June 6, 2010 – At Sea, 41º 00’N, 124º 38’W
By Herb McCormick
The Monterey Bay Aquarium on famous Cannery Row in the historic city of Monterey, California, is one of the most remarkable institutions of its kind, and I urge you to have a view of their website, or better yet, head on over to Monterey Bay and have a look for yourselves. The entire place, nestled on the shores of the Bay, is utterly remarkable, but honestly, you could lock me away for a year behind the doors of the mesmerizing Seahorse exhibit and I’d be absolutely fine. We’ve seen many amazing sights in our travels but it took a visit to the Aquarium to lay our eyes on perhaps the last thing we expected to be gazing at.
Today on Ocean Watch, we’re continuing to make fine and steady progress toward our next scheduled layover of Portland, Oregon. Monterey is far behind us, and earlier today, we put another significant waypoint on this leg of the trip, Cape Mendocino, in the rear-view, as well. At 41ºN, with the Northern California towns of Eureka and Arcata somewhere in the continuous haze to the east, we’ve now reached the same latitude as my hometown of Newport, Rhode Island. Seattle, up there at 48ºN, draws nearer and nearer. We’re starting to feel it.
With moderate winds of well under 20-knots veering around the compass, from southwest to west to, by mid-afternoon Sunday, northwest, Ocean Watch is ticking off the miles at 7-8 knots under a combination of full mainsail assisted by constant RPMs from our trusty Lugger auxiliary engine. The sky is overcast, and apart from a rather startling and rare “moonset” a little after midnight – the lunar orb made the briefest appearance to the west before dipping below the horizon – there’s little to report from a voyaging perspective. So we’ll take the opportunity today to revisit our recent tour of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s latest, timely exhibition, entitled “Hot Pink Flamingos: Stories of Hope in a Changing Sea.”
Before leaving Monterey for San Francisco, one of the many creative forces behind the timely and engrossing interactive show and display, assistant exhibit developer Raúl Nava, conducted a personal tour for several members of the Ocean Watch crew. “The main goal is increasing awareness about the growing role of climate change on our oceans,” said Raúl. “People don’t realize our oceans, 70% of our planet, are also being affected by climate change.”
In his classic TV sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld used to speak of a “bizarro” world, a sort of nonsensical parallel universe, and the world in which we live is indeed a bizarre place when such a crucial calamity as climate change has become such a highly charged, highly politicized national debate. The flamingo exhibit – the hook is the glassed room in which roam a variety of scarlet and white ibis, Chilean flamencos, American bitterns, cattle egrets and roseate spoonbills, with dramatic renderings of their futures should their habitats be altered – is but one small part of what is one of the more measured approaches to the climate-change issue imaginable.
With graphic displays augmented by video footage, the story of climate change – and, in a historical context, the natural forces that played a major role in the earth’s evolution – is presented in clear, concise fashion. “For millions of years, the climate was changing,” said Raúl, “but two centuries ago, the industrial revolution changed everything. We began to burn fossil fuels and consume energy at faster and faster rates. There was more carbon pollution in the atmosphere. Change is natural, but the natural changes are speeding up because of human pollution.
“It’s the rapid change that’s the serious threat,” he continued, in a moment where the figurative light bulb switched on over my head. “Wildlife and mankind have proven to be very adaptable. We need to act now to slow down the process. We need to cut carbon pollution and cut that rate of change. We need to allow the animals time to adapt.”
The folks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium believe that when it comes to the topic of ocean acidification, there is “indisputable science” that the chemistry of the ocean is changing quickly, a matter they demonstrate by telling the tale of tropical corals. Ocean temperatures are also changing, but the greater threat to coral reefs is the rising acid in the sea as a result of increasing levels of carbon dioxide that are deposited in the ocean as the years of burning fossil fuels mount and mount. Structures composed of calcium carbonate (reefs, shellfish) are robbed of a crucial building element (the carbonate) when oceans become more acidic.
It bears repeating: We need to slow down the process.
There were other interesting displays and messages, but the other “oh-oh” moment for me came in the section about sea turtles, creatures that are much nearer and dearer to my heart after diving amongst them in the Galapagos isles and sailing through swarms of them in the South Pacific. The warmth of the beaches in which they’re hatched determines the sex of sea turtles. Warmer eggs become females; cooler eggs become males.
“So if beaches get too warm,” said Raúl, “scientists worry there could be too many females – and not enough males to fertilize their eggs.”
“Hot Pink Flamingos” could be alarming and even hysterical, but it is anything but. There are numerous suggestions presented about conserving energy at work and at home, and the underlying message is one of hope. Everyone should see it.
But, of course, everyone won’t. So just remember: By nature and evolution, we are smart, adaptable creatures. But we can’t be rushed. Like flowers that bloom in the spring, like children finding their footing in this crazy, kooky world, the crucial ingredient is time. We need to buy our planet, our kids and ourselves some time.
We just cannot afford to run out of it.
-Herb McCormick with photographs by David Thoreson
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