To the Sea | Pacific Voyagers

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To the Sea

The ocean is insanely beautiful. I sleep to Hine Moana traveling seamlessly over her surface, as though I can feel every contour of her fluid self. I could watch her rise and fall for hours in the great inhalations and exhalations of the Earth. I am continually humbled by her expanse, which at the moment, feels as endless as the stars, the kind of infinite beauty we simply cannot wrap our human minds around. Here I am, in the Coral Sea, roughly halfway between the Solomons and New Caledonia. I have been closer to the sea than ever before, feeling her salty film forever on my skin, sometimes swallowing bits of her as I swim or her sea spray washes over my food, and at times, when I come up on deck a wave washes over me in greeting… the ocean’s embrace I say. Her majesty has been filling my spirit with intensity for ten days now, and I find myself writing love letters to the sea, as though she is a love long lost, but serendipitously found again. She moves me in all of her moods…sunlit, waves, crests and endless swells under stormy skies, the reflective glimmer of the early morning when she is cast like glass, the incredible shades of blue and green emanating out from coral atolls, and all the subtleties in between, that only those who have lived at sea for years might know intimately.

We hear it all of the time, that the ocean is our breath, the very foundation of our existence. But do we really stop to absorb this truth and the magnitude of all that science and observation warns us about? That the ocean and all life that depends on her is on the verge of crisis? Do we really sit with the weight of the words, or do we lapse into the bliss of veiled ignorance and go about pursuing the conveniences of our lives as they have always been?

At times my adult life feels fragmented by hypocrisy. For the moment, I am sailing solely by the wind but soon I will need to travel home on a plane powered by jet fuel. There was a time, when I was deeply immersed in climate change research and developing outreach programs, that I became immensely perturbed by sitting in traffic, spewing out CO2 along with all the other vehicles, on my way to work, ironically, to develop climate change programs – in a system that would not allow me to work from home and in a city where riding a bicycle is death- defying. It was during that time that I made a personal boycott against air travel, and this comes from one who has a permanent stamp on her heart that says wanderer, nomad, seeker of distant lands and new cultures. I finally broke the ban when I had not seen my parents in 2 years. They live thousands of miles away in Paris and time with them is precious. Of course, I had to see them, but the trade-off is thought provoking – do I fly for my parents at the detriment of my children not yet born?  You may consider the comparison unreasonable or extreme. We do not always think in such immediate terms of cause and effect, but I believe that we need to, particularly at this moment in time where “what we do – or fail to do – in the next ten years…may well resonate for the next ten thousand” (back cover of “The World is Blue” by Sylvia Earle).

I often wonder about a time in the future, when I am old, very old, and I am telling my great grandchildren about all that used to be… of the great majestic whales that used to roam the sea, of ancient rainforests filled with oxygen giving trees thousands of years old, of colorful, expansive, unimaginably beautiful coral reefs, living organisms that used to cover vast stretches of the sea. Let us collectively pledge never to reach this point, where whales, coral reefs, and ancient trees are alive only in image and story. Let us also, collectively realize that the plausibility of such an actuality is closer than we might be willing to realize. Of course we cannot completely eliminate our fossil fuel powered lifestyles overnight. Some things we cannot avoid, but when we fly we must give back a million times over in the stories we share and the hearts we touch.

The Festival of Pacific Arts was an eye opener…into the beauty of the ancient and the diversity of culture, but also into the imperfections of humanity and the breadth of work that still lies before us. Firstly, tremendous thanks to our hosts, they put on an incredible event and I am eternally grateful for their hospitality. When I mention shortcomings, it is for the benefit of us all, to grow and be the best we can be. Our intentions are good, and this is the most important foundation of all, and in this light the slogan of the festival, “Culture in Harmony with Nature” is noble. Some considerations, however, include the elaborate fireworks display that must have cost thousands. I can only imagine how extensively that money might have been applied to help alleviate poverty and facilitate sustainability. Or the hundreds of balloons that were released into the sky, simply so that humans can have a moment of awe and say ‘wow’, before the balloons fall into the sea and become hazards for sea turtles and other animals. There is also the large amounts of plastic rubbish that visibly flows down from the waterways during a rain and out to sea, as well as the notion that in an effort to clean up the appearance of Honiara prior to the festival, plastic rubbish was buried in the high tide line of the beach, also eventually destined for the ocean. We also observed a frightened, captive saltwater crocodile in a cage not much larger than its own body and filled with rubbish.

Sadly, the animal was being taunted and laughed at by people. We also observed three captive dolphins in a tank roughly 15 meters x 10 meters full of murky water. Unfortunately, these truths do not reflect the value system of ‘culture in harmony with nature’. I point this out not to attribute blame, but rather to highlight the opportunities for growth that lie before us.

There are countless actions we can take in our world to live compassionately towards all beings, and also to limit our use of fossil fuels to absolute necessities as we transition to renewable energy. Activities like car racing that burn fuel for pure amusement must come to an end, just as wasteful and excessive energy and light use in places like Las Vegas or other elaborate resorts no longer hold a place in a world where we are endangering the survival of life itself through our lifestyles. There are endless actions we might ponder and reconsider….the use of plastic bags because it is convenient and we are forgetful, the fruitless use of excessive fresh water in golf courses for recreation, or the consumption of large amounts of meat (beef in particular), when other less environmentally destructive and ethically questionable sources of protein are available. Recently in a speech, Australian Philanthropist, Philip Wollen phrased it powerfully when he said, “90% of small fish are ground into pellets to feed livestock. Vegetarian cows are now the world’s largest ocean predator. The oceans are dying in our time. By 2048 all our fisheries will be dead. The lungs and the arteries of the earth”.

The lungs and the arteries of the earth….is anything really worth such a cost?

I say all of this because I am in rapture with the sea and the wonder of planet Earth. In addition to her beauty, she is our very life-blood, our survival. She calls out for help and I know we can do better.

By Karen Holman

Pacific Voyagers

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