Tranquil waters - closing in on Madang (credit Jan Messersmith)

Happy Oceans Day!

Although in reality our oceans are not happy – in fact, they are in a seriously sorry state. Forgive me if I get sentimental for a few moments here. Over the last couple of months I have had something of an epiphany, and I feel the need to share.

Until this year, I felt uncomfortable when people tried to label me as an “advocate for the oceans”. It wasn’t a label I had chosen, and I felt it didn’t fit me. The Atlantic Ocean beat me up pretty badly in 2005-6, and I was still bearing a grudge. My relationship with the ocean could best be described as ambivalent. I regarded her as a tough taskmaster, who occasionally tried to kill me. Not the best basis for a happy relationship.

But this year two things have happened that have softened my attitude towards the vast blue bits of our planet.

First, there was TED Mission Blue. For two days I received a concentrated dose of all the bad news that I had heard about the oceans over the last few years, and it shocked me.

– There is a 6:1 ratio of plastic to plankton in the ocean. This cannot be good.

Consuming blue fin tuna is like barbecuing pandas.

Ocean plants produce half of the world’s oxygen.

In 40 years, seafood could be a thing of the past.

Ocean acidification is seriously affecting its ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

Sure, I already knew about plastic pollution, collapsing fish stocks, ocean acidification, dead zones and coastal habitat destruction. But like so many environmental messages, the drip-drip-drip of bad news hadn’t really hit me with the sense of urgency that I got at TED. Here were world-respected experts telling us that we need to take urgent action before the oceans are too damaged to recover.

Given that the oceans cover 70% of our planet, it suddenly made sense to me that if our oceans are in trouble, then so are we.

My favourite arrival photo - credit Jan Messersmith

Second, there was this third and final stage of my row. I actually almost enjoyed it. Although I didn’t see as much marine wildlife as last year, I felt a sense of companionship with the little entourage of fish that wiggled alongside my boat. I relished the sunrises and sunsets. I enjoyed the solitude and magnificence of the oceanic wilderness. So it was all the more upsetting when I saw plastic pollution and raw sewage out at sea. My perception of the ocean changed: I no longer perceived her as an enemy, but rather as a mistreated environment in need of love and restoration.

So it hurt all the more to hear about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. My heart ached. We had already assaulted the ocean in so many smaller ways – and now here was the big one. The ultimate insult.

So on this Oceans Day, even if you have never spent a day at sea in your life, I beg you to do a blue deed for the day. Do something to help. Join an ocean conservation organisation. Make a donation. Post a tweet. Just do something. And then tell us about it at Log a “water” deed and tell us what you did.

The ocean thanks you. And so do I.


  • Roz, your eye-witness accounts send a very powerful message. The mental images you describe are etched in my mind (did you take pix) and I am sure others are also touched by your descriptions.

    Last week I read some “good news” at about banning plastic bags statewide in California. California Rozlings, please call your senators and ask them to support AB 1998 which the Assembly passed last week. Get your senator’s phone number here:

  • Roz, Your account of how our oceans are being poluted and our sealife is in peril, is true and sad. I am trying to tell as many as I can about your work to help save our planet. The sticky situation is, how can we get the third world countries to think past today and care about everyone’s future and the ocean values? I am so very proud of you and you are making us aware. Can you provide some “wake up” pictures of the filth so we can inform others? I see plastic bags as enemy # 1 ! Then there is the industrial, oil and sewage polution as well!

    Roz, I am afreaid I have dropped the ball on the “carry around” image/fcarving you requested for your speaking engagements. I have a friend who is willing to make the carving, but he can not finish it before late fall. I will contact you and your Mom by e-mail, but do you think we had better find a quicker, more reliable sourse for the model? As always, I am in awe of you, Roger

  • Roz, your message is getting out — big ripples spreading far and wide.

    You probably haven’t seen the CNN TEDTalks Tuesday article Rowing across an endangered ocean, after all it is 2:23 AM in Madang, and this was just now published less than three hours ago.

  • I’ll spin the “BP oil spill” as a positive: It might just be the wake-up call that we “drip-drip-drip” folks need to take the health of our ocean and planet a bit more seriously. Several decades ago it took a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland Ohio for many Americans to wake up to our killing the waterways and polluting the Great Lakes. Perhaps the gushing of oil in the Gulf of Mexico and the tarring of fish, animals and beaches will trigger an overdue urgency toward change. I’d rather people ‘want’ to change than a bureaucracy forcing change on them.

  • Roz, thanks so much for including my photos in your blog. It was such an exciting day for all of us in Madang. I was absolutely blown away by the spectacular welcome that Sir Peter Barter arranged for you. It was only because of his efforts to give you a warm welcome that I was able to get some nice shots. You can’t photograph what isn’t there. Madang owes a debt of gratitude to Sir Peter for pulling out all of the stops for you. Hurah!

  • Hugs and many, many, many congrats and hugs again!! Woohoo!! We’ll work on getting you some speaking gigs here in NJ!!! You go, girl!!! Amazing blog, by the way. It’s not like anyone wants to be an alarmist, but the info is so alarming! The solutions, though, are there. Congrats congrats congrats!!!!

  • Roger – no worries on the model. Amy Olstead in Austin has put me in touch with her uncle, who seems to be quite a legend in his own right. He once made a model of the African Queen, so Brocade shouldn’t present him with any problems!

    Margo – would be GREAT to speak in NJ! Hope that works out. Meanwhile I’m hoping to be at Ocean Champions in DC in September, but it clashes with the California Climate Ride so I”m still trying to figure out how to be in two places at once.

    Am just back from a cleanup here in Madang. Spoke at a school, issued the rallying cry, and then we all (me and several hundred students) went out to pick up trash, much of it plastic. May I recommend this approach? Get everybody inspired to do it, and then immediately put it into effect. Great to see such immediate results.

  • Thanks for the bag ban links, UncaDoug!

    I did not support the bill as written in the link you provided at primarily because it would have created an outrageous paper bag tax and new state and local bureaucracies to spend all that money–at least 4 times larger than the paper bag industry itself. (The bill found that paper bags cost less than a nickel, but mandated a 25 cent tax to cover the “costs” of the new bureaucracies.)

    I wrote a long letter to my senator about this, and several defects in the bill (structural, legal, and state constitutional), but before clicking ‘send’ I decided to check for a newer version, and it turns out *all* of my criticisms had already been addressed in the latest version of the bill. (That *never* happens! Am I dreaming?)

    Anyway, the last assembly version posted (presumably the one passed by the assembly) is here:

    I wrote to my senator (Simitian) to support it.

  • Christoper, thanks for the link. To be honest, I had qualms about the 25 cent charge which has apparently been amended to 5 cents. Admittedly, I was rushing to find information to flesh out the news article, and was not thorough … how did you find this marked up version? What google key words or legislative site did you use? Thanks again!

  • is the starting point for California bills, the state constitution, and many of the state codes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t expose useful deep links you can email people, or I would have posted a link higher in the hierarchy of documents.

    More precisely, the >= 20 cent tax (dishonestly called a fee by the draft you linked) has been completely eliminated in the current version. The remaining >= 5 cent charge will be kept by the retailer, who has always covered the cost of bags in his prices anyway, so this formal charge represents a net economic burden of 0 on the buyer and seller. The >= 20 cent tax would have represented a drain on the private sector economy; initially funding new state and local bureaucracies who would have subsequently found themselves increasingly “underfunded” as consumers shifted away from the highly taxed bags.

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