I grew up on New Hampshire’s seacoast, so stories of the ocean have been woven into the fabric of my life.
As a four-year-old, I remember sitting on my beach towel as my grandmother told a tall tale about a gnome who lived in the mile marker buoy at the mouth of Hampton Harbor. Later, when I was a lifeguard, we whiled away time telling each other stories, passed down from older guards, about “Scratchy” -- a great white shark who supposedly lived at the tip of the jetty.
I even learned about my family’s history through stories told by my grandparents and parents on the beach -- whether it be diving into the ocean during the winter; planting sea grass to reinforce the dunes; or trundling down to the beach with blankets during meteor showers each summer.
These stories of the ocean both reflected my community’s connection to the sea and reinforced my love for the sea.
This affection brought me to my current position as an Oceans Associate with Environment America. A year into the job, we launched Voices for Our Oceans in Fall 2020, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spearheading a project that I knew would help protect a space that has meant so much to me, my family and my community.
With Voices for our Oceans, we connect with local leaders in certain regions. Then we work with them to amplify their voices and create a public landscape where our decision-makers feel empowered to step up as oceans champions and create the kind of bold policy we need to keep our oceans safe and healthy.
Since we launched the project on Oct. 1, 2020, we’ve taken some big steps toward accomplishing our goals. In states across the country, more than 250 community leaders joined this movement by signing up to become Voices for Our Oceans.
During our monthly Voices for Our Oceans educational webinars, we’ve educated more than 400 members of the public on important ocean-related issues. From swimming alongside North Atlantic right whales to highlighting our campaign to tell Whole Foods to choose planet over plastic, we’ve explored some of the coolest ocean habitats and wildlife and examined ways we can protect them.
With our monthly advocacy training series, we’ve hosted five training sessions and connected with 125 oceans enthusiasts to teach them skills -- like writing letters-to-the-editor, submitting comments during rulemaking and sending corporate advocacy emails -- that they can harness to protect our ocean habitats and the wildlife they support.
Our Voices have also earned media attention on ocean protection initiatives, publishing four LTEs in local papers on such topics as saving right whales, celebrating President Joe Biden’s commitment to protecting 30 percent of our lands and 30 percent of our oceans by 2030, and urging the administration to restore full protections to the Northeast Canyons & Seamounts.
While we specifically worked toward some of these outcomes, one of my favorite results from the project caught me by surprise: When this community came together they helped me write another chapter in my metaphorical book on ocean stories with their own tales of the seas.
While phone-banking for our first webinar, I spoke with a New Jersey-based Voice who shared memories of yearly trips to Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Each summer, her family motored out to Stellwagen Bank aboard a whale watch boat. She described the Humpbacks and Atlantic white-sided dolphins that skimmed beneath the surface. On the phone with her, I could picture it all: the stretch of blue ocean, the fins of whales poking through the surface, the gulls diving overhead, and I responded with my own memories of dolphins in Massachusetts waters. The shared story built an affinity between us -- a critical part in building support for ocean protections. As we know, it’s interpersonal connection that plays a key role in driving action.
After a few more conversations like this, we decided to start each training in our Oceans Advocacy Training Series with a question, posed to attendees, about a past ocean experience. One Florida resident explained how he started off each morning with a bike ride through his coastal town. Another described treasured memories of family cookouts on New Hampshire beaches. A third recounted the rush of joy he experienced every time he pulled on his thick winter wetsuit to surf in freezing Rhode Island waters.
These stories inspired interpersonal connection because attendees often commented on stories shared. They also unified a geographically disparate group by framing the workshop with universal messages of the ocean’s beauty.
Today, I wonder what our stories of the ocean in the future look like. Will the themes of pollution, acidification and extinction continue in future generation’s stories? Or will we build a system that supports ocean resiliency, habitat protection and carbon sequestration, so our children and their children can draw wonder and inspiration from a thriving ocean ecosystem?
I hope for the latter, and I see projects like Voices for Our Oceans as critical in achieving such a future.