Live like you love the ocean!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

BLUEMiND2: Where Nostalgia Is Born

BLUEMIND2 will be held June 4-5th in Nags Head, Outer Banks, North Carolina The event will be broadcast live here, as well as at

Sunday, October 2, 2011


The Ocean is the single biggest feature of our planet.

From one million miles away we resemble a small blue marble, from one billion miles a pale blue dot.
The Ocean covers more than 70% of the Earth's surface, holds more than 80% of its biodiversity and 90% of its habitat.

Phytoplankton in the Ocean provide more than half of our oxygen and provides the basis of the primary protein for more than a billion people.

More than half a billion people, mostly artisanal fishers, owe their livelihoods to the seafood industry.
Humans have derived unmeasurable inspiration, joy, recreation and relaxation from the Ocean for millennia.

But WE have treated the Ocean poorly, and it's decline in recent decades has been catastrophic for our planet and its people.

WE have put too much into the Ocean, in the form of oil, sewage, fertilizers and pesticides, antibiotics, plastic pollution, noise and increasing levels of CO2.

WE have taken too much out of the Ocean by subsidizing and encouraging inefficient and destructive overfishing, bottom trawling, long-lining, purse seining, dynamite fishing, irresponsible aquaculture and illegal hunting.

WE have destroyed the edge of the ocean--places like wetlands, kelp forests, mangrove forests, river deltas, coral reefs and seagrass beds--where diversity and abundance once thrived, now turned into dead zones growing in size and number.

As a result of OUR behavior, the wildest animals and most remote beaches on the planet carry plastic in them, coral reefs are on the verge of disappearing, shark populations have been decimated, the ocean is warming and becoming more acidic and fisheries are predicted to collapse globally.

This situation will only continue to spiral downward, unless we listen, learn and change.

To slow, stop and then reverse this trend will take immediate, widespread and drastic actions, not isolated, small and incremental adjustments.

The control large corporations have over our political processes must be severed, bold legislation enacted and new behavior patterns widely adopted.

We need an Ocean Revolution.

The passionate individuals, organizations, expertise and solutions needed to do this exist around the world.

What is needed is a massive boost in personal and political will alongside strong actions and louder voices.

It is OUR coast and OUR Ocean.

The time is now to Occupy The Ocean.

[This is a living document: repost this anywhere you like, personalizing and adding to it as you will, in support of your good work for the Ocean]

Thursday, May 19, 2011

BLUEMIND: Your Brain On Ocean

-Wallace J. Nichols, PhD

"We are more than logical. We are human." - Jacques Yves Cousteau

On June 2nd, BLUEMIND Summit: at California Academy of Sciences (join our livecast), followed by an Ocean NightLife event...always a favorite.

 Once I met a man who hated the ocean.  Intensely, he said.  He described to me fear, negative associations and a general unease he couldn't quite put his finger on.  His aversion was so strong -- especially when measured against my own great, unabashed love for the ocean -- that I'll never forget my bewilderment.  Everyone I have ever known loves the ocean.  I'm not talking about lower-case "l" kind of love either; the kind that we apply indiscriminately to pop stars, sports teams, soft drinks and chocolate bars.  I mean the capital "L" kind of Love; the love that is unfathomable and ineffable, a fusion of respect, understanding, awe, sensuality and mystery.

Nearly a decade ago, I read with great interest reports of interrogators at Guantanamo promising detainees a swim in the tropical ocean as an inducement to cooperation.  From those small, hot jail cells, clad in heavy jumpsuits, the ocean must have looked mighty inviting.  The technique worked.

Later, in the summer of 2003, on a coastal trek from Oregon to Mexico, I walked past a beachfront bungalow for sale in Del Mar, California.  Eight-hundred square feet, no lot, but the sound, smell, sight, touch and taste of the Pacific awaited just beyond the bedroom window.  The asking price?  A cool $6.3 million.  They got their asking price, then some.

It turns out that globally the ocean imparts a trillion dollar premium on hotel rooms, condos, houses and all other forms of coastal real estate.  People want to see and hear the sea from where they eat and sleep and are willing to shell out a lot of green to get some blue.

I've also spent a lot of time with fishermen around the world.  I've seen their working love of the ocean up close.  Theirs is boundless joy in the freedom of a wide open, big blue space. It is the irresistible draw to a life spent catching seafood. In one Mexican lobstering co-op I work with, the rogue member who dares violate the community rules of "how many" and "how big" is banished to the packing facility with a never-ending view of white walls and stainless steel tables instead of big blue.  For them, it is the worst punishment imaginable.  Few, if any, subvert the community standards.

