What is the ocean worth to you?
That was the question posed as we convened for the Kava Bowl Ocean Summit Conference in Honolulu this week.
The spiritual power of our convening came from the seven traditional voyaging canoes that had sailed in the ancient fashion—no GPS, no compass—with master Pacific navigators using the stars to guide them from places like Tonga, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tahiti, and elsewhere. From these distant points of the compass—though they do not use a compass—they converged on Hawaii to attend the conference, where world-class scientists ticked off a daunting suite of problems plaguing our ocean.
Overfishing. Pollution. Plastics. Warming waters. Melting Ice. Acidifying seas that will make life next-to-impossible for corals and shellfish in coming decades. Rising tides flooding peoples from their homelands. We listened to an economist sarcastically ask whether we can afford a future (he’s a maverick; most economists say the future is too expensive to worry about, so let’s just have a good time now). We watched renowned biologist Barbara Block show us how satellites track the enormous rangings of ocean-crossing animals like tunas, albatrosses, turtles, and sharks. We listened as Christopher Clark from Cornell University showed us how calls of whales cross hundreds of ocean miles, and showed us graphically how shipping noise and noise blasts from vessels prospecting for oil and gas cause whales to stop singing—and sometimes, to stop eating. And we wiped our eyes as master navigator Nainoa Thompson—the first Hawaiian to re-master ancient navigation skills and to sail to other nations in Polynesia without compass or Western navigation aids—expressed his bitter disappointment that for this ocean which we claim to love so much, we have watched it deteriorate and found no way to protect it.
Now, knowing what we know, is it any easier? Are our prospects any better?
Taking the metaphoric power of the sailing “canoes” (they are hundred-foot-long catamarans, each crewed by sixteen men and women) whose survival depends on working with rather than against the forces of nature, and combining it the recent revelations of scientists, we asked what three overarching messages emerge.
• We are all in the same canoe, voyagers on one Earth, itself an island.
• We are stealing our children’s future; the children deserve better from us.
• We have dreams, we have hope, and we have solutions.
The task now will be to fuse the metaphoric power, understanding, and potential solutions, to practical strategies to put some of those solutions in place in the realm of fisheries policies, high-seas governance, and energy reform. That’s going to require a longer discussion and real coalition-building and action.