In more than three decades at sea, I have had the pleasure to sail across the world’s oceans; I have had the privilege to witness ocean life in a way that few others can; I have experienced the magic and mystery of some of the planet’s biggest, smallest, most beautiful and strangest creatures. From blue whales to the tiniest seahorses and almost everything in between!
Listen to the ocean
For me every day is an oceans day.
The majority of my life at sea has been on Greenpeace ships. I was drawn to them after starting out in the commercial world, working Alaskan crab and salmon boats and then on to freighters in the 1980s. Even then I had seen first-hand fish stocks become progressively more depleted and the final straw came in 1989 when I was sailing close by to where the Exxon Valdez spewed its filthy cargo of 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound.
By the end of that year I was sailing with Greenpeace, determined to do what I could to protect our oceans and land.
Whether on land or at sea, I never tire of the sounds of the oceans; from the waves running up onto a distant beach, to the crash and thunder of a wild storm far from shore. They’re rhythms that haven’t changed in millions of years.
But the oceans and their rhythms are changing now. Climate change is warming our seas, melting the ice caps and scientists are warning that it will alter major ocean currents. New technology is allowing vast industrialised fleets to empty the fishing grounds at a frightening rate. The Exxon Valdez oil spill has been overtaken by the Deep Water Horizon blow-out as the worst in US waters, but neither spill, nor the all-too frequent warnings about collapsing fish stocks and destroyed habitats has halted the drive to drill, mine, over-fish and exploit every ocean area – from the barely frozen Arctic Ocean to the Ross Sea of the Antarctic.
What we are doing to the oceans is unsustainable. They cover 70% of our world, but over 70% of the fish stocks are now either fished to their maximum or in trouble. Other marine species are needlessly hunted, polluted and their habitats destroyed. Not only is that madness for those species – it’s madness for us.
We come from the oceans. Every second breath we take is from the oceans; the oceans govern our weather; give us food, jobs, and some of our medicines. They also bring us pleasure. If we keep destroying our oceans, we are destroying the basis of life on this planet. The oceans give our planet half the oxygen it needs to survive – they support our planet’s life and for this reason alone we have a duty to safeguard their health.
So, today, give the oceans just a few minutes of your time. Take a moment to listen to the ocean, imagine the teeming life below the waves and the life on land that it supports.
Now, let’s give back to the oceans the life that they have given us. Join with Greenpeace and all the others working to establish a global network of marine reserves – simply put, help us create sanctuaries at sea where fishing and other extractive industries cannot go and ocean life can thrive.
Joel Stewart has been a sailor his whole adult life and a Greenpeace captain for the last 25 years. He was the first to take the helm of the new Rainbow Warrior when she was launched last in 2011. There is not much that he and the Greenpeace crews have not seen from the decks of our ships and today he reflects on what World Oceans Day means to him.