How I Fell in Love With the Ocean and Why I’m Concerned
By Megan Marolf
When I moved to southern California from Arizona before seventh grade, I couldn’t believe my luck. The desert had never been my chosen environment. So when my family traded cacti for humidity and the greenery of the coast, I took advantage of every minute.
I became one of those lucky kids who spent all summer at the beach. I enjoyed hanging out with friends who I would find every time I walked down to the sandy shore. I could count on one hand the number of days I hadn’t spent on the beach that first summer.
The ocean became my home away from home.
From Surf to City
My dad pushed me into my first wave right before I turned 13, and from then on I was hooked on surfing.
I loved the feeling of paddling up over waves that were seconds from breaking. Flying off my board while the ocean sprayed showers overhead.
And of course, there’s nothing like catching a wave.
Whether I was in the barrel or attempting to do toes on the nose, it was the most freeing feeling. Even tumbling off my board and getting rolled around underwater wasn’t the worst.
Other times, I’d just hang out on my board. All of my friends had the same model of surfboard but in different colors. So when we paddled out past the breaking waves we’d make a colorful raft.
When you spend so much time in the ocean, you get to know its rhythms and notice small changes. The swells might be coming in at an angle instead of parallel to the beach. Or there could be an offshore wind that makes for epic surf conditions.
It was paradise. Well, until I’d spot a pile of fast-food trash or cigarette butts. Beyond the litter that can ruin a view, there are countless threats to our ocean.
It’s sometimes hard to think something so powerful could be vulnerable to human impact. But with 6 billion people on our planet and counting, our daily choices can impact marine biodiversity. Pollution and overfishing are some of the issues at hand.
Getting to Know a New Type of Coast
Now I live in Seattle where Puget Sound meets the city. Instead of sand and waves, there are hundreds of miles of trails in the nearby Cascades and a lake to swim in during summer.
I don’t spend even close to the amount of time I used to in the ocean, but I get out when I can. Whether it’s kayaking around the San Juan islands or paddleboarding on Lake Washington, I love being near a big body of water again.
Living near a city also means ocean views are a lot more crowded. Trash seems to be everywhere. Most Seattleites know to check the bacteria levels of Lake Washington in the summer before even dipping a toe in the water.
The “beaches” are grass hills near neighborhoods and the closest you get to a breaking wave is the ones made by ferries.
Still, there’s a lot of beauty about the coast here. From the sailboats neatly parked in the harbors to the westward views of the Olympic Mountains plunging into the sound.
New and Old Threats Facing the Ocean
When you live near a big body of water, it’s easy to draw parallels between local issues threatening marine life, and those far away.
Take one example of an ocean threat, and it’s easy to see how it fits into issues facing our oceans around the planet.
Kelp forest are continuing to die off from the coast of northern California, all the way up to Washington state. Warmer than usual water temperatures have wiped out kelp populations. These kelp forests help to store carbon dioxide and provide critical habitat for several marine species.
More carbon will enter the atmosphere without these underwater giants.
As always in nature, there’s interconnection. It can be completely overwhelming to think of the threats facing our oceans. But it helps to look at it locally to see what can be done on a small scale.
Puget Sound Orcas and Their Food Source are Still Endangered
Most who live in the Puget Sound region have heard of the southern resident killer whales that roam the Salish Sea. They hunt for fish and give birth to their young not so far from metropolitan centers.
Their decline started in the ‘60s and ‘70s when they were live captured to be brought to SeaWorld. Since then, their main food source has been on the decline and even become toxic to eat.
These orcas rely on a healthy population of salmon to survive. They prefer fatty species of salmon, called chinook salmon. And because of the damming on the rivers that are part of the chinook’s habitat, the salmon are also threatened and listed as an endangered species.
In 2018, this orca population made headlines when a mother named Tahlequah carried her dead calf around the Puget Sound for 17 days. A lack of food and a stressful environment probably contributed to the calf’s death.
Increased Ocean Pollution Due to COVID-19
On one hand, the COVID pandemic has given wildlife respite from over-tourism and decreased the amount of CO2 we’re adding to the atmosphere.
But disposable masks and gloves are now littering the streets and eventually making their way to the ocean.
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing another wave of pollution that we’ll see the effects of for years to come.
In a recent blog from Ocean Blue Project, a COVID-19 ICU nurse wrote about ocean pollution. Masks are turning into a new source of microplastics and are already washing up on foreign shores.
While we might be putting less CO2 into the atmosphere, we’re likely adding to the problem of worldwide ocean pollution.
Of course, wearing a mask is a critical part of stopping the spread of COVID-19. They’ll be part of our daily lives for the coming months at the very least. But there are small decisions you can make to take away from this growing problem.
Protect Marine Life With Your Daily Choices
We can decrease the threats to our ocean by making responsible choices and decisions every day. The foods you eat to what you do on vacation all have an effect on the environment.
Buy Only Sustainable Seafood. Watch How You Travel.
When buying fish to grill or slice up for sushi, make sure it comes from the right source. You can find online guides to eating sustainable seafood that keep fish populations healthy. Often, sustainably sourced farmed fish is the best option. 5
Once we can all move more freely in the world, being more selective about where and how you travel can make a big difference in the health of our one world ocean.
For instance, if you happen to plan a trip to the San Juan islands, consider going for a kayak tour instead of a whale-watching boat. This can save orcas from the stress of more noise pollution.
Small choices can add up if done repeatedly by a lot of people.
Go With Reusable Masks
As mentioned above, masks are becoming a new source of pollution. But we can’t stop wearing them quite yet.
Until it’s safe to go mask-free, buying a reusable mask can save our oceans from even more microplastic pollution and from adding to ocean debris.
You can benefit the ocean in more ways than one when you add Ocean Blue Project as your Amazon Smile recipient. That way when you order masks you’ll also be contributing to the removal of plastics from the ocean.
Stay informed on other ways you can make a difference for our world’s oceans by following the Ocean Blue Project blog.
Author Bio: Megan is a copywriter and a co-founder of LAAF Travels. She lives in Seattle with her husband and an adorable pitbull named Lou.