Growing up in Colorado, beaches were always synonymous with vacation, and therefore something I always adored and appreciated. Now that I live on the coast, I have experienced how easy it is to take the beach for granted, but still find myself marveling at the ocean’s vast, lapis blue reflection on nearly a daily basis. The fact that we know more about outer space than we do about the ocean fills me with both sublime fear and fascination. Additionally, every time I see a pod of dolphins off the coast, like I did today at Trestles in San Clemente, I am reminded that we are not as detached from other forms of life as we may think.
Unfortunately, living in San Diego has also exposed me to a number of man-made problems currently facing our oceans, beaches, and marine animals. Many people believe that the ocean is so big that it will always bounce back from anything we do to do, but sadly that is not the case, and it is up to us to respect, protect, and LOVE the ocean for future generations to enjoy, or even to live. The ocean regulates our climate, absorbs CO2, and holds 97% of our water, as well as up to 70% of our oxygen. As Captain Paul Watson has said, “If the oceans die, we die.” A huge component of protecting the ocean is conserving its inhabitants, but unfortunately scientists predict the ocean ecosystem to collapse by 2050 (some say much sooner) unless we do something to protect it. In fact, 90% of big fish such as tuna, swordfish, and cod are gone due to overfishing. Because the ocean is the #1 source of protein for more than a billion people, such a collapse would have a disastrous effect on civilization.
Today is World Oceans Day, so to celebrate I would like to highlight five of my favorite conservation organizations, projects, and foundations that are dedicated to protecting the ocean and its inhabitants. I could easily make this list much longer and perhaps I will add onto it at a later date, but I decided just to focus on five things I am personally most passionate about to start. Please share your favorite organizations with me in a comment below!
I recently started volunteering with the San Diego chapter of Surfrider Foundation, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving our oceans, waves, and beaches. The foundation has a number of programs including beach preservation, ocean-friendly gardening, water quality management, and more, but one of the programs that strikes me the most is Rise Against Plastics, which seeks to reduce the impacts of plastics in the marine environment by cutting down on single-use plastics. Plastics never biodegrade, and discarded plastics have formed a toxic “plastic soup” that is gathering in five massive gyres around the world- how disgusting is that? As the plastics break down to smaller pieces, sea animals eat them, which means we literally have plastics in our food chain (like your sushi). Reducing our “plastic footprint” is ultimately the only way to keep plastics out of the ocean, and Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Against Plastics campaign has done amazing work in raising awareness of the dangers of plastic pollution. In fact, the city of San Diego will be voting on a Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance this summer, prohibiting stores from providing plastic bags at checkout to dramatically reduce the amount of plastics that end up in our ocean. You can learn more about the ordinance here.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
I believe Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to be one of the best conservation organizations in the world; in fact, I could write an entire blog post dedicated solely to this topic. Headed by the inspiring Captain Paul Watson, this organization protects ocean wildlife and their habitats through direct action, which means they are actually on the front lines to conserve our oceans and its inhabitants for future generations. One of their amazing campaigns is to nonviolently interfere with the Japanese Whalers who illegally poach whales in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. Last year they saved nearly 800 whales and they will return again this year even though new legislation revoked all whaling permits from the Japanese, who were previously hunting under a “scientific research” loophole. I have been an onshore volunteer with Sea Shepherd for years and love how they are not afraid to challenge any animal injustices going on around the world. Other campaigns include protecting Sea Lions from brutal execution in Washington and Oregon, putting an end to shark finning, protecting the sacred ecosystem of the Galapagos, and more. If you would like to learn more about Sea Shepherd, I would recommend reading Whale Warriors by Peter Heller, or checking out their website.
Save Japan Dolphins
A part of Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project which protects dolphins all over the globe, Save Japan Dolphins aims to put an end to the horrific dolphin massacre that kills over 20,000 dolphins every year in Taiji, Japan. Each year between the months of September and May, Japanese hunters coerce dolphins into a secretive cove where the capture and sell the attractive ones for as much as $200,000 and butcher the rest for food- making the waters turn blood red- even though consuming dolphin meat has been linked to high levels of mercury poisoning. The lucrative dolphin trade is the driving force behind this heinous act, with dolphinariums representing an $8.4 billion industry in the United States alone. Even worse, the corrupt Japanese government supports the hunters, intentionally sheltering its people from the slaughter and imprisoning anyone who attempts to interfere. Save Japan Dolphins is involved in investigations and monitoring at the cove, exposing the toxic mercury in Japanese dolphin meat product, and creating worldwide pressure against the slaughter. Sea Shepherd also has a campaign against the slaughter, Cove Guardians, so with both these organizations on the front lines, hopefully dolphins will soon be safe to swim and play without harm. Until then, you can get help by boycotting dolphin shows and swim-with-dolphin programs as they fuel demand for dolphin hunting. If you would like to learn more about the Taiji dolphin slaughter, I recommend reading Behind the Dolphin Smile by Richard O’Barry or watching the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove.
Surfing for Change – Indonesia Trash Tubes
In an earlier post I talked about how much I would love to experience the breath-taking beauty of Indonesia. Unfortunately, the island is no longer quite the pristine tropical paradise I am dreaming of because it is plagued by one big problem- it is drowning in trash. Because the country lacks the infrastructure to keep up with its rampant population and tourism growth, tons of garbage is washed out to the sea, only to resurface on the touristy beaches through onshore winds. Pro surfer Kyle Thiermann explores the ugly side of Bali in this inspiring video which raises awareness of Indonesia’s escalating pollution problem. Although the video focuses on Indonesia, it is almost a warning of what will happen to our oceans globally if we do not make some serious lifestyle changes now. I love Kyle Thiermann’s Surfing for Change video series because they spread the message that it is up to us to protect our beautiful oceans, and they show how activism can be fun. Check out all his Surfing for Change videos here.
Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Projects
Leatherback Sea Turtles have existed on our Earth for over 100 million years. They are the largest sea turtle species, sometimes as big as 8 feet long and 2000 pounds! They are also a vital component to our marine ecosystem because they often eat twice their weight in jellyfish, therefore keeping the population of that species in check. Unfortunately, overfishing and habitat loss has led Leatherback Sea Turtles to be critically endangered and some scientists predict them to go extinct within the next 10 years. Luckily, so many conservation projects exist, mostly in South America, to help these amazing creatures and population trends have actually been stabilizing or even increasing in some parts of the world. Volunteers at turtle conservation projects simply help baby sea turtles make it from the beach to the ocean after they hatch, therefore increasing their chance of survival. I would love to do this in Costa Rica while learning about the biodiversity of South America.
Our oceans are at a tipping point. Oceanographer Sylvia Earle says our actions over the next 10 years will determine the fate of the ocean for the next 10,000. I encourage everyone to treat everyday like World Oceans Day and realize that it is up to all of us to protect the planet we inhabit. The ocean is more than just a giant mass of water.