"Pacific Poetry" - Foreword


“Neither you nor I, with our earth-bound senses, know the foam and surge of the tide that beats over the crab hiding under the seaweed of his tide-pool home; or the lilt of the long, slow swells of mid-ocean, where shoals of wandering fish prey and are preyed upon, and the dolphin breaks the waves to breathe the upper atmosphere.”

- Rachel Carson, Silent Spring


     I’ve always loved going to the ocean for the simple fact that even in a place like San Diego–where I grew up–at the edge of the densely populated city, I can look out and see nothing but blue stretching all the way out to the horizon where it meets a big open sky. The low vibrating sound of crashing waves drowns out all the surrounding noise of cars, chatter, and construction, and creates an ideal setting for mental stillness. Just as we can sit and tune out the turbulence of the tide, we can fall into a restful awareness, and stop being tossed around by the waves of thoughts in our minds. 

     Looking out at big expanses of nothingness has a strong psychological effect on us humans. Just look at how populated coastlines are all over the world. We are drawn to them. Blue is the most favorited color. These open landscapes and skies change us; they relieve our stress and make us more calm and relaxed towards life. Maybe it's because the ocean is where all life came from, where our brave, single-celled ancestor first ventured out from the sea onto land hundreds of millions of years ago.

“It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things.”

- Nicholas Sparks


     The coast has remained the one place on Earth that humans have still not managed to inhabit, spared from excessive development and construction, where under the surface, is a true wilderness. Well, not quite. Just because humans do not live underwater doesn’t mean that we still haven’t made an impact on the millions of creatures, plants, and bacteria that live there. Through pollution–dumping waste, oil spills, and an invasion of micro plastic–we have killed off thousands of ocean lifeforms, including plants, coral reefs, fish, mammals, and birds. Dissect virtually any bird that lives near the ocean and you will find sharp pieces of jagged plastic in its stomach. Commercial fishing removes inconceivable amounts of fish from their natural habitats in the ocean, with tragic amounts of bycatch (fish unintentionally caught while fishing for a certain species which are later discarded), in order to feed our growing population. Ocean acidification, as a result of our CO2 emissions has killed off coral reefs all over the world, leaving behind immense stretches of eerie, bleak graveyards in its wake.

     The ocean covers 70% of the Earth’s surface, making it the planet’s predominant environment. It is an extremely complex and vast ecosystem, full of mammals, arthropods, fish, bacteria, and plant life. It is definitely not in our best interest to disrupt or destroy this fragile underwater world. The entire planet would literally fall apart without it. Although many of us living beings do not live underwater, every ecosystem is tied in with it, and all life is interconnected. A world without a healthy ocean would be a disastrous one, and unfortunately, that is the reality we are now headed for.

“You will love the ocean. It makes you feel small, but not in a bad way. Small because you realize you are part of something bigger.”

- Lauren Myracle

"Spilled" by Jimmy Gekas

     One of the more special places I have had the pleasure of traveling to is Kuna Yala (or the San Blas Islands) in Panama, where more than 350 individual islands–ranging in size from several miles long to just smaller than a soccer field–make up an incredibly beautiful archipelago that compares with any other tropical paradise I have been to. Through close friends that I made while I lived in Panama myself back in 2010-2012 and several return visits I’ve made since then, I have learned of the struggles that the indigenous islanders (Kunas) have been facing firsthand. In just the last decade, smaller islands have now gone completely underwater, and larger inhabited islands where most of the Kuna natives live, have shrunk in size and suffered from severe flooding periodically as sea levels continue to rise. In the very near future, many of these islands will no longer be inhabitable, and more could disappear all together.

     If we don’t make any reductions in our emissions, the sea level could rise at least four feet and possibly eight feet by the end of the century. This would be a catastrophic scenario not just for islanders, but for the rest of the planet as well. A study done by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2018, concluded that an estimated 311,000 homes would be at risk of constant flooding by 2045. By 2100, there would be more than 2.4 million homes underwater. In The Water Will Come, Jeff Goodell warns that many of the Earth’s most inhabited cities as well as monuments, such as Bangladesh, Miami, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Venice Beach and Santa Monica in Los Angeles, Jakarta, even Facebook’s headquarters and the White House, will be flooded with sea water as well.

     The ocean maintains our planetary seasons, and determines and modulates the temperature of the Earth by effectively absorbing the heat from the sun. More than a fourth of the carbon emitted by humans is absorbed by the ocean, and it has “absorbed 90 percent of global warming’s excess heat… and today’s seas carry at least 15 percent more heat energy than they did in the year 2000” (David Wallace Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth). As the ocean continues to absorb more and more CO2 from the atmosphere, not only does it become much warmer, but it also becomes more acidic as well.

