Thursday, June 9, 2011

World Oceans Day 2011

In 2008, the U.N. declared June 8th to be "World Oceans Day" in order to bring awareness of the ocean and it's value to people from all aspects: The oceans are essential to food security and the health and survival of all life, power our climate and are a critical part of the biosphere. The official designation of World Oceans Day is an opportunity to raise global awareness of the current challenges faced by the international community in connection with the oceans.

Being in D.C., land-locked and entrenched in yet another sweltering pre-summer heat wave, I decided to celebrate the day by attending a lecture by National Geographic Oceans Fellow Dr. Enric Sala entitled The Last Wild Places in the Ocean at SI's National Museum of National History. (Click on the link to watch this amazing webcast.)

Enric with his delightful Spanish accent posed a question to the audience, "What is your first memory of the ocean?"  He paused for a few moments to let everyone think back and pointed out that this is the baseline upon what one compares every thought of the ocean since.  Well for me, that wasn't a great baseline.  So it got me thinking, where did my love affair with the oceans come from?

Being from a speck of a village in eastern Ohio, there wasn't much thought of the ocean.  It was hours away by car and for a kid it might as well been on another planet.  I did love to watch the great Jacques Cousteau's underwater adventures, but thought those places were so far out of my reach.

I finally took my first trip to the ocean at age 8.  Mind you I thought I was very acquainted with the water as my family vacationed yearly on the lovely Lake Erie who at that time was still recovering from being deemed a "dead lake".  Still, my first experience of the ocean wasn't what you would call love at first sight.

After a ridiculous multi-day, Wally World-style trip to Florida, that included at least one over-heated radiator (and subsequent repair), my first encounter with cockroaches in the unplanned visit to a motel while said car was being fixed, we landed in Daytona Beach, Florida.

My first thought was why is the water and sand so brown?  Where is the blue water and white sand?  Why do they let cars drive on the beach?  (I'm still wondering that one by the way.)  I hated everything about it, the waves, the sand in my bathing suit, the way my eyes stung.  My first encountered with the ocean lasted approximately 1 hour when I then begged my parents to take me back to the hotel pool.

I didn't let that first encounter deter me.  I went to Cocoa Beach for a high school trip and participated in releasing baby turtles back in the sea.  Watching them scurry across the sand and into the water gave me such a sense of pride and amazement.  I've snorkeled with manatees and my love affair grew.  I've explored the reefs in the Keys and the Caribbean.  I learned to scuba dive.  And most importantly, I learned to surf.

Surfing for me has opened my eyes to what the ocean is, the life and soul of this planet.  There is nothing more serene, nothing more awe-inspiring for me than sitting out on your surfboard in the early morning when the water is glassy and smooth, looking out into the great vastness simply watching the waves roll in.  You feel connected, grounded to the natural world.  You realize you are apart of something bigger, something that needs to be protected so others can feel this same way for generations to come.

So after what one might call recent serendipitous events, I've decided to start a new chapter of my life.  One where I intend to do what I can to study, preserve, and protect this wondrous, blue planet - the one I fell in love with.