Planet Ocean

Planet Ocean

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Seventy-one percent of our planet is water. Two hundred miles offshore from each land mass we find international waters; therefore, 45% of the planet belongs to nobody.  Iain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance, spoke last night in Pensacola and shared about the research they are doing in the Gulf of Mexico. He and Dr. Roger Payne, President of Ocean Alliance, talked about shining light on problem to effect change. Their presentation certainly gave a clear picture of problems our water planet is facing but they also gave us hope that collectively we can make positive change.

simonelipscomb (27)The Gulf of Mexico has 21 species of whales which include dolphin species. Sperm whales are included in our permanent Gulf residents. The largest apex predator in the Ocean calls the Gulf home.

simonelipscomb (28)Those present last night were reminded that the Gulf of Mexico is a microcosm of the larger Ocean system and that oceans are downhill from everything. Here are some interesting facts: 50-80% of all life is found in the Ocean; 1.2 trillion gallons of sewage and waste water are dumped in the Ocean every year; 14 billion pounds of garbage is dumped in the Ocean each year. Yuck!

simonelipscomb (2)The Gulf has an estimated sperm whale population of 1600 and this is the species Ocean Alliance is studying. One of the reasons is that apex predators are at the top of the food chain and therefore, like humans, suffer the most ill effects of toxins and contaminates. From whales benignly sampled all over the world, their research has shown that the Gulf of Mexico has the highest levels of metal toxins. Their research on whale cells cultivated on board the RV Odyssey proved that very low levels of these metals are toxic to cells. Imagine what the elevated levels are doing to sperm whales…to you…to me.

simonelipscomb (22)Dr. Payne reminded us that the health of the Ocean affects our lives. If life in the Ocean dies, we die. It’s really that simple. Over half of the oxygen for our planet comes from the sea. If phytoplankton that produces this oxygen is destroyed by contaminants none of us will survive.

simonelipscomb (8)I took pages of notes last night and wish I had done so today while visiting the Odyssey, their research vessel. I chatted with a few of the crew who entertained questions and showed visitors the high-lights of their work.

Area showing sperm whale population...note it is in the same area as the BP Deepwater Horizon
Area showing sperm whale population…note it is in the same area as the BP Deepwater Horizon

Those of you familiar with me know the Ocean has claimed me as Her own and I simply try to be present and show up when opportunities are presented. Of course I was excited to learn about whale research but want to know this: Why aren’t there more organizations studying whales in the Gulf? Dr. Payne reminded us that apex predators such as sperm whales are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, giving us very clear indicators for not only Ocean health but human health. Do we just not want to know or maybe I should say who doesn’t want us to know what’s happening?

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Here’s a bottom line for those of us who live in the coastal region of the Gulf of Mexico: Nickel and chromium levels are alarmingly high. Can you guess where these heavy metals can come from? If you guessed crude oil you are right. (sigh)

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Dr. Payne concluded his presentation last night reminding us that people need to lead and we do that by the choices we make. The greatest illusion corporations want us to believe is that we are powerless and at their mercy. My friends, we are the masses, we have the power to instigate change and it begins by demanding change as a united group that puts the health of the planet, and thus humans, before profit. Every time we spend a dollar we are sending a message. What message do we choose to send? What do we believe? What do we create by our intention?

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Hydrophone cable is pulled behind the vessel and the crew listens for the very loud of sperm whales to determine location
Hydrophone cable is pulled behind the vessel and the crew listens for the very loud click…click…click of sperm whales to determine location

I could share facts about the work Ocean Alliance is doing in the Gulf of Mexico or specifics about their research vessel. I could tell you what I learned about their sampling methods and how data is used. You can find all of that on their website. The only thing I can really do is simply share how I felt listening to the program last night and spending a couple hours on their  vessel today.

simonelipscomb (24)Since documenting the BP Deepwater Horizon I have met some of the most incredible human beings who genuinely care about the planet and all life here. But sometimes when I read the never-ending depressing news about the latest species going extinct or the level of pollution or when I pick up garbage on my sea turtle walks, I feel very hopeless. Humans can be incredibly compassionate and caring and they can also be stupid and mean beyond understanding. I struggle with ongoing sadness and grief at what we do to this glorious Ocean planet. And then…well…then I’m guided to meet people who genuinely care and are working very hard to gather evidence that helps educate the rest of us..that can help species find greater levels of protection…or maybe even help set aside sanctuaries to protect vulnerable species.