"Metallic Fingers" by Jimmy Gekas

     When CO2 mixes with water, it creates a harmful acid, the same kind that your dentist warns will corrode your teeth when drinking soda. The death of coral reefs from the acidity and heat of the ocean is called “Coral Bleaching.” Warmer temperatures in the water “strip reefs of the protozoa, called zooxanthellae, that provide, through photosynthesis, up to 90 percent of the energy needs of the coral. Each reef is an ecosystem as complex as a modern city, and the zooxanthellae are its food supply, the basic building block of an energy chain; when they die, the whole complex is starved…” (David Wallace Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth)

     As much as half of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suddenly died in this way since just 2016–and its fish populations have declined an estimated 32 percent in the last 10 years–and this acid has been killing off coral reefs in the ocean all over the planet. 90 percent of the North and South American coral reefs have already been destroyed. Coral bleaching has been disrupting the food chain for millions of sea creatures, and destroying our own food source as well. Globally, the ocean provides for a fifth of the animal protein in the human diet. Losing this crucial part of our diet would negatively affect us all, especially those near the coast that depend on seafood even more. I mentioned my Kuna friends in Panama earlier; 99 percent of their food comes from the surrounding ocean–in the form of fish, lobsters, crabs, octopus, shellfish, and turtles–and now, the fisherman often return from their once reliable and plentiful fishing zones empty handed.

     One study showed that currently only 13 percent of the ocean has remained undamaged by human impact. By 2030 ocean warming and acidification will threaten the life of 90 percent of all the planet’s reefs. All of this death in the ocean has caused hydrogen sulfide to form in many places, a chemical so toxic that evolution has trained our noses to detect even the tiniest, most minimal trace of it.

"Breaking Blue"

     The damage we more directly inflict on sea life by overfishing is another story. Commercial fishing removes an unimaginable number, hundreds of millions of tons, of aquatic animals from the ocean each year. It’s estimated that 38 million tons of bycatch results from current fishing practices. I think it’s obvious what kind of catastrophic effects this has on delicate ocean ecosystems.

     As the ocean continues to warm, sea creatures are disappearing in other ways as well. Fish populations are migrating northward in search of cooler waters and food, causing imbalances in aquatic ecosystems all over. The green sea turtle population has been declining as well; since warmer temperatures influence the gender of the embryos in their eggs, instead of chromosomes, it has caused more females to hatch than males, so reproduction has been slowing down dramatically. Warm water also holds less oxygen, and as a result of climate change and pollution of the past fifty years, the areas of the ocean with no oxygen at all have quadrupled. These oxygen-deprived areas are called “dead zones,” of which there are now more than four hundred, making up a total size nearly as large as Europe. The ocean is suffocating.

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.”

- Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

     A large part of the solution to global warming may very well lie somewhere in the ocean. While it is still not enough, there has been an increasing trend of land being protected in the form of national monuments, parks, designated wilderness and recreational areas in the last 40 years. It has been speculated that this significantly lowered the amount of species that have recently gone extinct. And yet, still much of the ocean remains unprotected from fishing, dumping waste, and human development. Creating more protection for underwater ecosystems in order to keep them undisturbed and wholly intact–as we have with land–would help to ensure that species do not go completely extinct.

"Natives" by Jimmy Gekas

     Trees and plants effectively absorb and store the carbon in the atmosphere as well, and many scientists have urged us to replant as many trees as possible. However, with the current global population, many forests have been removed to make room for civilization, agriculture, and raising animals, and these areas are no longer available to once again fill with trees. While they effectively store the carbon they absorb, once trees are burned or decay, they release the carbon right back into the atmosphere, making this a solution that would take several generations to make a difference, and ultimately would not solve the issue on its own in the long term.

     However, as Hope Jahren points out in her new book The Story Of Moreplants in the ocean are also very effective at absorbing and storing carbon, and the ocean floor still remains empty and uninhabited by humans. Restoring aquatic plants, green algae, and phytoplankton, would not only absorb carbon to reduce it in the atmosphere, but once they die, they simply fall to the ocean floor and it is never again released. This would also help for ocean ecosystems to bounce back, something that would be beneficial to the entire planet.

“The sea once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

- Jacques Cousteau

     Jimmy and I, both Californians, share a deep, mutual love for coastal landscapes. It has served us as a haven from the crazy commotion of modern day life. As we have walked along the Pacific Ocean’s shorelines, searching for beautiful scenes shaped by the tide, it has shaped us as people as well. We hope that through these images you can feel the importance of the ocean and understand its true value, not determined by whatever resources we may extract from it, but by the experience it offers us as humans in its pure, unaltered state.

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