A Drop in the Ocean

 

By Joe Romano,

Marketing Manager

Plastikos-Planet-MAXHow inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.

— Arthur C. Clarke

By the 1920s, the world had become a fanciful, fantastical, futuristic place. Art Deco, in design and architecture, and the technological advances that made our modern cities possible pointed to a bright and prosperous tomorrow. A strange new art form called surrealism challenged art, cinema and human perception to look beyond the mundane. We flew high above the ocean with "Lucky" Lindbergh from New York to Paris, never suspecting the Crash about to come. A "lost generation" of flappers and philosophers danced the Charleston in Prohibition speakeasies, or fantasized at grand movie palaces. In films like 1929s The Mysterious Island, the vehicles were not flying ships, but submarines bound for the ocean's floor, where they found a strange land populated by dragons, giant squid and an eerie humanoid race.

So it made sense that in 1930, a naturalist named William Beebe and an engineer named Otis Barton would engage in a quest to dive deep beneath the sea to view deep-sea creatures in their native habitat for the very first time. Such a modern endeavor would enlist technology, science and art. Barton designed and built the Bathysphere and the means to lower it. Beebe described the fantastical creatures via telephone to a woman at the surface, who took careful notes while an artist drew and painted the creatures. By the time they finished these dangerous oceanic explorations, 30 in all, Beebe and Barton had gone more than half a mile beneath the waves, to a dark, mysterious world of phosphorescent fish, sixty-foot sea serpents and species which had never been seen before, some of which have never been seen since. Said Beebe.

There came to me at that instant a tremendous wave of emotion, a real appreciation of what was momentarily almost superhuman, cosmic, of the whole situation: our barge slowly rolling high overhead in the blazing sunlight, like the merest chip in the midst of ocean, the long cobweb of cable leading down through the spectrum to our lonely sphere, where, sealed tight, two conscious human beings sat and peered into the abyssal darkness as we dangled in mid-water, isolated as a lost planet in outermost space.

Just recently, James Cameron, director of the film Titanic, safely dove seven miles into the lowest point of the Marianas Trench, the deepest place in the ocean, indeed in our world. He was the only person ever to do it alone.

"I felt like I — in the space of one day — had gone to another planet and come back," he said, saying the ocean floor was a "completely featureless, alien world."

But it is not an alien world; it is our world. As we prepare to mark the Twelve Days of Earth Day here at GreenStar, it has never been more important to recognize that.

Why should we care about a rich guy's ocean dive? What on earth can this possibly have to do with GreenStar?

The truth is that we cannot afford to ignore the oceans any longer; as a species we are destroying them. As a co-op and a community, we have to look at how our behaviors affect the oceans that make up most of our world.

For example, part of the reason we work so hard to reduce plastic bags in our stores is to lesson our contribution to the giant gyres of plastic swirling in our oceans and poisoning our wildlife. Take a breath. Half of the world's oxygen is made by plankton, the tiny, drifting organisms of the sea, which at the same time sequester massive amounts of carbon in the oceans. These are dying off at a frightening rate.

Humans are poisoning the well on a global scale, most notably hastened by the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers. Their runoff causes "dead zones" in waterways, the largest of which is at the mouth of the Mississippi River. In the summer, when the runoff from conventional Midwestern farms is at its peak, an area the size of New Jersey, filled to choking with overfertilized algae, dies and decomposes, sucking the oxygen from the water and making it uninhabitable to animal life. There are well over 400 dead zones worldwide. The process that creates them is called eutrophication. The good news is that it's entirely reversible. In the 1980s when the Soviet Union was still together, the largest dead zone in the world was in the Black Sea. When the USSR collapsed, access to synthetic fertilizer was disrupted. By 1996, the dead zone had entirely disappeared. GreenStar's commitment to food in as natural a state as possible and our commitment to sustainable farming practices keep pollutants to a minimum; thus our products and practices do not contribute to the formation of dead zones.

More than a billion people rely on fish for protein. As a result, fish stocks are down by 80 percent. Even sea vegetables are being overharvested. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that, as a result of overharvesting and commercial practices, by 2048 most 
commercial fisheries will have collapsed. Again, your food co-op is aware of how our sea products are sourced. We source our fish products from small fisheries and CSFs, Community Supported Fisheries, which use sustainable practices. We use fishers who avoid the practice of byfishing, which unnecessarily ensnares endangered or non-food species.

We need to employ ecosystem-based practices to keep from entirely depleting our waters of fish. This is best done by harvesting locally in small boats the way these Community Supported Fisheries do.

Another danger that is on the rise is that of invasive species. Large ocean liners carry ballast water from halfway across the globe and dump it into unsuspecting waters where an aggressive species can destroy local ecosystems. This is currently happening in the Mississippi, where Asian carp are unstoppable, in Cape Cod, where tunicates are pushing out the bay scallop, and in the Southeast, where lionfish have become so dominant that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has launched a program to... eat them, for lack of any better ideas. The best way to stop this problem is to keep it from happening; the EPA and the Coast Guard are working hard on ballast water regulations.

This is another example of how an important co-op value, eating locally, addresses even this problem.

Of course, a few people following the values of our co-op does not help to solve these larger problems our world faces, but it is a clear example of how GreenStar supports and sustains not just our local community, but our global community as well, while providing an example that others can follow.

Ninety-nine percent of all liveable space on earth is in the ocean. Over half of the life on earth is under the sea. We have classified 1.5 million species; it is estimated that there are between 2 million and 50 million more that we have not. To date, humans have visited, at best, 10 percent of the oceans.

We know shockingly little about the denizens of the sea and even less about its ecosystems. When UC Berkeley scientists reported that a mystery microbe was responsible for eating a 22-mile-long oil slick, causing it to disappear, after the BP Deepwater drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, other researchers at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) were quick to point out that we didn't know if it had been eaten, if this microbe was responsible, or even if it had disappeared at all. Larry Mayer, Chair of the NAS, commented, "The true unknown is the interdependencies, the absolutely complex linkages. When you start asking questions about the impact of midwater oil on deepwater biota, or how that cascades into the atmosphere, or how that affects clams and mussels — things like that, nobody really knows."

As citizens of the Earth, we all need to learn more about the oceans, seas and waterways that sustain us. We at GreenStar "envision a world that reveres the earth and the web of life it supports" so we will recognize, like Beebe and Barton and Cameron, the need to increase our knowledge and increase our concern and our compassionate connection to the most unknown part of our fragile earth, the deep blue sea. After all, life began in the ocean over 3 billion years ago. We land dwellers have only been around for 400 million years or so.

It's time we learned to respect our elders.

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