Skip to main content

You and Me by the Beautiful Sea: The ocean is in trouble, but hope springs eternal

Mar 09, 2021 02:29PM ● By DR. RANDALL NIEHOFF

The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place.  —Rachel Carson

To an islander it comes as no surprise that we live surrounded by water; yet, truth be told, such is the case for every human being on earth. After all, about 71 percent of the surface of our beautiful planet is covered by seawater; and while it may seem strange, 9 out of 10 living creatures can be found residing in the oceans.

The deep blue sea is the watery womb from which terrestrial life was born. It is still the wellspring of vitality because of its role in shaping the systems of our environment and the ecological balance of all earth’s creatures. As the legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle puts it: “No ocean. No us. We need the ocean and the ocean is in trouble. We have to figure out what the problems are. We have to figure out what the solutions are.”

A former chief scientist for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Dr. Earle was named the first “Hero for the Planet” by Time Magazine in 1998, a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, “Her Deepness” by the New Yorker and is a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. Brought to our islands in February 2019 by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) to give a lecture, she was introduced to a sold-out crowd by SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera as “the soundtrack to our planet’s blue heart.” She belongs in the conservation ranks of Rachel Carson, John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, and, as Ryan asserted: “Her gift to us all is a better, more hopeful world, one in which we all learn to fight for the greatest wilderness on our planet.”

In 2009 less than 1 percent of our planet’s blue heart was designated a marine preserve area, a sad statistic that prompted Dr. Earle to found the Mission Blue Alliance, whose purpose is to inspire action to explore and protect the ocean. In her TED talk that year she introduced the concept of “Hope Spots,” a global network of protected marine reserves critical to the health of our seas.  

Since that time the Mission Blue Alliance has grown to include more than 200 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations (SCCF is one of them).  They range from large multinational companies to individual scientific teams doing research. Thanks to the alliance’s support of communication campaigns that elevate Hope Spots, the area of blue water now under protection has grown to 6 percent (still lagging behind the 12 percent of global land currently designated as conserved).

On Sanibel last year, speaking from the podium on the stage of the Community House, Dr. Earle, as president and chairman of Mission Blue, received immediate applause when she announced that the Florida Gulf Coast had recently been designated an official Hope Spot—from the Panhandle down along the Lee Island Coast all the way to the Ten Thousand Islands. Those of us who live, work or vacation here have experienced some dark times in water quality (recall the toxic surges of red tide, the stifling lethality of algae blooms, the quiet pollution of commercial and domestic waste). But now we have resolved to turn our eyes to the glowing spot of a bright promise.

The Bengali poet, composer, artist and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore articulated such a fresh vision: “Hope is the bird who feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.” Our fellow island resident, the royal tern (whose image graces the SCCF logo), encourages all of us “shorebirds” to rise up and get a bird’s-eye view of a future worth singing about with Mr. Rogers: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!”                                                                                                                   

Ran Niehoff has spent nights and days on Sanibel since 1991