When I was a kid, I thought the ocean was a magical place. Much of my youth was shaped by my experiences wandering a semi-wild coastal strip behind my grandparents’ house in Florida and my adventures among ponds. These adventures have led me to endless discoveries, like when I found a school of silver minnows stuck in a puddle after the tide receded, or when I spotted a pod of dolphins on the move. to make a breach in the distance. I spent hours chasing tiny ghost crabs in the sand and searching through layers of seashells, trying to find the most eye-catching. Even as a child, I was determined to discover all that the ocean had to offer.
This love for the wilderness was the reason I applied for an internship with Environment America and decided to study environment at college. I was inspired by my heroes like Rachel Carson and Ayana Elizabeth Johnson who used what they learned in college to fight for clean waters and a healthy planet. I wanted to follow in their footsteps and work to create a future filled with hope and solutions. However, it was here at college that I developed a new relationship with the ocean – a relationship of great concern.
My classes and teachers have shown graph after graph and study after study detailing how humans have changed the Earth and what those changes mean for our oceans. My little sliver of coastline suddenly seemed less like a place of wonder and awe, and more like a place of uncertainty. Would rising sea levels devour the beach that meant so much to me? Would ocean acidification keep dolphins and fish away from the coast? Could I keep the magic of this place if I had to make my way through plastic strewn in the sand instead of seashells?
For a while, I struggled with this climate anxiety. How could I make sure that there was a future for the wild places in the ocean that I hold so dear to my heart? Would my activism even make a difference? These questions can be difficult to answer and even more difficult to answer. But as I progress through college, I keep rethinking my memories as a child in my grandparents’ house.
My first memories give me hope. To have this hope is to refuse to accept that the world around us is a lost cause. Having hope means knowing that change can happen and that our stories can make a difference. Hope encourages me to make my voice heard alongside other dedicated and engaged ocean activists, such as those participating in our Voices for our oceans project. This program aims to cultivate a network of dedicated community leaders and amplify their voices in defense of our oceans. We organize skills and activist training; encourage participating voices to submit advocacy material to local media; attend hearings; send letters to the Biden administration; and push policy makers to prioritize the health of our oceans.
Thanks to this work – and other similar projects – we have succeeded in obtaining the complete restoration of the protections of the National Marine Monument of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. We have also pushed the Environmental Protection Agency to fill gaps in the water protection laws they opened up during the pandemic, which put our ocean at risk. And we have led several successful single-use plastic bans across the country. We hold producers accountable for the plastic waste they produce and we allow local activists to connect with decision makers.
Hope encourages me to work with my community to find local solutions to problems that previously seemed hopeless. Hope means a better world is possible and when it seems like the fossil fuel or fishing industries want to make it seem like nothing can be done, the hope can be drastic. I remain hopeful because future generations deserve the same opportunities that I had to fall in love with the ocean and I know that I am not the only one who believes it.
Even when things change like never before, the ocean continues to be a magical place. I don’t want to go around the world and just focus on the risks. Instead, I try to look with the same eyes that looked around when I was younger and marveled at how amazing everything was. When I return to my grandparents’ house, I still find iridescent mother-of-pearl seashells and I still watch tiny ghost crabs wander from my footsteps. Beautiful things are always there and they deserve to be protected, not mourned.
All the words and efforts of those in our Voices for Our Oceans project motivate me. They are also a reminder that many people have stories similar to mine. People have told me how a childhood love for the oceans they grew up around inspired them to take a stand against commercial fishing, oil drilling and other ocean threats.
These memories are important because they are what will inspire us to advocate for the protection and preservation that these special places deserve. There is power in joining hundreds of community leaders who use their voices to advocate for solutions to ocean problems and urge decision makers to take action. And, just as important, there is hope.
This blog was written by Ellie Ross, Environment America Oceanic Intern, Senior at Brandeis University.