out of a 1979 issue of National Geographic Magazine. I always anticipated the prizes in these publications the same way I got excited over the fake tattoos or cheap plastic silver coins buried in Alphabits cereal boxes.
Maybe it was the way the whale sounds were packaged as a prize that initially won my enthusiasm, an excitement all the more intensified by my newfound knowledge that giant marine monsters sang lullabies to their babies.
Or it could just be that I loved watching Flipper? It shames me to confess the way I wailed happy tears while watching Day of the Dolphin. It was the part when lab-rat cetacean, “Fa,” a veritable Uncle Tom of marine science captivity, expresses gratitude to his paternal master played by George C. Scott (for God’s sake). The dolphin squeaks: “Fa love Pa,” thus reinforcing the anthropomorphic nature my child-self wanted badly to characterize dolphin-kind – if for nothing other than to explain the angelic grins permanently affixed to their precious fishy faces.
Then, of course, there were all those wild adventure novels I picked up at Scholastic Book Fairs, events that made public school and playground bullies seem worth the years of hassle & terror. I remember Scott O’Dell’sThe Black Pearl, Madeleine L’Engle’s The Arm of the Starfish and A Ring of Endless Light, countless others.
Blame it on sea stories: the ocean holds more miracles for me than any religion, any promise of afterlife or rebirth, or any solid ground on earth.
I live inland (which is actually better for the oceans), but the “memory trace” Farber describes is still here. When I get to the ocean several times annually, it is a place that I know, a place that I still love, even if it’s a long-distance affair.
I want others to recognize their own “memory trace” of their best ocean experiences. I want others to experience this love affair, especially those who must love the sea from a distance. I want us all to grow more nurturing of our human relationship to the ocean. Without the ocean’s ability to continue producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, humans and other animals won’t breathe. So the question remains: how to best create a powerful philosophical and behavioral turning point for others? How do I help to make other people as irritatingly head over heels as I am?
Carl Safina claims, “Tell me about anything that’s important to you, anything at all, and I will tell you how it is connected with the ocean.” Perhaps I am too much of a Pollyanna idealist, but if it worked so well for me, perhaps art and story hold the power to help others locate their own ocean connection:
Infographics like http://www.seasourcegroup.com/?p=10
Films like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDBtCb61Sd4
It’s complicated. We live in an age during which we must choose the lesser of evils: off-shore oil drilling that kills entire ecosystems or wind power that disrupts avian migration patterns?
Truly, the problem lies in the harsh reality that there are far too many of us humans co-existing on the planet right now, all consuming way too much and way too fast.
Still, what might we improve by changing our daily habits and continuing to share stories?
Fondly and with thanks,
Additional SeaSource Group members include:
A Few Key Collaborators:
Lee Moore Crawford
DesAuguste Johnson (aka Blada Smooth)
Jessica Murphy and Kevin Davis of La Perla Restaurant in Beaufort