The poet Robinson Jeffers found language in the rhythm and drone of ocean waves and the meditative act of rolling boulders up from the sea to build his stone home.  "The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself; the heartbreaking beauty will remain when there is no heart to break for it," he wrote.

Canadian actor Michael J. Fox famously quit television right after spending a few hours blissfully following a sea turtle gliding through the blue Caribbean sea.  "Never once after my encounter with the sea turtle have I wavered in my conviction that it was the right thing for me to do and the right time for me to do it," he wrote.

A girl in the fourth grade at the San Francisco School sat in front of me holding a bright blue marble to her left eye.  "It's beautiful in there, I can see whales and turtles and hear the ocean," she said. "I know just who I'm going to give this to."

I also queried the modern oracle (Twitter) on the topic of the #1 seafood (shrimp) and learned a lot about American's unbridled passion for cheap, fried crustaceans.  We know that a certain kind of obsessed food and power addition underlies the extirpation of bluefin tuna, sharks and sea turtles, that get caught in shrimp nets, from the ocean.

@DSchnell: Ate 90 pieces of shrimp at Red Lobster's Endless Shrimp, now it's time for bed
@davezatz: Red Lobster's Endless Shrimp would be more appealing if they provided an announcer and scoreboard. Gluttony ftw
@OREOaddict16: i just ate my weight in endless shrimp at red lobster..yum =)

And, whenever I travel -- which is a lot -- I invariably meet total strangers who say: "So, you're a marine biologist?  I dreamed of being a marine biologist when I was a kid!"  And they'll disappear on the red Zodiac, chasing down whale songs on the ocean in their head.

We humans offer up our dreams, our secrets and our treasure to the sea from whence we came.  Those imprisoned terrorists, lifelong fishermen, deep-pocketed property owners, poets, shrimp and tuna addicts and world-weary travelers clearly feel great emotional pull towards the ocean.  But, why?  What is it about the ocean that speaks to us on such a fundamental, profound human level? I have always wanted to know, but my chosen profession, science -- skeptical, detached, dispassionate science -- wouldn't allow me to go there.

When I was a graduate student, I tried to weave emotion into my dissertation on the relationship between sea turtle ecology and coastal communities.  No luck.  My advisors steered me to other departments, another career even.  "Keep that "fuzzy" stuff out of your science, young man," they counseled.  Emotion wasn't rational.  It wasn't quantifiable.  It wasn't science.

But, the human-ocean connection, BLUEMIND as we've dubbed it, held me in its grip even as my career as a scientist blossomed.  Eventually, I shaped my general philosophy into an effort called "The Mind and Ocean Initiative."  Today, I think -- actually, I know -- it is time for a new kind of ocean science.

Economists, marketers and politicians recognize that deep-seated, inscrutable emotions, not rationality, are what rule human behavior.  Aided by cognitive neuroscientists, these fields have begun to understand how our deepest, most primordial emotions drive virtually every decision we make, from what we buy to the candidates we elect.  To my way of thinking, if the lessons of cognitive neuroscience can be used for the crass purposes of influencing what people buy and how they vote, why not use such knowledge for ocean conservation?  I believe we can.  And, I believe we should.

Consider these questions:

Why is "ocean view" the most valuable phrase in the english language, bestowing a 50% premium on everything from lunch to a night's sleep in a hotel room to a beachfront cottage?

If stress causes disease, and the ocean reduces stress, is time spent in, on, under or near the ocean good medicine?

Can our deepening understanding of brain science be applied to better protection for ocean animals being eaten to extinction by addicted and power-hungry humans?

We must seize this particular moment in time -- when the nascent power of neuroscience is burgeoning and the popular momentum is toward conservation rather than exploitation.  We can use science to explore and understand the profound and ancient emotional and sensual connections that lead to deeper relationships with the ocean.  I believe that if we do that we have an opportunity for real conservation gains that could do some true and lasting good for the ocean and planet Earth.

It's time to drop the old notions of separation between emotion and science.  Emotion is science.  Let's convene the top marine scientists, skilled communicators, dedicated conservationists, and leading neurobiologists and cognitive psychologists to ask and answer the most probing and compelling set of questions about the ocean that we can imagine.  Let's explore the mind-ocean connection -- our BLUEMINDs.

Let's mentor a new wave of passionate and brilliant graduate students to get their PhD's in the breakthrough field of NeuroConservation.  And together, let's mine neuroscience to develop a set of powerful conservation tools that educators, advocates, policymakers, medical doctors and scientists can use to better and more deeply engage, inspire and lead people in the restoration and protection of our beloved ocean.

