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For Us and Future Generations

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” – Jacques Yves Cousteau

My son was born four months ago, and I will never think about ocean conservation the same way again. A biologist by training, I have been studying and working to protect our ocean for almost 15 years. I can rattle off all of the scientific reasons why protecting the ocean is crucial. I could elaborate about all of the reasons why saving the ocean is the most pragmatic approach to best serve our own self-interests, to keep economies functioning and bellies fed. And I know firsthand the horrors that humans have inflicted on the ocean: I have seen sea turtles with stomachs swollen with plastic, animals dying under a noxious film of spilled oil, and entire coral communities erased by destructive fishing practices.

But, as I hold my son in my arms and think about the world he will inherit, my normal scientific approach to conservation suddenly feels insufficient. I no longer think about the exact percentage of the ocean we need to protect to prevent the entire system from collapsing. I’m not trying to determine the exact temperature shift we can allow before key species die off. I’m not interested in weighing the financial value of a living shark for ecotourism against that of a chopped-up shark at the fish market.

I simply know that I want him to be able to experience the beauty and wonder of our shared ocean. That he deserves as his inheritance a healthy and functioning planet, not one wrecked by human greed and overindulgence. I worry that my son will not have the same opportunities to be inspired and fulfilled by the ocean as I have.

I want him to explore tide pools teeming with life. I want him to experience the serene beauty of snorkeling over a healthy coral reef. I hope he witnesses firsthand the awe-inspiring sight of a shark gliding effortlessly through the water. And if by chance he does follow in my footsteps one day, I wish him a career filled with curious exploration and exciting new discoveries, not a lifelong fight dedicated solely to stemming the tide of human degradation of ocean habitats. I force myself to imagine our collective sorrow and shame if we one day need to explain to our children that you can no longer see orcas in the Puget Sound. To try but fail to adequately describe just how colorful and vibrant coral reefs once were before they were all bleached. To hear them ask where all the starfish went, or wonder why they will never actually be able to ‘Find Nemo’.

Photo: Brian Skerry

Eventually my mind drifts back into the realm of science. Because I also know that my son’s generation will desperately need the ocean’s amazing – but quickly dwindling – capability to regulate our climate, provide food and job security, and even create the air we breathe. And the sad reality is that our oceans are in grave danger, and immediate action is needed to protect them.

It is easy to become cynical as a marine conservation scientist. The damage being done to our oceans sometimes feels overwhelming and unstoppable. The oceans are already much less healthy and alive than they were in my own father and grandfather’s lives; the best time to act has already passed. But we cannot give up hope – our children’s future depends on us, and we still have time to turn the tide.

We must fight to restore the health and vitality of the ocean, for the sake of all the creatures that call it home, and for the sake of our children who deserve to experience the same wonder and joy that we once did. We must act now, before it is finally too late, to protect and preserve the ocean not just for our own benefit, but for all the future generations to come.