How do you make people care about the oceans?

The oceans are my first love. I work for a marine conservation organization, SCUBA dive, and try to spend as much time near water as possible. I was lucky, though, because I was born and raised in a city near the ocean. Growing up, my family would spend weeks at my grandparent’s house on Whidbey Island. I would spend all day walking up and down the beach, gathering sea glass and watching the boats glide in across the water, hoping for an adventurous fish to leap into the air. I knew at a young age that I wanted to do everything possible to save the oceans from destruction.

But what about people who, through sheer luck of birth, grew up in a place far from the sea? There are 27 landlocked states in the US and many of the ones with coastlines are so large that getting to the ocean is not an easy trip. The same question holds true for countries around the world. For those who did not grow up with ocean memories, how did you come to care about the ocean?

Was it a picture of a coral reef community, teeming with colorful fish and eels? A vacation to a tropical locale? Or a visit to an aquarium?

What would make someone care about the ocean if they haven’t spent time experiencing its wonders?

This is an important question as organizations like ours move to bring ocean issues to the forefront of policymakers’ and the public’s minds, both in the US and internationally.

What do you guys think?

4 thoughts on “How do you make people care about the oceans?”

  1. I was raised in Alberta, Canada, far from any ocean, yet I am very passionate about it. I think it was growing up with the walls of my bedroom painted as an undersea scene. Just knowing that creatures like the octopus and the shark existed made me passionate about it.
    I feel that for people to want to help our oceans, they need to have an emotional attachment to it, or the creatures that dwell in it.

  2. Apart from a few summer vacations with my uncle in Florida, I had no contact with the ocean as a kid. It wasn’t till I was working in Central America after college that I discovered it. I was burnt out on development work (UN exhumations and later disaster work in Guatemala). So I ended up in Honduras, learning to dive and decompress.

    I fell in love, and stayed a while, getting my divemaster and working as a guide. I met a lot of people, young and old, and most were just there for a fun experience, rather than an environmental awakening. But that’s what most of them got. That’s what I got. I now even work in ocean conservation.

    In my experience, getting people to care is not about rational arguments. It is about getting them to that whole body, revelatory experience. If you could take everyone in the world on a few dives on a reef, I think most of our environmental problems would be solved.

    Looking forward, what I would really like to see is a charitable organization set up for providing “heritage trips”. I use Israel as my model. Jews around the world can go on often free trips that involve tours and learning about their homeland. Why can’t we do this for humanity and the best our homeland still has to offer?

    Imagine, providing people around the world free opportunities to learn how to dive somewhere in the tropics, then mixed in with a little bit of education on the state of the ocean and its importance. The only catch is that they are asked to pay it forward, to talk to their friends and families about it, and that they think about what future generations won’t be able to experience.

    It could even begin as an organization that takes paying participants, with full scholarships available for some. They could be treated like alumni and allowed the opportunity to donate for the benefit of future participants. This would be open for all peoples in all countries.

    It could also be scaled up and offered for non-ocean destinations. How about the Brazilian Amazon? Or an African safari?

    Just an idea that I would love to see realized someday.

  3. @breaching blue
    That is a beautiful idea. Something I never would have thought of otherwise, but makes perfect sense. Why not bring people TO the ocean? Show them what it’s all about. Don’t give up on that idea- I’ll bring it up with people, too and see if it can’t start to become something. Thank you!
    @SLN- I agree with you completely. It is an emotional connection. Sea creatures usually work the best; who doesn’t love a turtle? Thank you for sharing your story!

  4. I guess it really IS the emotional attachment that you have to something. I live on island in the South Pacific and being surrounded by the ocean, I’d be the oddball daydreaming in class of snorkeling and seeing the many wonders of the underwater world…I wonder if we have seahorses? I wonder if they’re big enough to ride on, like in the cartoons…I wonder if a sponge comes in pink? I wonder if a sea anemone really stings???

    It’s good to get a perspective from those that aren’t as fortunate. As a member of marine resource managers, this kind of insight is something that I wonder about too…thanks for bringing it up…

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