Oceans Under Siege
The biggest issue of all: the health of our oceans
FROM THE BIG ISSUE | This year we devoted the Big Issue to the biggest issue facing surfers today: the health of our oceans. Was it a risk? Maybe. Was it necessary? Absolutely. Below is the editor’s letter from the issue:
For many of us, surfing is an escape from reality, a brief time to forget about the troubles of the world. Unfortunately, reality is inescapable. You can try to dull it out, you can try to ignore it, you can even deny it, but it’s not going away. Reality just keeps on, well, being real. That’s why we’ve devoted this year’s Big Issue to the biggest issue facing surfers (and indeed the entire planet): the health of our oceans.
I know—I can hear the collective groan, even from way up here on my high horse. I know you don’t want to hear it. But you have to. We all have to. Climate change is happening. According to published reports, 97 percent of climate scientists agree global warming is happening. Ninety-five percent of those scientists believe that humans are the dominant cause. To put that in context, that’s the same percentage of doctors who believe that cigarette smoking contributes to lung cancer.
In the case of ocean pollution, we shouldn’t need climate scientists to tell us something is horribly wrong. As surfers, we’re on the front lines, floating around in the soup. When surfing after a rainstorm can—and does—cause us to become so sick that we can’t surf for days, sometimes weeks, alarm bells should be ringing.
Those bells are ringing here at the SURFER offices. But frankly, surfing should be the least of our worries. Surfing is a luxury. The implications for the planet and humanity are far more severe than not being able to paddle out tomorrow morning at your local beachbreak.
But this is a surf magazine, and the area where the ocean meets the land is our point of contact, a place that, by default, we should care about, even if it is in the most selfish of ways. Which is why we’ve devoted every facet of this issue—our largest and most widely read—to looking at these global, far-reaching, and seemingly unsolvable problems through the prism of surfing and the people who ride waves. The results are simultaneously compelling, inspiring, and, at times, utterly terrifying.
To begin, Lewis Samuels examines how our perception of “normal” is changing each and every day (“Shifting Baselines,” pg. 50). We also sent Kimball Taylor to northeast Japan to interview locals about life after the 2011 tsunami and the ongoing catastrophic meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (“After the Wave,” pg. 124). We look at Hawaii’s growing GMO concern through the eyes of Kauai’s Dustin Barca (“Barca’s Fight,” pg. 140), and we examine the effect of rising sea levels on North Carolina’s Outer Banks (“A Line in the Sand,” pg. 166). But perhaps the most disturbing of all, for surfers, is Brad Melekian’s sobering reflection on our collision course with a future where surfing is simply no longer an option (“Our Endless Numbered Days,” pg. 192).
Of course, most of you are already aware of these problems, and many of you are going out of your way to do your part. I applaud you for that. But there are others who refuse to believe any of this is happening. I’m anticipating a backlash from the vocal, uninformed minority, but I don’t care. Readers will email me insisting that SURFER stop being political, and that we stop taking sides in this “debate.” That we’re liberal media, duped or brainwashed by propaganda created by the “Church of Global Warming.” A whole host of logical fallacies will be used to discredit this very real problem.
How do I know this? Because it happens every time we publish stories that show even an inkling of concern for the environment or the health of our oceans. This feedback speaks to mankind’s unbelievable ability to act against its own self interests and to our inability to see what’s right in front of us.
If you think the burning of fossil fuels has no effect on the atmosphere, you’re delusional. If you think that the millions of tons of waste we produce each day have no effect on our environment, I’ll go as far as saying you’re a fool. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill back in 2010—now a distant memory as far as news coverage is concerned—spewed 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Part of the cleanup solution was to pour another chemical, Corexit, in unprecedented quantities into the ocean. Where does all this noxious shit go? It doesn’t just magically disappear. Instead it spreads around the globe and shows up in our surf zones and makes its way into our food. It ruins livelihoods, destroys communities, and kills wildlife. The same goes for the radioactive water leaked from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and the carbon dioxide that billows from smokestacks and car exhausts. This stuff matters to everyone, especially surfers. And if you define yourself as someone who is passionate about riding waves, someone who loves spending time in the ocean, and you don’t care, who will?
Climate change is not a debate. It’s not some political talking point. Our oceans are under siege. Simply choosing not to believe it won’t make it go away. Sticking our heads in the sand (or going surfing) won’t make the oceans less toxic or our lineups less polluted. In some cases, it will have the opposite effect (“The Hypocritical Oath,” pg. 72). I’m not trying to win your vote. I don’t have a hidden agenda, except my own survival and the hope that my child and his friends will be able to surf and enjoy the ocean in the same way I do. But that seems increasingly unlikely. On our current path, surfers are on the endangered-species list—just like everything else on the planet.