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Why Landlubbers Should Include the Ocean in Holiday Giving Plans

Why Landlubbers Should Include the Ocean in Holiday Giving Plans

I enjoyed 28 consecutive days on the ocean sailing from Panama to Nuka Hiva, French Polynesia.  From the center cockpit in our Passport 47 sailboat Larabeck, I sipped coffee in the early-morning sunlight and watched huge ocean swells roll in from behind the boat, lifting me toward blue sky.  As I glided over the swell’s crest, time stood still and revealed vast miles of sea in every direction.  The next moment the boat slid down the swell’s backside, making way for another to repeat the pattern.  Balancing myself (and my coffee), I nurtured a growing love for the sea.

In contrast to this serene scene, the amount of trash we saw upon arriving at remote Pacific islands was shocking.  Imagine my surprise after dreaming about sailing to paradise, to an untouched wilderness I read about in Cruising World Magazine, and then spending years learning to sail, saving money, outfitting a sailboat, and finally setting sail, only to discover that the more remote the island, the more trash accumulated because there was no one there to pick it up.

I am a born landlubber; the Pacific Ocean was just a place on the map to me until I was in my 40s and began sailing on it.  During two Pacific Ocean crossings as one of two crewmembers on 40-foot boats I learned that though vast, the ocean is vulnerable to land-based pollution.  Our industrial society spews out so much plastic it threatens ocean health, and by default the health of all humans.  The ocean literally makes human life on earth possible, so whether one lives seaside or inland we all should include the ocean in our holiday giving plans.

Mandy Barker’s exhibit  “Shelf Life” makes my experience of the unbelievable amount of marine trash palpable to those who live far from the sea. Her disturbing, beautiful photographic images are made up solely of items washed upon beaches of uninhabited Henderson Island.  So much for remote island paradise.

Ocean water separates Pacific Islands from other areas of the world, while it also connects them to the industrial world via cargo ship. Markets on even the smallest of islands, supply limited local fresh produce and are full of plastic drink bottles, lotion and cosmetic containers; shoes and other clothing; bags and wrappers of all kinds; whose one-way trip terminates on the paradise island.

Cargo ships also brought much needed emergency supplies to Tonga after it experienced the record-breaking Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption in January 2022, covering the islands in ash and triggering huge tsunamis.  Relief efforts included 86,000 plastic bottles of drinking water, crucial for Tongans whose lives were at stake.  The paradox is that once used, these bottles had nowhere to go except into the ocean.

In truth, ocean plastic pollution is an extension of the land plastic pollution problem created by industrial consumerism.  According to Captain Charles Moore, discoverer of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch “The ocean is downhill from everywhere — the principal repository for vagrant plastic waste.”

We landlubbers need to understand is that our throw-away economic system is littering our whole planet; trash we see blowing in the streets and hanging up in the trees is not disappearing into the ocean—it’s clogging it up.  The consequences are serious for everyone. The plastics that wash down river systems into the ocean contaminate drinking water, harm fish and other sea life, and in turn impact ecosystems, health and economies.

Let’s follow the example of students in the NOAA Planet Stewards program, who worked together with school cafeteria staff and administrators to reduce the amount of cafeteria plastic waste by 75%.  Many school groups have successfully advocated for water bottle refilling stations in their school, keeping thousands of bottles out of the waste stream during the school year.

To amplify individual efforts, let’s invest in organizations like Oceana who urges bottling companies to increase reusable packaging to eliminate one trillion single-use plastic bottles and cups, or Ocean Conservancy who works with volunteers on mass ocean cleanupsTeaming up to share a collective voice with governments and businesses can have greater impacts than individual lifestyle changes alone.

During the holidays we support what we cherish, and caring for the ocean ought to be on all of our to-do lists.  As my experience shows, even landlubbers are deeply connected to the ocean, a beautiful, living force that everyone depends on.  Please consider giving thanks for our mighty and vulnerable ocean by including it in this year’s gift-giving plan.

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