Photo: Nick Mallos
Words of lost hope and unsolvable problems have been circulating the past few days in response to an article highlighting Ivan Macfadyen’s sail from Melbourne to Osaka. In the article, this long-time sailor describes the waters of his Pacific crossing as desolate and without life, “… for 3,000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen.” Macfadyen goes on to describe in detail that in place of the missing life were abhorrent sights and volumes of garbage.
Reactions on social media have included words such as sad, scary and heartbreaking. But most of all, I’m concerned about posts like this one:
It is clear that our ocean is facing unprecedented times and growing environmental challenges. In many places, we’re treating rivers and coastal waters like refuse pits for our unwanted waste. We are catching too many fish, and we are putting too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it is finding its way into the ocean with troubling consequences. However, I’m not yet ready to throw in the towel, and it troubles me that this article leaves people feeling hopeless. We know that if people are left with despair, they have little motivation to work toward solutions.
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Credit: Wyant Lauterman
As an ocean scientist I am personally familiar with the struggle between dread and hope. This duality is deeply entwined in all of our work here at Ocean Conservancy. Understanding the seriousness of what ails the ocean and what it will take to address these problems often keeps me up at night. But it is the knowledge that much can be done to turn the tide – that there is hope for our oceans – that gets me out of bed each morning.
Anxiety can be paralyzing. But if we let fear over the extent of the ocean’s problems overwhelm us, the future will undoubtedly be bleak. Yet, so too can false hope also prevent timely or adequate action or send us in search of solutions not based on scientific fact. We must face this scientific reality if we are to address the seriousness of the challenges before us.
Last week, The New York Times published a powerful opinion piece starkly laying out an ocean future devoid of coral reefs. Corals are under assault from a “perfect storm” of overfishing, ocean acidification, and pollution and their future is very much at risk. But the piece’s author Roger Bradbury went further, concluding that “there is no hope of saving the global coral reef ecosystem” and accusing conservationists of “persisting in the false belief that corals have a future.” He calls for a radical reallocation of funding from trying to save coral reefs to coping with the fallout from their inevitable collapse.
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