What Can We Do About the Threats to Ocean Life?

By Al Alessi

On Tuesday December 8th the eminent marine biologist Roger Payne and noted actor Lisa Harrow presented a multi-media event at the Norman Williams Public Library. Payne is, per Wikipedia, “famous for the 1967 discovery (with Scott McVay) of whale song among humpback whales. Payne later became an important figure in the worldwide campaign to end commercial whaling.” Lisa Harrow is a New Zealand-born actress highly regarded both on stage and in film, but has also been concerned about the environmental crisis and is the author of an environmental handbook called “What Can I Do?”

The event on December 8th included beautiful whale songs, Lisa’s superb readings of outstanding poetry and prose, and Roger sharing the most pertinent and perturbing of current facts and figures. The event was extremely well attended. I was there, as a concerned individual as well as a Sustainable Woodstock board member. I felt the question “What can I do?” needed to be revisited, especially in response to two key takeaways from the event.

First, it was clear from what Roger shared that nearly every dire prediction made by legitimate climate, earth and marine scientists in the past years is now substantially more dire, with substantially shorter time frames. If they were predicting a specific set of events or measurements by 2020, it’s now already been reached but with even greater negative statistics. It’s like 2020 is the new 2040.

The second takeaway is specific to the oceans. Roger shared that the ocean is taking the brunt of CO2 excesses, with resultant increases in acidification, plus it is the receptor for our trash, including toxic chemicals, and it is heavily fished for our increasing populations. One of the life forms at risk is the lowly plankton, which is at the very bottom of the sea life food chain. Plankton not only feeds the entire breadth of sea life, up to and including the great Cetaceans, but it also delivers to us 2/3rds of our replenished O2.

Given those two items alone, I realized that it is appropriate to ask what we can do if the risk includes losing the main source of our planetary oxygen replenishment. I felt deeply moved by the event and wanted our little corner of the world to consider what our choices are.

We have a great organization in the form of Sustainable Woodstock, and it has committees to work on trash, food, energy, transportation and more, and we’d love to see more people involved in any of those areas, of course. But what if it’s really much deeper at this point? What if we knew with absolute certainty our O2 would be vastly reduced, our harvest of fish nearly eliminated, our coastal plains lost to rising waters, and all this was coming sooner than initially predicted; do we have any choices to make here and now? And, more importantly, are we willing to make them?

So I’ve organized a follow-up conversation to the Payne/Harrow presentation, set for next Tuesday, January 12th, from 7-9 pm, at Norman Williams Public Library. I’m not running around in a panic. It may all be outside our capacity to effect meaningful change within the time given, and I can accept that. However, it is within our human core that we try to preserve what is human, and I’m hoping some of those who were at the event in December come back and join others who were not at that session, to begin to ask the question: What would we do if we knew the plankton will die?

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