Sailors and Sea Stewards (guest blog post by Megan Hayes)
Megan Hayes is a Stanback summer Intern for NRDC’s Oceans Program in San Francisco. A recent graduate of the University of California Berkeley with a degree in Marine Sciences, she’ll be heading to Duke University in the fall for a Masters in Environmental Management. She has a background in sailboat racing, competing on the national and international levels as well as doing a short stint in the realm of the America’s Cup.
This is the first summer where my work uniform isn’t sunscreen, a lifejacket and a whistle. Summers prior, I was a sailing instructor for a local youth program, and now I’m an intern with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)'s Oceans Program. In the past, my general concerns were to keep the kids in their boats, keep the boats in the water, and keep the water out of their boats. All too often I found I was mediating the children's fear of the water. Other than being cold and wet, the estuary’s waters where I learned to sail (and then taught) weren’t the cleanest. I couldn’t help but be at a loss for words when trying to answer common questions from my charges: “Why is there so much trash?” “Who’s going to clean up this mess?” “Will the water make me sick?” Personally I was curious about the life forms below the water’s edge. What was life like for them?
This summer, the 34th America’s Cup, an international sailboat race for the oldest trophy in sport, will take place on our San Francisco Bay waters. The race authority has decided to use the race platform to raise awareness of ocean conservation efforts. That’s a welcome step and one I applaud. However, being a sailor and knowing how small the sport’s following is, I know the promotion of healthy oceans also deserves a much larger platform.
Sailing—and sharing that thrill with others—is my passion. But the ocean and its wildlife gives us much more than pleasure. It feeds us, buffers our climate, fuels us with oxygen, absorbs our emissions, and inspires us with wonder: in short, our health depends on a healthy ocean.
While we benefit from the oceans, it demands little of us. As a result, there’s a stark contrast between the number of people who rely on its resources and those who pay attention to its condition. That has to change, and change quickly; otherwise we risk losing amazing and essential benefits.
Unsustainable fishing practices, plastic pollution and ocean acidification are just some of the challenges the ocean faces and that NRDC is addressing. Solutions are available: thanks to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation’s main fishery management law, the U.S. has made real gains putting fisheries on the road to sustainability. Protected areas in Florida, California and Hawaii harbor more and bigger fish. In Europe and Canada, measures to hold producers of plastics and other packaging responsible for dealing with the waste are helping to increase recycling and reduce the amount cities and taxpayers pay for managing those wastes.
Efforts like these have the best chance of succeeding when the public joins us in the fight.
Crew members of America’s Cup teams have each made a pledge to do something to protect the ocean—to use canvas bags instead of plastic, support a marine protected area, eat only sustainably caught seafood. June is National Oceans Month—a perfect time to start following their lead. Let's take a moment to think about how we contribute to this global ocean health problem, and how we can help turn it around.