“People protect what they love.” ~ Jacques Yves Cousteau
We come from the sea. We exist in bodies made mostly of water. We have salt in our blood. No wonder we are drawn to the ocean’s glittering depths. There is an instinct, a primeval memory, telling us we belong there.
There is a little bit of mermaid or salty ship captain—a shimmer of fish scales and a roving sea bird—in all of us.
Yet, as often happens, some of the truest things in life are the most quickly forgotten in the rush of daily living.
Earth Day is a reminder and an opportunity to give our attention back to the ocean, to celebrate its mystery and beauty. Protecting it is critical, but it is also important, even necessary, to enjoy that which we are protecting. To revel in our passion for it.
“It’s far easier to be angry, but the only way we are truly able to protect a place—the ocean, for example—is if we love it, truly love it.” ~ Carl Safina
Here are some thoughts on ways to return to the ocean, with love, on Earth Day or any day:
If we are near the ocean:
1. Watch the sun rise or set over the horizon of the sea. Soak up the colors and the beauty.
2. Meditate or practice yoga by the sea. Create an intention of love and respect for the ocean and everything in it.
3. Get in the water. Get salty and sandy. Swim in the sea. Ride a wave in any way that presents itself—on a surfboard, a bodyboard or with your own arms and legs. Scuba dive, or learn to scuba dive. Grab a snorkel and mask, and retreat into the world below the surface. Kayak or canoe, glide like a pelican over the swells.
4. Walk to the sea, by the sea, near the sea. Give attention to the smells and the sounds. Go barefoot, and feel the connection between feet and earth and sea foam. The ocean is a feast for the senses. Take it all in.
5. Have a picnic by the sea. Eat mindfully, remembering where food comes from and all that it goes through to reach us and sustain our bodies. Think of all the climates and ecosystems on land that are shaped by the ocean, giving life to plants and animals.
6. Volunteer for a beach clean-up with an organization like the Surfrider Foundation. Or just pick up a few pieces of trash the next time you find yourself at the beach.
If we are not near the ocean.
1. If we have just a little time, read a poem inspired by the sea, like this one:
“I would that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea!
We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee;
And the flame of the blue star of twilight, hung low on the rim of the sky,
Has awakened in our hearts, my beloved, a sadness that may not die.
A weariness comes from those dreamers, dew-dabbled, the lily and rose;
Ah, dream not of them, my beloved, the flame of the meteor that goes,
Or the flame of the blue star that lingers hung low in the fall of the dew:
For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!
I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a Danaan shore,
Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow come near us no more;
Soon far from the rose and the lily and fret of the flames we would be,
Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea!”
~ W.B. Yeats
2. With a little more time, read a book inspired by the sea. Perhaps The Wave by Susan Casey, The Ocean World by Jacques Cousteau or Barbarian Days by William Finnegan (for surfers and travel lovers).
3. Listen to music that celebrates the sea, like Hawaiian Style Band’s “Rhythm of the Ocean,” Jack Johnson’s “Only the Ocean and Me,” The Beatles’ “Octopus’s Garden” or “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid.
4. Journal about a handful of places in the world where you dream of one day sitting by or swimming in the sea. There is something about writing these desires down that seems to invite a pathway for them to begin unfolding.
5. Wear blue, a reminder of where we are sending our love today.
6. Enjoy whatever water is available, from a lake to a river to a shower, and revel in the remembrance that this is what we are made of.
If we are ready to take our love of the ocean a little further, we can extend our celebrating into a bit of bluer living, making changes that will protect its future.
There are many ways that we can change our daily habits to improve the health of the ocean, but let’s focus on one big one for the sake of simplicity, and the likelihood that we will actually do it.
Let’s honor the ocean on Earth Day by finding one way to remove some plastic (even a little bit) from our daily routine.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity:
“In the first decade of this century, we made more plastic than all the plastic in history up to the year 2000. And every year, billions of pounds of plastic end up in the world’s oceans.
Most ocean pollution starts out on land and is carried by wind and rain to the sea. Once in the water, there is a near-continuous accumulation of waste. Plastic is so durable that the EPA reports ‘every bit of plastic ever made still exists.'”
