The Beauty, Fragility, and Demise of the Seven Seas.
“Fire, dancing, driving down to the lighthouse and watching the last of the light fade away. The rain had dissipated and opened up a clear sky for the last of the sun’s colours to smother the horizon ahead. I can’t quite remember what made me laugh that night or what I found bewitching about the sky and the sea but I can still remember the feeling. The feeling that each approaching wave was going to swallow me whole and as each second ticked, the water below became deeper and darker, the abundance of reflections slowly fading away until all you’re left with is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the world we live in. The rocks on shore were aligned like puzzle pieces that failed to ever become solved, all the blocks sliding down one another, as they melted back into the water. To the little silhouettes, our friends, in the distance, we waved and waved. As they looked out to sea, I wondered if they saw the same as me. Was the ocean a vast expanse of darkness, or could they see the last of the light linger in the horizon? I was completely all consumed by the darkness, it seemed to stick to me like plaster. I couldn’t move only stare at the black air. I had never felt such a pull to want to be one of those puzzle pieces on the shore and just let the water wash over me.”
The ocean is more than just a body of water, it sparks a child-like curiosity within us. We scoured the shallow sea floor in search for crabs, on the look out for a claw peaking out from underneath a rock. Picking up stones from under the water and tossing them a field when we see that it’s just empty sand beneath them. The ocean has always been a place of wonder and mystery. Where do the crabs go when the children are seeking them?
As a child, dropping a penny down a well to listen out for it hitting the bottom, is the same as throwing a rock out into the sea, knowing one day it will hit the seafloor. All this time, I’ve never seen the bottom of the deep sea with our own eyes, but we believe it anyway. So much lies between us and the sea bed floor, miles and miles. So much so that it is simply indescribable; the countless discoveries still to make, the sea creatures, plastic, and dense waters.
Sitting at the dock of the bay is Otis Redding’s way of watching the tide just roll away. The ocean is a place of thought and solace; I wonder how many worries it has washed away. I enjoy romanticising the ocean, as if its only job is to compile the soothing sound of waves after waves. We write songs about its charismatic calmness and depth. We tell stories of the fisherman in his boat that went out to sea. People tend to stare at the horizon and think that it will solve whatever needs solving. It’s pure bliss.
Except, what we have curated as what the ocean means to us is precisely the opposite of what it really is. Not to sound too mysterious, but I did enjoy creating a sudden twist in the so-called perfect picture of the sea.
As we approach the midst of the twenty first century, the ocean has become less of a dominating and restrictive figure in the geopolitical sphere. Humans have transformed the meaning of the ocean, in more ways than one. We have facilitated efficiency in trade, cutting the long and treacherous journeys. We have altered the natural ocean environments, with our plastic, carbon, and chemicals. We have constructed our own associations with the ocean.
But, what would life be like if there were no oceans between us? Pangea, the supercontinent, offers a unique insight into life without ocean water amid our land. Would border dynamics be different? Would diseases spread like wildfire across the continent? But most importantly and the question that has been gnawing at me, how much do we really need this body of water that encompasses our coasts?
As many environmental documentaries have had their turn in the spotlight, this years culprit is ‘Seaspiracy’. This documentary is key to understanding the essential qualities that the ocean provides for the planets survival. They are not just a basin of ideas for books and music, stories, and rose-tinted memories, but are critical to protect. Prior to watching the documentary, I felt happy eating a pescatarian diet, as I saw it as a happy medium between health and the environment; the epitome of sustainability. However, amidst the documentary, I felt the gaps in my knowledge starting to show themselves. I’m aware of the environmental issues facing the ocean and that it should be protected, but I never really truly knew why. Maybe my ignorance got the better of me to not ask how the fishing industry, whether it claims it is sustainable or not, is exemplifying the climate crisis. Environmental issues are not seemingly disconnected from one another, they are a complex network of interactions and causal relationships. Seaspiracy connected the dots and exposed how vulnerable the oceans really are.
To have a fear of the ocean is a very common phenomenon, but why? Why are people so scared of sharks and the apex predators swimming around when they are the ones keeping the ocean ecosystem thriving? That may seem like a silly question, inherently anything that is called a ‘killer whale’ sounds like something we should avoid. But, killer whales have killed no more than zero humans in the wild. However, their importance in the food chain is unavoidably positive. The documentary touched on what happens when the predators become prey, it affects every single tier of the food chain, affecting the most basic functions of the ocean. Whether they’re caught as by-catch or as a culinary specialty, the reality of the ocean being rid of these creatures is more threatening than a fear of these beautifully fragile animals.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about sustainability is that there is a push for individual change. For us, as individuals and communities to be more sustainable…use less plastic, drive less, shop the ‘eco-conscious’ range at H&M. It’s us individuals that are polluting the oceans and driving the corals to become blank canvases of what they once were. Whilst this narrative rings a certain truth and individual awareness should not be overrated, it is not the only story that should have a voice. The documentary highlights that the corals are not only being bleached from an increase of carbon dioxide in the oceans, but from the depletion of fish stocks that lowers the amount of excrement acting as food for the corals. Moreover, there is recent evidence that the movement of fish in the sea aids the down-welling of the warmer waters into the colder waters, whilst aquatic animals also sequester carbon to contribute to the largest carbon sink in the world. We view trees as the lungs of the planet, stabilising our climate, however I was never exposed to the importance of fish and the ecosystems under the water that keep our planet beating.
So the ocean can be a magical place, but it seems that it is fighting a losing battle. The overexploitation of marine animals from the commercial fishing industry is killing the beauty of our oceans. Soon when we look into the water we won’t see Nemo and Dory or our feet beneath the clear, shallow waters, but only our own reflection staring back at us.
The oceans are so beneficial and not just for their beauty, but to fundamentally keep us alive.