Making the unseen seen as it relates to ocean pollution and coastal conservation is as big of a deal to me as the ocean is vast. It’s been a life mission of mine since as long as I can remember. I often explain it as simple pride. I am a proud eastern North Carolinian, but with that pride comes responsibility. Making the unseen seen to me means bridging the gap between our coastal environment health and the significant impact on our own health, the health of our economy, and other things that some people consider much more important than the community environment as a whole. I often wonder if the significance to this is the disconnection many people have from the ocean and the lack of knowledge of just how important our oceans and coastal community ecosystems are to our survival as humans. It is easy to feel disconnected when the problem is not slap-in-the-face visible as it is when you live on the coast and feel the impact on a dail y basis, after all, we are visual creatures.
Being from a coastal community, the ocean is always on my mind. She, the Atlantic for me, has made me who I am, has shaped my career focus, sustains me, keeps me sane, keeps me fit and healthy, and keeps me focused on the road ahead. As a child, I grew up on the Intracoastal Waterway and found myself knee deep in marsh mud on a regular basis as a very small child. The highlight of my summer was playing with periwinkles on marsh grass, canoe fishing with my Dad for Blues and Spots, and heading out to the Banks on the boat to watch the wild horses and here my Dad tell stories of the local maritime history. Clam digging with my neighbor friends was something I grew into around age 8 and scars from oyster shells are prized forever marks that I like to call beauty barnacles. At age 10, I took part in a beach cleanup project for Girl Scouts and found myself hooked on picking up debris. One of our local swim spots was a beach on Radio Island, i n between Beaufort and Morehead City, and it was constantly littered with bottles and glass at the time. Now that same area is littered with plastics and cigarette butts. Now, as a diver, I even find man made debris on the bottom there near the rock jetty.
I learned to sail around 11 years old on small handcrafted dingy boats build at the Maritime Museum in my hometown of Beaufort. It was an awesome experience of channelling the wind and the water and getting a true feeling for channeling mother nature’s gifts. Like this expedition, it wasn’t all rainbows and kittens. I recall my first attempt at sailing which included flipping my boat, getting the mast stuck in mud, and using my full body weight to flip her over by leaning on the daggerboard. I also remember threatening to wear a football helmet due to the boom smacks to the head, but that soon pasted with experience. These experiences toughen you up, my Dad would say – he was right. Around the same time, I started volunteering at the local wildlife rehabilitator, the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter, in the spring each year for a few years. There I saw first hand the impacts of litter on our native wildlife. Sea birds came in tangled i n fishing line or worse and it inspired me to do more to protect what I had the privilege to grow up and know as home. The following year, I learned to surf in Atlantic Beach by local legend, Buddy Pellitier, and I started to experience, even more, the power of our coastal environment and just how humbling she, the ocean, can be.
In high school, I helped a friend who was a first mate on an offshore fishing charter boat out of Atlantic Beach and for the first time, I experienced being completely out of the site of land. It was also humbling, but magical and strangely liberating. It was incredible. I grew up on flat bottom skiffs in the bay, canoes, and small fishing boats, but I have never gone past the site of land with the exception of the ferry over to Ocracoke Island, and I found it very different. The experience really woke me up to how small I was. A drop in the bucket, I thought. Each day I was on the boat, I had a lot of time to reflect on the ride out and back. Some days a storm would pop up and things would get intense enough to remind me of how humbling she can be. I experienced this later in life as a diver heading out to a ledge or wreck with no land in site descending with blue skies and calm seas only to ascend 20 minutes later to dark clouds an d 6 foot swells. She has a sense of humor sometimes too.
Last night, on watch, Sarah, Emily, Stella, and I were chatting it up about how fair the weather had been and how we might need to make up some speed in order to continue to slow down for science during the mid day and also keep on schedule to get us to Guyana on time. Almost immediately after these words came out of our mouths, her swells picked up, a dark cloud creeped up on us, we picked up speed to 16 knts, and it started to rain. Did I mention her sense of humor?
A check of the radar confirmed that we were in the midst of a small storm and we closed the hatches (not a pleasant experience for those sleeping below – It Is Hot!). Perhaps it was Murphy’s Law due to our slip up of fair weather talk or a gift of good karma from her as a thanks for making the unseen seen, after all it was not a bad storm and it helped us pick up speed and make up some time.
Here we are, 14 women experiencing the ocean with no land in sight on a mission to make her seen with hopes that if everyone could experience her magic, her beauty, her power, her humor, her no-talk-and-all-action attitude, and most of all her significance to sustaining all life then perhaps they too would work so hard to protect her and make everyday decisions with her in mind, with us all in mind.
My personal connection to her is obvious. Born with salt water in my veins, growing up with marsh mud up to my knees, a scallop shell around my neck, surfboard under my arm, oyster knife in one hand, and a litter bucket in the other – its just life. The sweet salty air of home consumes me with the feeling of pride, but with that pride comes responsibility.
Now, back at the helm with “Clutch” blasting in the headphones, we, eXXpedition, are on our way in the middle of this big beautiful ocean with no land in site and on a mission to make the unseen seen. “A sailors life for me…”
Con mucho Amor,