Nearly half the world's population -- more than three billion -- lives within an hour's drive of a coast. The rich go for the views and refreshing salt air; the poor for jobs and big dreams; holiday-goers for a brief respite. But we humans are a rapacious species, seemingly incapable of taking good care of any place; over the past five centuries or so we've done a very good job of taking from the ocean without pause to consider its fragility and the damage we've done to it by our indifference.
How many of those billions who glimpse a sea with frequency, I wonder, stop to ask, How is this big, beautiful ocean of ours doing? While it has long seemed limitless, its resources infinite, there are myriad signs that we've now abused the ocean to the point of no return. The list of harms is long and includes threats from climate change (rising sea levels and acidification), various pollutions and over fishing.
Eat fish? If so, you have to be concerned about the ocean; experts predict that by 2050 all of the fish species we currently survive on will be gone. Like tuna sashimi? Get it now since all of the world's bluefin is anticipated to be gone by 2012. Forever. Fresh water supplies are endangered globally, with new reports suggesting that even in the wealthiest of nations (the U.S.) twenty million people drink polluted water every day.
There is some room for hope and optimism, with marine reserves and both national and international laws in the works that may help make a difference.
Let's hope they are enacted and enforced quickly enough that they can have an effect rather than just preceding an inevitable demise; around the globe, for example, far too often marine reserves have been set up only after the last fish was taken.
At each of my coastal stops during the past twenty years I have paused for long minutes, sometimes an hour and occasionally more, often far off the coast in the middle of the vast ocean, to ponder the horizon line, to watch the sun fall into the sea, or rise again. In each of those scenes I have found an incredible renewing energy. And it is the memories of those horizon lines -- and the people I've met along the ocean's edges -- that keeps me going back for more.