By Ciel Patenaude —
In the first week of May, I travelled to Mayne Island, one of the more southern Gulf Islands just off the coast of Vancouver, to visit my parents. Riding the ferry across (as I have done hundreds of times before) I was hit with the salty bite of the ocean air – a smell I have always so loved – and blown away once again by the pristine waters of Georgia Strait. The scenery was so perfect that one could have assumed those clear waters extended in an infinite manner in both directions, both teeming with and entirely supportive of life. But given what I do know about the state of our oceans worldwide, there was a bittersweet recognition of the ocean that day: incredible memories of how I knew it as a child and growing adult and what it appeared to be that day, and a swelling sadness for what I know it really is.
We have likely been dumping our waste into the oceans since we began making it—given the size of that amount of water, surely it will just deal with it?—and as a result not one of our recognized oceanic bodies is now without some sort of ‘garbage patch’ floating within it. From the Pacific Trash Vortex – an area of rather indeterminate size (though suggested to be twice the size of the continental United States) that is filled with chemical sludge, pelagic plastics, and other debris in the upper water column – to the Indian and Atlantic Ocean Garbage Patches, both first documented in 2010 and containing roughly the same types of materials but in a smaller area. These areas have been increasing dramatically in size (the Pacific patch was the size of Texas in 2006, and now sits less than 500 miles off the coast of the US, filling almost the entire ocean), with no end in site as the world continues its consumption of cheap plastics, bottled water, and petrochemical products.
The challenge with these garbage patches is that they’re made up of particles that are generally so small it seems like it’s not a big deal, and yet they’re choking the life out of our oceans. Animals of all sizes – though especially the filter-feeders and oceanic birds – eat the plastic particles assuming that they are a form of food. Those animals are then found washed up on the shores of the mainland with stomachs full of disintegrated Pepsi bottles and baby soothers—another sacrificial offering to the gods of capitalism and blind consumption.
Our planet cannot survive without the oceans, and the oceans cannot survive without the micro and macroscopic organisms that are contained within them. Populations of zooplankton, who also consume the particulate plastic matter floating throughout and are thus being challenged, are responsible for supporting the whole of the food chain, which in turn is intimately linked with oceanic currents and from there with global weather patterns and atmospheric composition. We could imaginably make the whole earth ‘crash’ in its homeostatic mechanism by the destruction of that one species.
Despite the fact that in the Cariboo-Chilcotin we are far from the ocean, the effects of the destruction there will be, eventually (and in many unexpected ways most likely), felt up here. We will come to see just how the waters that flow throughout the earth are the same that flow through our bodies, and we poison ourselves just as we continue to do the earth. Perhaps we already see, as we are certainly witnessing increased cancer rates and other chronic illnesses linked repeatedly to our global environmental status, and yet seem to do very little to stop it, exceedingly more concerned with our daily mundanities than long-term survival and consciousness.
If we are to choose a different path and attempt to reverse the damage that has already been afflicted, we are going to have to inconvenience ourselves…
June 8 is World Oceans Day, a UN-recognized yearly event aimed at encouraging awareness and action with regards to the oceans of this planet. The theme this year is Healthy Oceans and Healthy Planet, thematically in line with what I presented above: we need the oceans to live if we want to live.
How many times has June 8 come and gone without much concern for what the world’s waters and water creatures are experiencing? How often have you stopped to wonder what you can do to assist or at least offer less damage to our oceans? And how often have you acted upon those answers?
I don’t imagine that there will be many functions happening in the area on June 8 to celebrate, and so I propose here a challenge for us all to take on individually but with collective intent: stop buying plastic.No more plastic water bottles (please, please stop), no more plastic shopping bags (perhaps we could even lobby our cities to have them banned, as many municipalities have already done), an active practice of choosing bulk items over heavily packaged ones—let us make a commitment to being conscious and aware citizens who vote with their dollars for a system that does not operate with these products.
It is hard to make such changes, yes, and it might inconvenience your easy-to-pack lunches or cause you to have to think ahead when heading to the grocery store, but it must be done. If we are to choose a different path and attempt to reverse the damage that has already been afflicted, we are going to have to inconvenience ourselves, and put the needs of the whole system and the long-term view over our desire for luxury and speed.
Ciel Patenaude is an Integrative Health & Shamanic Practitioner based in Williams Lake, BC. A highly trained and naturally gifted intuitive healer, Ciel holds a BSc in Biology, an MA in Integrative Healing, and is a certified Yoga Teacher & Wellness Coach.