I have a confession to make: I don’t really like the ocean.
It probably has something to do with growing up in Arizona, far away from any water. I enjoy the coastline well enough – strolling down the beach, hiking up sea cliffs, or exploring tidal lagoons and surf-surrounded dunes. I love looking at the ocean; it’s just that I don’t want to be too close to it.
Getting in it is the worst. Swimming about, I can’t shake the feeling that somewhere out in the vastness there lurks a malevolent creature – something spawned in the sunless canyons miles deep, forever pressed by the weight of the world – waiting, waiting to grab my toes and pull me down into the inky blackness. Nearly halfway through my fourth decade, I’m still convinced sea monsters exist.
Still, a recent visit to the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium made for a surprisingly pleasant excursion. I was blown away by the silent beauty of the shimmering schools of sardines, the easy grace of tuna. The jellyfish – spectral, alien – were especially amazing. All of the creatures were just so … cool.
This observation must sound completely silly to some of my colleagues here at Earth Island, people who have spent much of their lives saving the whales and who are right now working tirelessly to stop the annual dolphin slaughter that takes place in Taiji, Japan. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know a fin from a fluke, or a sea lion from a seal. Crustaceans and cetaceans are, as far as I know, closely related.
Preparing this issue, then, has been a big education for me. I learned the difference between wave power and tidal power, how each of them works, and their potential for generating renewable electricity (see “Stormy Seas”). Elizabeth Grossman’s story, “Living Fossils”, introduced me to the amazing ecosystems of deep-water coral, the oldest living organisms on the planet. An article about individual fishing quotas (see “Net Benefits”) got me thinking and re-thinking about the best ways of preserving underwater resources. Jeffrey Marlow’s cover story on the exploding number of jellyfish blooms made me reconsider the beauty of those strange animals I had admired in the aquarium tanks.
This issue also introduced me to a special kind of marine mammal – those Homo sapiens who just can’t get away from the water. Like Captain Charles Moore, a sailor and scientist whose ocean voyages uncovered the “Pacific trash vortex” (“Conversation”). Or Samantha Murray and Josh Churchman – a conservationist and a fisherman, respectively – who, in the course of trying to preserve California’s ocean ecosystems, formed a unique friendship (“Fishing for Trust”). Surfers all, these folks have the exceptionally open and outgoing vibe common to beach species; the sea’s immensity seems to fuel their insatiable curiosity. They are as playful as otters.
I like these ocean-lovers; they’re fun to hang around with. But that doesn’t mean they will get me swimming in the ocean anytime soon. They can’t tell me any different: I know something’s down there.
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