Imagine a world in which the ocean is teeming with life and vibrant with color. That is the world that Dr. Sylvia Earle first saw in 1979 as the only human ever to dive untethered to a depth of over half a mile. Having witnessed so much loss in the world’s waters since then, National Geographic Explorer Dr. Earle offers deep insight about what we can do to protect and restore nature’s bounty during her On Leading interview.
On Earth Day, the historic blue marble image taken of our planet from space by the Apollo crew reminds us that the majority of the Earth is indeed blue, and that the waters of the world are one. When we look at the ocean from any coastline, it looks vast on the horizon and so it can be difficult to fathom what Sylvia, the first Time Magazine Hero for the Planet, teaches us: “Earth generally and certainly the ocean is not too big to fail.”
With the interconnected flow of the world’s waters, we now see from the following indicators that we are indeed “altering the nature of nature itself," as Dr. Earle says.
- Human-induced global warming tips the temperature and the pH balance of the ocean to being unsustainable.
- Over 90% of the 1,429 miles of great barrier reef is bleaching and an average of 50% of those reefs are actually dying.
- A February 2016 study confirms the relationship between rising temperatures and the increased risk of devastating die-off from diseases like the recent Sea Star (starfish) Wasting Syndrome, which was the “single largest, most geographically widespread marine disease ever recorded.”
- Because the oceans continue to absorb more CO2 - 50% more than a decade earlier - the pH of the oceans is decreasing and with that affecting the ability of shelled wildlife to create and sustain their exterior.
- Ocean conditions are disrupting fish populations like salmon in the Pacific Northwest, whose numbers are as much as 70% less than expected in recent trends.
- Waste suffocates and disorients marine wildlife in life-threatening ways.
- Noise pollution and ocean pollution appear to be stranding whales and dolphins, like the 30 sperm whales recently beached along the North Sea.
- Significant amounts of the 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the oceans are showing up in the stomachs of tuna, swordfish and whales.
- Coastal dead zones are worsening with excessive runoff of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous from farms and cities, with the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone growing to nearly 6,500 square miles in 2015.
- And in places like the Pacific Northwest, salmon and other aquatic life show high levels of drugs like antibiotics, antidepressants, narcotics, and even birth control pills in their body tissue.
- Overfishing demonstrates a global tragedy of the commons.
- We have lost two thirds of the oceans big fish, with several species threatened with extinction.
Seen together, the convergence of news from indicator species like salmon and starfish shows that what Sylvia warns is not only a true possibility, but that our oceans are in fact beginning to fail. Yet, as she says, there is hope: "Celebrate, because if you choose a time to be influential, to make a difference in all of history, this is the moment."
Restorative leadership recognizes the interconnectedness of all life and understands that this world is whole. Our actions and inactions matter, and we can seize this moment of urgency with inspired engagement. If we leverage our interconnection with interventions like some of those listed below, in addition to supporting Dr. Earle's work of establishing Marine Protected Areas, we can restore that teeming and colorful balance.
- Keep us below the "1.5 (degrees Celsius) to stay alive" warming threshold by:
- Adopting or opting in to clean energy options like solar and wind for homes, and taking immediate steps like LED lighting and insulating to reduce energy consumption.
- Divesting from fossil fuels and investing in clean energy with the help of organizations like Divest Invest and 350.org to know how.
- Asking local and federal governments to redirect fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy.
- Driving less, using public transportation more, and transitioning to an electric or hybrid car.
- Reduce waste by:
- Boycotting and ending the use of plastics in your supply chain.
- Reusing cloth or Forest Stewardship Council certified paper bags and abandoning the use of plastic sandwich bags.
- Asking your local grocery store to offer only FSC certified paper bags or no bags at all like Natural Grocers stores.
- Supporting ocean plastic recovery and repurposing efforts like the examples from certified B Corp Method or the skateboard company Bureo.
- Carrying a reusable water bottle from certified B Corps like klean kanteen.
- Stopping the use of herbicides and pesticides on your lawns to reduce groundwater and runoff contamination and increase the health of your soil for carbon capture.
- Disposing pharmaceutical drugs responsibly at a local drop off - do not flush or trash them - and advocating pharmacies to do take-back programs.
- Source and fish sustainably by:
In her On Leading podcast, Dr. Sylvia Earle teaches us about the restorative leadership principle of taking the long view by encouraging us to realize that we have the power to do what no other creature on Earth can: look far into the past and anticipate the future with what we now know. She inspires us to remember that, “We have a unique place in history” and to look beyond our time as we make choices that will take care of the “real world bank” for future generations. We hope that you will join us in taking some new action from the interventions that we discovered and listed above. Each action and inaction impacts.