The Beacon

David Helvarg: 'Saved by the Sea'

Cover image courtesy David Helvarg.

The following guest blog from journalist and ocean activist David Helvarg is an excerpt from his latest book, “Saved by the Sea - A Love Story with Fish”

Recently I flew from California to Washington to ride on one of the Coast Guard's big icebreakers heading north. As I looked down at the snowcapped northern California mountain ranges they reminded me of great white-capped ocean waves. 

Actually they're not unlike waves in geological terms, bridging up across the landscape, surfing the magma where the Pacific and North American tectonic plates collide and subside beneath them. Mountains are the rippling breakers of the planet, though functioning in a timeframe that make our species seem as transitory as mayflies or molecules. Only evolutionarily hardened marine life such as horseshoe crabs and Nautilus have been around long enough to see mountain ranges rise up and erode away again.

While there's a sense of solidity in the mountains the ocean is in a constant flux from winds, tides and currents, upwellings and mixings both chemical and biological, both sensuous and predatory. It's the oxygen pump that never quits, the maker of atmosphere rain and fog and buffer of chemical balances, the paddlewheel of circulating vapors that is the crucible and the bouillabaisse of life, both the soup and the pot it comes in. Some people love the mountains and some people love the sea. Some like the steady companionship of dogs and some the mercurial nature of cats. 

Because these are domesticated animal species (except for the cats that choose us), they will likely survive this way-too-crowded nano-second of planetary evolution we've created along with our meat animals and camp followers (roaches, rats and raccoons). But can the world's last wild creatures and places, can the reefs, sea dragons, ringed seals and mangroves also survive us?    

I was not born for peaceful times or calm waters, nor have I seen many. We're living in the age of global markets and mass extinctions, the birth of celebrity websites, You-Tube and Twitter and the death of sharks, sea turtles and other of our planetary brethren who were already ancient when the first small mammals left their dirt filled burrows.  

While I've gone from radical activist to war reporter, private investigator, TV producer, author and activist again I do so with a more sober assessment than when I was young, running wild in the streets chanting “Power to the People!” a slogan recently appropriated for a battery-powered Oral-B toothbrush ad.

Today I don't really expect a revolution in either politics or consciousness to radically alter the cascading ecological collapse of our ocean planet. I do however note a rising line of ecological mindfulness approaching the declining plane of biological diversity on our water world. Where that X crosses will tell us how much is left to save and restore if we can.

I'm not sure it will be enough to turn the tide. All I know for certain is that if we don't try we lose. And this salty blue world of ours is too heart-achingly beautiful, scary and sacred to lose. If you don't believe me, join the space program, travel out into the Cosmos and look back from the heavens. It's not God's Green Earth, it's God's Blue Marble.


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