'Just keep swimming:' Adapting to the changing tides of ocean conservation


As a species, the human race is more intertwined with the marine environment than we can imagine. We come from the ocean. We depend on the ocean. But collectively we treat the ocean like a massive, expendable waste pit.

Nuclear waste in Japan continues to leak into the Pacific Ocean as the Tokyo Electric Power Company struggles with how to contain it. The blatant disregard for safety measures practiced by British Petroleum in 2010 resulted in the spewing of 206 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for three harrowing months. Even now, four years later, the oil spill has created spots of the gulf that are anoxic– parts of the ocean that have no oxygen, that literally cannot sustain life. Commercial fishing vessels scrape the environment off of the ocean floor with nets, keeping the fish that will be sold for a high sum and tossing millions of dead animals over the edge of boats every year because they have no commercial value.

These atrocious acts are leading to ocean environmental degradation that we cannot study fast enough.

This past summer, I attended the annual Capitol Hill Ocean Week conference in Washington D.C. as a representative for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I sat among the brightest marine biologists, climatologists, legislative staffers and agency representatives in hard white chairs in the newly-built Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue. To the left of the podium were floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a sweeping view of the Capitol building. As I sat there, taking in the view and my company, the speaker presented the emerging issues of trade route jurisdiction in the Article Circle. Countries were taking advantage of the permafrost and ice melt as a new trade route.

A statement the presenter made sticks in my mind. The facilitator opened a piece of paper that had a question from the audience and read from the small white square.

“What can we, as a community of experts, do to prevent the melting of sea ice and slow global warming?” he said.

The speaker looked down at the podium, then swung his eyes up to scan the audience.

“There is nothing we can do to stop it. All that we can do is adapt,” he said, unsmiling and weighted.

To adapt takes knowledge of how the ocean environment works. To adapt takes a commitment to be aware of governmental and corporate actions that move to further threaten our oceans. To adapt is to share knowledge of the wonder and uniqueness of the environment that covers most of our earth.

Our home is a blue planet. Our economies and security as a human race depend on the ocean. Raising awareness of the destruction that the human race has systematically carried out is critical.

Jacques Cousteau, the enigmatic pioneer of scuba diving and my personal hero, had a beloved television show in the late 1990s that exposed the world to the underwater wonders explored by him and his team. His series started out lighthearted, showing the team discovering shipwrecks and playing with dolphins. Towards the end of his career, Jacques became alarmed at the rapid deterioration of the oceans that he had observed just in his lifetime. He began to use his series as a platform to show the world just how much the ocean was in danger as a result of our actions, of our ignorance.

His show was cancelled within a year. Nobody wanted to watch the destruction of the oceans.

We must adapt. We must change this paradigm. We must learn of issues that are happening and we must live our lives as conscious individuals that do not allow governments and corporations to lay waste to our planet.

A small way that I hope to adapt is through this blog. Occidental College is a critically thinking, socially conscious community, and these traits will follow us as we enter the world. I hope to inspire and inform our community every “Fin-tastic” Monday, because I feel that it is important. I feel that the Occidental community has the skills to adapt.

As a teaching assistant for Marine Biology, I was blown away each semester by how much enthusiasm students showed for how a sea star uses hydraulics to move, or how sharks use electrical currents to feed and navigate. The students of Occidental inspired me; they gave me hope that our generation has the ability to adapt and work toward ending the destruction of our world’s oceans.

Thank you for your readership, for letting me guide you through dolphins getting high and coral reef ecology. I will be writing every week to inform our community of the quirky and incredible processes that occur under the sea, and what we can do to preserve them.

Jill Goatcher is a senior politics major and marine biology minor. She can be reached at goatcher@oxy.edu or on Twitter @WklyJGoatcher.