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Ocean Day, As Seen from 36,000 Feet

I spent the bulk of Earth/Ocean Day on airplanes, hardly the most environmentally healthy thing to do. I would have much preferred a long walk on a beach somewhere … anywhere … but ultimately escaping my week-long lockdown in London and avoiding that long bus-ride to Madrid to get off the continent was worth it. I arrived at Heathrow armed with several different airline reservations and flew back to New York on a plane oddly only half-full and laden with more smiles than I’ve ever seen in any airport scenario in a well-traveled life.

Being at 36,000 feet and looking out the window for several hours did give me an opportunity to ponder just how the orb below is faring. I would have liked to divert and fly over the Icelandic volcano that had so handcuffed much of the world’s air travel for the past week, though the pilots probably would not have been inclined to test their engines by flying into the ashen sky; I wish I could have talked them into detouring south and flying over the Gulf of Mexico, for a bird’s eye view of that horrific/spectacular fire burning on the Deep water Horizon oil rig, a reminder of one of the real impacts of our dependence on fossil fuels; if they’d been willing to drop even lower, I imagine we could have skimmed over the surface and seen those growing gyres filled with plastic in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

But from high altitude it is hard to see the pollutants threatening the ocean. Truth is, it’s even hard in most cases to see them at sea level. Which is a big part of the problem when it comes to environmental protection. Out of sight, out of mind. (As spectacular as the images are of that oil rig ablaze, for example, it’s 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Very few people will see it up close, thus its damage will always seem very far remote.) The fact that the ocean has been altered by man over the past century – polluted, its acidity levels altered by carbon dioxide, over fished, its reef damaged – is indisputable. That in so many cases the ocean still manages to look pristine and unharmed almost works against it. I’ve fallen victim to that myself, both at sea level staring out at that place on the horizon where blue meets blue, and from up high looking down on a watery landscape that often – mistakenly — seems the very definition of pacific.

If you want to see some of the ocean’s greatest beauty, slip out in the next few days and see the new Jacques Perrin/Jacques Cluzaud film OCEANS (their last together was WINGED MIGRATION). I’m biased, since I’ve done the companion book to the film (Oceans, The Threats to the Seas and What You Can Do to Turn the Tide), but the $75 million movie – distributed in the U.S. by DisneyNature – strings together some of the most incredible ocean footage ever. And for the first week it’s out, Disney is donating a dollar per ticket to a Nature Conservancy program to set aside a marine protected area in the Bahamas.

A feature film of course can only go so far in regard to making a difference. Sitting in theater “observing” the ocean is only half the battle. If you really want to affect change in regard to the ocean, the first thing we have to encourage is changing rules and regulations to protect it. On a more personal level I think you have to go out and get in the ocean every once in awhile to remind you of its beauty, its power and its fragility. To save the ocean, I’m afraid, you’ll have to get wet.