Riley and Grampus.

Biologically, I’m no grandparent.  I’m one of these genetic end-of-the-line types cause I didn’t have my own kids.

Rather, I’m a grandparent by marriage (more than two decades of it).  While I have no genetic reason to love Riley Anne Mesnick (Jason and Molly’s baby), I love her anyway.  How powerful our ancient instincts are!
Riley and Grampus on the day after she was born (photo by Jason Mesnick).
I’m glad I’m able to share her picture with you.  I’m in that mindlessly in-love stage of just wanting to hold and look at her.

Babies exert powerful effects on people.  When I show a picture of a deep-sea coral, rockfish or  manatee, relatively few people involuntarily go “Awwwwww!”  Most people reserve those sounds for puppies, kittens, baby apes and—most of all—baby people.  Riley has me in her thrall.

Her parents are totally in her thrall too.  They’re so happy just to be around her.  And I see how wonderful my wife Irene (Jason’s mom) is with her.  All this makes me realize how powerful our biological drives are, including the drive to care for our children.  Our children are our future, even if they’re not our biological children, even if they’re not genetically close relatives.
Jason, Molly and Riley make their photographic
debut together in People (photo by Alison Dyer
I admit to being moved by living things that aren’t people as well.  I’m a bit less people-centered than other people.  When Irene and I watch a movie together, sometimes she’ll ask “I wonder why this character’s doing that?” but I ask “Do you hear the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in the background?”  (The scientific name is for you readers; I don’t usually include them in conversations with my honey!).  Or I’ll comment “From the trees in this scene, I think it’s filmed in British Columbia.”  I guess that’s a curse that infects geographical ecologists.  Of course, like my wife, I think about people’s motivations too.

Happily, it’s not either nature OR people.  Loving Riley and my other grandchildren, and loving birds and blue crabs is strongly connected.

My beautiful granddaughter needs biological diversity to have a good future.  She and her children and their children will get the oxygen they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat from living things.

Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) grazing on mixed
seagrasses in waters near Bonaire (photo by Robert van Dam)
They’re all parts of the ecosystem that supports me, you, Sitting Bull, Joan of Arc, Hillel and the rest of us throughout history.  Kelps and sea turtles, wolf eels and wolves, bugs and bacteria keep humans alive.  Keeping them doing what they do gives me reason to live.

What a beautiful part of life Riley is!  She makes me want to make our world a better place for her.  Even if she isn’t my biological granddaughter.



Elliott Norse, Founder and Chief Scientist, Marine Conservation Institute

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