Most of us already have an idea of how severely plastic waste impacts the ocean. We’ve seen the photos of turtles with shells deformed by rings of plastic, sea birds swallowing plastic wrappers and the gigantic North Pacific Gyre (mostly made up of plastic). It’s clear that it’s time to begin changing the way we live.
But plastic is a massive part of our lives, and we aren’t going to suddenly eliminate all of it in a short amount of time. Rather, we can take small steps down a good path.
Here are a few reminders of simple ways to limit plastic consumption:
1. Invest in a glass water bottle. This is beneficial for the health of our bodies as well as the health of our planet. Leave those big flats of plastic water bottles at the grocery store so that, maybe someday, they’ll stop making them. Or at least make fewer.
2. On a similar note, take a re-usable travel mug to Starbucks (or your coffee shop of choice). The cups, lids, straws, stir sticks—sometimes we don’t realize how much waste goes into drinking an espresso or frappuccino.
3. Keep reusable bags in the car or hanging by the front door, wherever we need them to be so that we will actually remember to use them. It seems most of us are finally getting on board with owning reusable bags, but we often forget to bring them with us, which is the whole point. Come up with a strategy for keeping them at hand.
4. Refill containers instead of buying new ones whenever possible—water, coffee beans, spices and so on.
5. Resist accepting that plastic straw, wherever it turns up. Invest in a stainless steel straw, or even a re-usable crazy straw, which is more fun anyway.
6. When single-use plastic items do find their way into the day, try to recycle after using. Pay greater attention to where and when these renegades creep in, and consider what could be used instead.
Our days often unfurl themselves in a chaotic tumble, but taking a moment to make just one of these changes is a beautiful namaste to the ocean.
Now, a bit of word art to leave a mermaid heart glowing:
“The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
~ Jacques Yves Cousteau
“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), it’s always our self we find in the sea.”
~ E.E. Cummings
“The ocean never stops saying and asking into ears, which don’t sleep like eyes. Those who live by the sea examine the driftwood and glass balls that float from foreign ships. They let scores of invisible imps loose out of found bottles. In a scoop of salt water, they revive the dead blobs that have been beached in storms and tides: fins, whiskers, and gills unfold; mouths, eyes, and colors bloom and spread. Sometimes ocean people are given to understand the newness and oldness of the world; then all morning they try to keep that boundless joy like a little sun inside their chests. The ocean also makes its people know immensity.”
~ Maxine Hong Kingston
“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea—whether it is to sail or to watch it—we are going back from whence we came.”
~ John F. Kennedy
“I have seafoam in my veins, I understand the language of waves.”
~ Le Testament d’Orphee
“It contains so many colors. Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue in the evening. Sometimes it looks almost red. Or it will turn the color of old coins. Right now the shadows of clouds are dragging across it, and patches of sunlight are touching down everywhere. White strings of gulls drag over it like beads.
“It is my favorite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself staring at it and forget my duties. It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.”
~ Anthony Doerr
“Those who live by the sea can hardly form a single thought of which the sea would not be part.”
~ Hermann Broch
“I felt myself floating between two worlds. There was the ocean, effectively infinite, falling away forever to the horizon. This morning it was placid, its grip on me loose and languorous. But I was lashed to its moods now. The attachment felt limitless, irresistible. I no longer thought of waves being carved in celestial workshops. I was getting more hardheaded. Now I knew they originated in distant storms, which moved, as it were, upon the face of the deep. But my utter absorption in surfing had no rational content. It simply compelled me; there was a deep mine of beauty and wonder in it. Beyond that, I could not have explained why I did it. I knew vaguely that it filled a psychic cavity of some kind… and that it had replaced many things that came before it. I was a sunburnt pagan now. I felt privy to mysteries.”
~ William Finnegan
“May the calm be widespread, may the ocean glisten as greenstone, may the shimmer of light ever dance across your pathway.”
~ Maori Proverb
Author: Chrissy Tustison
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Ryan McCullah/Flickr