Unprecedented Green Ocean: Feeling Homesick at Home
Last week my partner and I carved out some time for a three-day canoe camping trip with our canine family. The inspiration came to us the previous week during an afternoon paddle that included the discovery of a secluded island we had not yet explored. That afternoon, the water was warm, clear and filled with young seal pups and their moms. The island was pristine and covered in magical arbutus trees. We were excited to return for a longer camping stay.
We are both profoundly aware of the dire state of the ocean. The changes we’ve witnessed in the three years we’ve lived by the coast are astounding. What we didn’t know is how dramatically the ocean would change in the 5 day period between our afternoon paddling excursion and our camping trip.
We arrived at our launching spot on Sunday afternoon and loaded our trusty canoe with all the supplies we’d need for our three day camping jaunt. As we paddled from shore, we immediately noticed how chalky the water was. We could no longer see the ocean bottom. As a matter of fact, we could barely see two inches into the water. There were also a disturbing number of dead lion’s mane jellyfish littering the ocean surface, and the water had also changed colour in a disturbing way. It is normally a deep blue colour, but it had changed to an intense turquoise green colour. I remember saying “the ocean is wrong” not really knowing what that meant.
We arrived at the small island and set up our camp. It was quite hot that day, so we went down to the shore for a swim. Despite the fact that we live on the Pacific coast, I’m still able to swim in the ocean as it often warms nicely and is quite tolerable. This time however, the water was freezing cold.
I waded in and tried to work up the courage to dive in, but I had to get out because it made my legs ache. It was surreal. There we were surrounded by an unseasonably cold, turquoise green, murky ocean that just felt wrong.
Deb and I have felt a lot of heartbreak for the ocean this summer: over the thousands of tiny dead crabs we see floating on the surface of the water, the less abundant starfish, the smaller seal population, the jellyfish blooms, and the tidal pools that no longer pulse with life. In fact, Deb released a paradigm-altering essay back in May where she shared her premonitions about ocean collapse and what it means for life on the planet.
Science tells us that we’re in deep trouble on planet Earth. Our CO2 levels are over 400ppm, the temperature is approaching or may already be at 1.5C above baseline (a number they didn’t want us to reach in Paris), and the permafrost and arctic ice are melting at unprecedented rates releasing methane into an already collapsing biosphere. My intellect knows this.
On a deeper intuitive level, I know that it’s far worse than any scientist is willing or able to tell us. In fact I believe that we can fill our heads with endless scientific facts, data and knowledge, but to really understand what’s going on with the planet, we need only immerse ourselves in nature. Living on a small island in the Pacific ocean for three days connected me deeply to Gaea. As her vibration pulsed through me it brought up waves and waves of grief. These waves remained with me for the duration of our stay and are still with me today as I write this. Yes, I had moments where I was still able to see the beauty and the magic of the natural world. I saw the herons, the kingfishers, the young seals and our three dogs who were having the time of their lives. This was combined with gut wrenching moments of pain from the knowing that humans are entirely responsible for the devastation I was bearing witness to.
The dead jellyfish, dead crabs, the green murky water, the never ending noise of float planes, power boats, and tug boats hauling clear-cut forests, and the endless stream of cruise ships polluting their way to Alaska became unbearable. Tears. Many, many tears.
We left early on Tuesday morning with hearts filled with grief. When we arrived home and checked in with local media to see if anything had been reported about the ocean, we discovered that local scientists have determined a microscopic algae or phytoplankton called coccolithophores have bloomed. The chalky shells of these tiny creatures result in the chalky or murky look of the water. The bloom is so big that NASA photographed it from space. I was shocked to see that it was not just the waters of the Sunshine Coast that were affected, but that it had spread across the entire Georgia strait from Vancouver up to the top of Vancouver Island and beyond. The word they used is the same word that is used a lot these days when describing climate phenomenon: UNPRECEDENTED. There were articles that called the ocean colour “pretty” and the bloom “harmless”, but most disturbing were the references to climate change and how coccolithophore blooms are a significant sign of ocean acidification.
This type of bloom also occurred in the Atlantic Ocean in 2015. The conclusion was that the presence of an oceanic coccolithophore bloom is a canary in the coal mine for accelerated climate change.
The canary is singing loudly here on the Sunshine Coast. It doesn’t matter where you go on the coast, the bloom is visible everywhere because we’re surrounded by ocean. It’s still happening as I write this post. Looking out my front window I wonder if I’m at home or in the Caribbean. Sadly though, this dire warning sign doesn’t appear to have impacted people on the Coast. As the canary screams her loud and ignored song, business carries on as usual. Other than the good company of Deb who is always willing to explore all of her feelings and listen deeply to her internal cues I feel very alone. It leaves me with a terrible homesick feeling even though I am at home.
Scientists tell us that coccolithophores are safe. In fact I read one report from our local expert that said not only where they safe to swim in, their chalky exoskeletons would leave our skin feeling nice and soft and we may come out of the water feeling younger than ever.
They may call them “safe” but they also know that a dramatic rise in coccolithophores are indicative of a significant climatic shift. They also know that coccolithophores thrive in acidified water with rising carbon dioxide. They also know that coccolithophores increase the ocean albedo effect because the sun’s heat cannot be absorbed (which explains the cold water). In the short term, scientists are also concerned that coccolithophores produce more greenhouse gasses as they release even more CO2 into the atmosphere.
This is safe?
I for one do not feel safe.
What if instead of pretending that collapse is not happening—or worse yet, blindly encouraging it to continue with our unconscious choices—we all just stopped and felt the pulse of the Earth? What if we allowed our grief to rip us open so that we remembered our love for the world? What if we accepted that we are on a runaway train that is picking up speed and no longer has brakes? What if instead of distraction, denial, bargaining and anger we just relished the moments: moments of joy, moments of pain, moments of wonder, of anguish…of everything? What are the possibilities for our lives if we stay present to what is and allow the truth of our experience to lead us rather than pretending that everything is still ok? What if we were present in every moment and we allowed love to lead the way? It may be too late to stop the accelerating momentum of abrupt climate change, but it’s never to late to start loving the Earth. She needs us more than ever now.