I wrote this blog on Monday on the plane on the way to Tarawa, but it has taken me a while to get online. Apologies for any consternation caused. Liz Fischer and I are about to head off to the Marine Training Centre to see how my boat has fared since I last saw her in September last year, and to start prepping her for my launch – pencilled in for Saturday if we’re ready in time. I will report back later.
Okay, now to my belated report on TED Mission Blue…. [Note: this blog was posted by email due to limited bandwidth in Kiribati, so the formatting may be unusual]
It is unlikely that any other TED speaker has ever had to pause to reach into their cleavage. Well, I guess I like to be different.
TED seems to have a detrimental effect on the nerves. Even seasoned speakers were admitting to a bad case of the butterflies. I am used to speaking without notes, but on this occasion I thought it would be a good idea to have a safety net in case I suddenly seized up onstage. So I wrote the briefest of prompts on a small sheet of paper from a hotel notepad. But where was I going to put it? There was no podium and I had no pockets (WHY are women’s clothes so useless?) so the only place I could think to put it was to tuck it inside my bra.
But I was sure I wouldn’t need it anyway. Like taking an umbrella usually guarantees that it won’t rain, having notes with me usually ensures that I won’t need them. However on this occasion….
I was getting towards the end of my talk. All going well, well within my allocated 18 minutes and still enough time to wrap it up. “My three main messages are…” I started in conclusion. My little mnemonic was that my 3 main points started with S, R and T.
“S is for stories – how the stories we tell ourselves affect our behaviour. For example I used to tell myself that I couldn’t have a big adventure because I was too small and too timid and too, well, female. Then my story changed. I didn’t get any taller or braver or sprout a beard; I just decided that I could. And our story that we need oil, and we need stuff, and the Earth is ours for the taking – that story can change too. It needs to change.”
R is for… eek, can’t remember. Never mind. Cut straight to T, and I’m sure it will come back to me.
“T for tiny actions, which add up into big differences. Each of my ocean crossings takes about a million oarstrokes. One oarstroke doesn’t get me very far, but you take a million tiny actions, and they make a big difference. We’ve had a few major disasters, like Chernobyl or Exxon Valdez, but mostly we’ve got ourselves into this predicament through billions of poor decisions made by 7 billion people around the world. If we start making better decisions, we can still turn the tide.”
R is for…. dammit. Still can’t remember. Only one thing for it.
“Excuse me a moment, I just need to take a quick look at my notes….” I quickly pulled the sheet of paper out of my left bra cup and refreshed my memory while the audience fell about laughing.
“Responsibility!” R is for Responsibility. Phew.
Ah well, at least they’ll remember my speech. Possibly not for the reasons I had intended.
In the immediate aftermath of my speech, I was a bit down on myself for how it had gone. After the triumph of National Geographic Live in Seattle, I felt my TED talk could have been better. But I may need to revise my self-critical evaluation. The response from members of the audience was very positive, and when I took my Galapagos book around for people to sign, the messages were warm and enthusiastic. The talk should be online within a month, possibly much sooner, so you can make up your own mind.
But to get away from me and down to the real point of the gathering, the TED Mission Blue conference, the first TED of its kind, was an amazing experience. The idea is that it is not just a one-off conference, but the start of an ongoing initiative to honour and implement Dr Sylvia Earle’s wish for the oceans:
“To ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, ‘hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”
There was an impressive lineup of speakers, addressing all aspects of the crisis facing the oceans. The 110 people on board the National Geographic Endeavour also included an impressive lineup of guests, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton, Glenn Close, Chevy Chase, Darryl Hanna, Damien Rice and Jackson Browne.
I thought I already knew a lot about ocean issues, but to receive so much information in a concentrated span of time was an intense experience. For the first time I really grasped the extent, the seriousness, and the implications. Overfishing, by-catch, algal blooms, dead zones, shark-finning and plastic pollution have assaulted our oceans to the extent that in just the last 50 years we have changed entire ecosystems, and the oceans are in danger of total collapse. Covering 70% of the planet, the consequences for land and air as well as sea will be catastrophic. There is still time, but not much.
So these are my resolutions coming away from TED Mission Blue:
Reduce even further my use of plastic. Recycling isn’t good enough, and comes with its own environmental issues. We need to stop it at source.
Eat less protein, and/or get more of it from organic vegetable sources.
Never eat farmed salmon again. It takes many pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon. It is not an efficient use of our limited resources.
Become more informed about what seafood is sustainable and avoid all else. Especially bluefin tuna.
Do what I can to help create marine protected areas across the Pacific Ocean.
If we all pull together, we can make a world of difference.
Most magical TED memory: on the last night I was there (I had to leave early to go rowing) there was a waterborne concert by Damien Rice. A flotilla of Zodiac inflatables moored up around a floating pontoon, and Damien played his guitar and sang a few songs while the audience sipped champagne. The camera lights were blinding him, so they were turned off while he sang an encore, The Blower’s Daughter, my favourite of his songs, in the darkness. A very special memory to take across the ocean with me.
I am writing this on the plane en route to Tarawa. 5 huge bags of expedition food and boat equipment are in the hold. Assuming everything gets through customs in Fiji, I’ll be taking a flight in a few hours to Tarawa and my boat, where Liz Fischer and I will get to work packing the boat. If all goes well, I plan to leave next weekend.
I had a couple of final engagements in Santa Monica this weekend – speaking at the Luncheon Society on Saturday lunchtime, and a bon voyage party on Saturday night organized by Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Project. Huge thanks to the Luncheoners for your support and enthusiasm, and to Maryann and Paul Cummins for your wonderful hospitality and kindness. And the yummy choc chip and cherry cookies!