Famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle explains that just a few decades ago, human beings imagined that the world’s oceans were so vast, there was no way that humanity could harm them. The ocean was seen as bottomless basket of resources for humanity, providing us with everything from fossil fuels to fish. Now we know that human-induced climate change kills coral reefs and melts polar ice-caps, overfishing destroys ecosystems, oil spills cause massive destruction, and plastics trash defiles the seas. Since we all depend on the ocean for our survival, we should do all that we can to nurture and care for it.
Considering the vastness of the ocean, our own smallness as individuals, and the many forces that sustain the status quo of exploitation, it is easy to think that there is nothing we can do. But as our sages said, “It’s not up to you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirke Avot 2:16). We can also think in traditional Jewish terms of teshuvah, repentance, a recalibration of our behaviors to more righteous and harmonious ways.
One thing that we can do as consumers is to make better choices when it comes to eating fish. Overfishing is rapidly depleting ocean stocks and harming ecosystems. To be kosher, fish just has to have fins and scales, but to be what Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi called, “Eco-Kosher,” it also has to be both healthy and good for the planet. You can learn which fish are the best choices by getting the “Seafood Watch” app or online resources from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. (I will note that Sylvia Earle is a vegan and recommends that we all aspire to a plant-based diet.)
Click Here to learn more about overfishing in this in this in depth article on Your Bass Guy, a website for anglers.
Judaism teaches that every small action can add up and have large reverberations, and nowhere is this more true than in our actions that impact the environment. For example, choosing a naturally-based sunscreen made with a mineral like zinc instead of the chemical oxybenzone, besides being healthier for our bodies, can also help to preserve our fragile coral reefs.
According to Nature Conservancy, we can help the ocean from right here on land when we reduce our use of plastic (e.g. use reusable grocery bags), dispose of hazardous chemicals properly (don’t just pour mindlessly down the drain), choose or make “green” detergents and household cleaning products, and fill our yards with native species that don’t require lots of chemical fertilizers. For the sake of our oceans, we need to become active citizens who choose and support leaders who care about preserving our environment for future generations. Here are 10 more ideas from National Geographic on how to care for the ocean.
Visit some of our great aquariums, such as the National Aquarium in Baltimore and the Monterrey Bay Aquarium in California. The experience will fill you and your family with awe for the manifold creatures hidden in its depths and help you to understand the effect that human beings are having on ocean environments. These aquariums are active agents for ocean research and conservation efforts.
Support organizations that help the ocean – including a Jewish one!
Repair the Sea – Tikkun Hayam aims to share the spiritual wonders of the sea from a Jewish perspective, to raise awareness and encourage action to address the many threats facing the Marine Environment. They offer educational programs and “tikkun hayam” activities for college students and communities.
The Ocean Conservancy, works for science-based solutions for ocean health. They inspire and educate people to help the ocean. Their website shows many ways to contribute to ocean health through donations, volunteering, and making commitments to personal actions.
The Nature Conservancy, with over a million members, is the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Jersey Shore video on this page was filmed adjacent to a wonderful nature area purchased and restored by this amazing organization that works on land and sea. Learn about their ocean-focused endeavors here.
Mission Blue, founded by oceanographer Sylvia Earle, is an alliance of over 200 conservation groups that has developed a network of marine protected areas known as “Hope Spots.” Dr. Earle notes that “While about 12 percent of the land around the world is now under some form of protection (as national parks etc.), less than four percent of the ocean is protected in any way.” Learn more from this video:
In case you still aren’t convinced that ordinary folks like you and me can do anything for our oceans, get inspiration from one amazing child who has made it his mission to teach and lead other kids to clean up beaches and help the ocean. (If you have kids, you might get them his fundraising bracelet made from recycled beach plastic, and participate in a beach clean up as a family.) If Connor can do so much at his young age, we can all do our small part for his and future generations.
Featured Image: Tidal Pool, Olympic National Park, Charles Danan
Learn about saving refugees at sea, or return to the Gateway of the Sea