When I meet others who share a passion for the Ocean and all life within it, I feel as if I have met family. We need to remember that all of us are family…in the truest sense of what family means. So tonight, as I try to put into words my gratitude for people like those who work with Ocean Alliance, I breathe a little easier. My heart’s a little bit lighter.

simonelipscombHere’s an example of how it can work: My artist cousin Donna emailed me a flyer about the Ocean Alliance program last night. I sent it out to several friends. Six of us showed up because she sent me a flyer. There were many more people there but think about that. If each of us connects with others to create positive change, the effort is magnified because of connections, networking, caring. One doesn’t equal one. One equals six…or twenty…or more! The more we share our ideas, information and even our emotions about what’s happening to our planet, ourselves, the greater possibility for change. Now is not the time to give up but rather the most important time to take magnificent care of our Planet Ocean.

Some of the visitors to RV Odyssey today...learning about our Gulf of Mexico and our friends, sperm whales
Some of the visitors to RV Odyssey today…learning about our Gulf of Mexico and our friends, sperm whales

Here’s just a few things we can each do on a daily basis: use re-usable water bottles and STOP purchasing plastic bottled water; use re-usable shopping bags and refuse plastic garbage bags; stop consuming so much ‘stuff’; recycle recycle recycle; grow our own food organically or purchase organic produce; stop using chemical fertilizers and don’t fertilize near waterways; eat less meat and use more vegetable protein; vote only for those who care about our planet and if you can’t find anybody that cares run for office and be a pivotal point for positive change; turn off lights; adjust the thermostat to save energy; write letters with positive ideas to corporate CEO’s; form support groups for positive change; reach out to neighbors to encourage positive change; get outside and reconnect with nature; driver slower…it saves gas; use LED light bulbs for amazing energy savings and looooong-lasting bulbs; turn off the water when you brush your teeth; keep showers short; turn down the thermostat on your hot water heater; carpool; combine trips for errands to use less fuel; ride a bicycle for errands; use energy-efficient appliances; pick up trash on beaches and near other waterways and ditches; pat yourself on the back for trying to do one thing every day to help the planet…after all, you’re helping yourself when you do.

I encourage everyone to share this blog post and to visit the Ocean Alliance webpage as well as their Facebook page. They need our support and deserve it for the incredible work they are doing to help our Gulf of Mexico…to help us.

simonelipscomb (4)For those still eating apex predators such as swordfish, blue fin tuna and even grouper here’s something to think about strictly from a human health perspective. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) degrade immune systems and can cause serious health consequences for species consuming them. They are man-made chemicals that find their way into the Ocean as runoff from everything upstream. Microscopic diatoms are contaminated by EDCs and since they are at the bottom of the food chain contaminate everything that eats them…and then the organisms and fish eating them that eat other fish all the way up the food chain build-up higher and higher levels of these toxins. So the top predators, like swordfish, tuna, humans, sperm whales get the highest doses of EDCs. The crew put together a little formula to consider when eating a one pound steak of swordfish…it takes 50 ten ton trucks of diatoms to create that one pound steak of swordfish. It’s like your liver (the detoxifying organ in the body) is hooked up to that many diatoms…and if they are polluted as well as other fish further up the food chain, you my friend have just dosed yourself with some pretty nasty chemicals. Maybe your swordfish didn’t eat contaminated fish who didn’t eat contaminated diatoms….but how can you tell?

Here’s a few side effects of EDCs: Increased rate of breast cancer, undescended testicles in boys, increased rate of prostate cancer, increased aggression in kids and increased rates of ADD and decreased sperm counts. If you’re really into swordfish and tuna and grouper…at least know what you are doing to your body. And what is happening in our Ocean….our one planetary Ocean.

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