Who knows what we will find.  It's likely, maybe even certain, that the greatest unexplored mysteries of the sea are buried not under a blanket of blue, but deep in the human mind.  The lessons and new questions are in there.  They await only discovery.

BLUEMIND: Your Brain On Ocean is being held June 2nd, 2011 at the California Academy of Sciences. Watch and listen live online at

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What Would Jacques Do? 100 Years of Oil + Plastic

By Wallace J. Nichols, Sarah Kornfeld, Jake Dunagan and Stuart Candy

Jacques Yves Cousteau spent halcyon days gliding above and beneath the ocean. He lived among the largest mammals and sea drift. He was the master educator and voice for the sea. And so, on this, the 100th anniversary of his birth, it is a sorry state of affairs that we cannot celebrate the legacy of his ocean life, but instead it is the centennial of our own legacy with oil, plastic and associated toxins we must confront. One hundred years ago, 1910, the fossil-fuel-based plastics industry was born, as was Cousteau, and thus began the first plastic century.

Plastic is made from oil and gas, plain and simple, yet we do not think of oil or plastic pollution when we think of Cousteau. We think mostly of how he inspired wonder in us. We wondered at life aboard the Calypso with its salty crew. And, this wonder for the sea has engendered generations of people to become oceanographers, biologists, divers and simple lovers of the sea. But, if we do not make the serious connection -- now -- between the legacy of Cousteau and our legacy with petroleum we will sully the memory of the man.

Yet, the memory of the ocean was hardly what Cousteau was all about: he was really about the future of the ocean. He was always looking ahead -- not behind. He wanted people to have knowledge so that they could have foresight. His great genius was not that he made you want to go swimming today; it was that he inspired you to want to know deeply and explore constantly the ocean in the immediate future, and always.

"If we were logical, the future would be bleak, indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope, and we can work," he said.

Right now, however, we have our thinking backwards; we are watching a reckless and inane "clean up" of the Gulf of Mexico play out in slow motion. What can we imagine he would say right now? Would we listen? Would we nod our heads with a sense of security that the great man was leading us, teaching us, telling us how to get out of this mess? What would he do? Would we join him?

Who knows, but a good guess is that that great lover of the sea, and great pragmatist for the environment might be furious. Enraged. Heartbroken. One can imagine at the same time, the man rallying us to demand substantial legislative changes, responsible action from the oil industry, and a global systemic shift away from oil/plastic/toxins because our very lives depend on it. His line in the sand would be deep and long.

But, he's not here, is he? Yet, his 100th birthday is right before us. His legacy of an ocean is literally mired in the slick dependence we have on oil. So, let's make the list that a pragmatic leader like Cousteau might offer.

Let's do this:

• Tell someone each day what our Ocean Planet, our one and only blue marble, means to you. Describe how you love it, why you want to see it and hear it. Love is stronger than apathy, and your vision for the future of what you love can impact people. Use all of the media at your disposal to share your oceanophilia, get in on rallies, letter writing and vote for the ocean.

• Stop pouring toxins, any toxins, into the drains around you, onto your food, into your tank or into your body: you can show BP what responsibility looks like -- what you don't pour down the drain won't get to the ocean. "Think tank," you might say. Think about what goes in it and what comes out.

• Remember that great people leave Earth, but plastic never does. Reject straws, coffee lids, forks, or anything plastic you use once then throw away. First off, they are made of oil and gas and can make you sick. Second, when they end up in the ocean they make the ocean sick. Try as best you can to free your home, school and business of single-use disposable plastics.

The time is now for us, the lovers of the sea. We cannot wait for a great tide to take the oil, and our need for it, away to a magical place. And, we can't wait for the memory of great people to inspire us to change. We must honor their memory by doing something great ourselves.

Each of us must be Cousteau -- we must embody his legacy with a vision for the future: one that includes a world with a healthy, thriving sea. We must embody his memory -- a person who wanted a healthy, thriving future for the planet.

Ask yourself, "What would Jacques do?" Act as he would. Because we are all ocean activists now.

Wallace J. Nichols, Sarah Kornfeld, Jake Dunagan, and Stuart Candy, are a hybrid art- science-futures collaboration. Their installation Plastic Century is an interactive installation created for the California Academy of Sciences that explores the relationship between plastic, people, and the environment over the 100 years since the birth of Jacques Cousteau. The installation will be at the California Academy of Sciences June 3rd and June 10th. The Plastic Century Team is currently in residency at the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA), in San Francisco.