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Gifts for the Sea

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A half-century ago, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote Gifts from the Sea, a bestseller in which she described what we as individuals can take away from our times of quiet reflection along the shore.

For her, walking the beach inspired meditations on life's great issues: growth and change, love and marriage, and the ways in which an embrace of solitude, and a connection with nature, can enrich our lives.

Today, finding our connection with nature is more important than ever. Around the world, fewer and fewer of us live in close relationship with the land and sea; most of us are city-dwellers, where our disconnect from nature can be profound.

It's imperative that we reconnect. Our very survival is at stake. We've taken too much, depleting the abundant seafood that has sustained us for centuries. And, we've added even more, threatening our planet's life support system with our massive injection of greenhouse gases, agricultural chemicals and plastic.

In this season of giving (and with a nod to Anne Morrow Lindbergh), it's time we offer up our gifts TO the sea. Here are six simple suggestions. Feel free to add your own.

1. Cut your carbon footprint. The plight of polar bears is well known. The plight of plankton, which produce most of our oxygen and form the base of the ocean food web, is on few people's radar. Reducing your dependence on fossil fuels is one of the best things you can do for the health of the oceans.

2. Choose sustainable seafood. Nothing people do takes a greater immediate toll on ocean life than the scope and scale of commercial fishing. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program has become the gold standard for sustainable seafood - for individuals, chefs and major seafood buyers. Carry and use a Seafood Watch pocket guide (paper or mobile version, or the iPhone app). And, spread the word.

3. Say no to plastic. The amount of plastic pollution in the oceans is astonishing - and deadly. The ocean's major gyres - where currents circle and floating debris is trapped - are filled with plastic we've used and tossed away. It threatens wildlife that mistakes our junk for food, and may threaten us as well as it enters the food web. Stop using disposable plastic water bottles and shopping bags, and campaign in your community to ban their use.

4. Spend some time in nature. We are part of an interdependent web of life, one that's filled with amazing creatures. Go out and explore your world - and take someone with you: children, family and friends. Stroll along the beach, or walk in the woods. Get to know your neighbors: the maples and the redwoods; kelp forests and corals; harbor seals and songbirds. You'll be glad you did.

5. Make your own small difference. It can be as little as turning off the light when you leave a room, or picking up a piece of trash beside a stream. You can count birds at Christmas, or help young people find their own connection with nature. You'll be leading by example. Gandhi said it best: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

6. Put your money where your heart is. Around the world, not-for-profit organizations are protecting coral reefs and rainforests, saving wildlife from extinction, helping children discover how to be wise stewards of the natural world. It's our mission at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and we're not alone. Find the group whose work inspires you, and make a contribution - large or small - to help them succeed.

These are gifts that will pay dividends today, and for generations to come.

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