iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
David Helvarg

David Helvarg

Posted: April 26, 2010 06:57 PM

Saved by the Sea

What's Your Reaction:

I'm watching images of the oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon disaster spreading across the Gulf of Mexico, now 600 square miles and growing, threatening marine wildlife and fragile coastal wetlands, bayous and beaches. A year ago a similar deepwater drilling disaster took place in the Timor Sea off Australia that went on gushing oil for months before they could cap it. The offshore industry didn't learn from that last disaster and I doubt much will be learned from this one. Eight million gallons spilled in and around the Gulf after Hurricane Katrina and hardly anyone mentions it. President Obama now wants to expand offshore drilling into the deep waters of the eastern Gulf and the Arctic Ocean where industry doesn't even pretend to have technology capable of dealing with an oil spill on or under sea ice.

I've been on deepwater oilrigs in the Gulf of Mexico and I respect the roughnecks and roustabouts I met there who continue to practice a dangerous and challenging craft and mourn their 11 lost companions. But I also think its time to honor the contribution they've made to our nation's maritime history and, as with New England's whalers whose rendered oil helped lubricate the machine age, move on to cleaner offshore energy sources. After all, no one's ever complained about the impacts from an offshore wind spill.

Unfortunately doing the right and sensible thing doesn't seem to be the standard operating procedure on our seas or along our coasts. The ocean always seems to be that 71 percent of our blue planet to which we remain both awe-inspired and indifferent. We believe in its unchanging and unchangable nature even as we irrevocably alter it. As we tell each other when love disappoints, 'There's always another fish in the sea.'

In my memoir 'Saved by the Sea - A Love Story with Fish' (out this May with St. Martin's) I talk about how, in the blink of an eye since I was born in 1951, 90 percent of the large pelagic (open-ocean) creatures including sharks, big tuna, marlin, cod and sailfish have disappeared. Actually they didn't disappear. We know where they went. Onto our plates, mostly in the white linen restaurants, supermarkets, and fast-food joints of the developed world, to Japan, the United States and Europe, where it was not hunger but appetite that drove this latest war of extermination, unraveling the wonder and diversity of planetary life over three billion years in the making.

A 2008 study in the journal Science concluded that 40 percent of the world's oceans are now heavily impacted by human activities, including overfishing and varied forms of pollutions (oil, nutrient, plastic, chemical), while only 4 percent remain in a pristine state. These days, sailing across the ocean, you're more likely to see a shipping container fallen off a large vessel or a tangle of abandoned fishing gear than a blue whale or a black marlin. Add to that the huge impacts of fossil-fuel fired climate change on the marine environment - including Arctic melting, coral bleaching, and ocean acidification - and you might understand my natural anxiety, having lost friends and loved ones to wars and disease, that I now fear my last great love, the sea, is also sick onto dying.

After I lost my late love Nancy Ledansky to breast cancer eight years ago I was uncertain what to do next. I decided I would go back to war reporting because George Bush was ginning up for an invasion of Iraq at the time and I knew from previous experience that war is a good antidote to depression. Then I got a call out of the blue from Ralph Nader who'd read my book Blue Frontier and wondered if anyone was working to organize the 'Seaweed Rebellion' (the marine grassroots) that is the title of its last chapter. He offered me some initial support and office space in D.C. and after some consulting and consideration I decided that while we'll probably always have wars we may not always have living reefs, right whales or protective coastal wetlands. And so, like any good enviro, I recycled my ocean book into an organization, the Blue Frontier Campaign (ww.bluefront.org) and began working to restore the blue in our red, white and blue and the salty world beyond.

Unfortunately 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 Web sites, YouTube, Twitter and yes, HuffPost; and the death of sharks, sea turtles and others of our planetary brethren who were already ancient when the first small mammals left their dirt filled burrows.
While I've moved from a 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.