I Heart the Ocean

I was born into the water element, under the astrological sign of Cancer, symbolized by the Crab, with Aquarius Rising, the Water Bearer, on the island continent of Australia, in the geographical region of Oceania. I am at home near the water and am strengthened by the energy and power of this vital substance. I love exploring the diverse riparian, estuarine and marine environments of our Earth, where I am ‘in my element’. The animals, birds and reptiles to which I am most drawn are those inhabiting the marine environment. I have always felt a deep affinity with the whales and dolphins, and have swum with bottlenose dolphins in Australia, dusky dolphins^ and the rare Hector’s dolphin in New Zealand.

We naturally grow and evolve over time, but my love for the ocean and the cetaceans has never changed. I don’t consider this to be a personality trait, but a spiritual connection – and what we feel in our hearts is true and constant. When I watch documentaries about the marine environment, or the whales and dolphins, I become overwhelmed with a strange combination of grief and awe. The ocean stirs deep emotions within my heart and soul. I am often told that when I talk about the ocean, my eyes light up. I know my intense emotional reaction to all things oceanic is a clue, a sign that my life’s work is in marine conservation. The ocean is the source of my creativity and the gifts I have inside of me to give to the world. The ocean is the great love of my life.

Over a period of several months at the end of last year, I experienced a strange convergence of ocean-related events. For someone whose personal and professional focus is marine conservation, this might seem like nothing more than a co-incidence*. But it wasn’t, because being someone who also subscribes to a Jungian model of the psyche, and who finds meaning in environmental cues, these external events were synchronous with internal changes I was experiencing on an emotional, spiritual and psychological level.

The timeline of truth

I have ordered these events chronologically and will provide a brief analysis of each experience to support the significance and timing of that event in my life.

But first let me provide some context regarding my emotional, spiritual and psychological state prior to this cluster of meaningful occurrences.

I was recovering from an emotional trauma that left me exhausted, and deeply scarred. I had many ideas for projects I wanted to gestate and birth, but I was blocked creatively and spiritually. I was hoping for something to break through my apathy. I was given an opportunity to retreat to a house near the beach for five weeks, and I was looking forward to being in a quiet space, with only myself and my thoughts for company. I wanted the chance to heal my tired body, mind and soul and I was ready to embrace the solitude.

04.09.2015 – The Herald

On the first day of my retreat, I had gone to the house to collect the keys before work. I wanted to see the ocean before I left, so I started driving in the direction of the coastline. On the way, I passed a floatation tank therapy centre and wanted to stop for information, because it sounded interesting and unusual. But I felt I needed to get to the ocean immediately, so I kept driving, intending to return at another time to make an enquiry.

After a few minutes I arrived at the shore. I chose a particular section along the foreshore that provided a clear view of the water and parked my car in one of the vacant spaces. I sat and watched the ocean for a while, until I found myself relaxing. It was a perfect, sunny day. The water was as clear as glass, like the surface of a mirror. There was no wind, and no waves; it was so calm and still, not even a ripple disturbed the ocean.

I heard a splash, and a dark shape broke through the surface of the water directly in front of me. It was a lone dolphin, so close to shore. I whooped loudly and started grinning wildly like an excited child, then leapt out of my car and followed the dolphin on its solo journey along the pier until it was out of sight. I returned to my car elated.

As I sat there, I knew that seeing the dolphin meant something, because it felt as though I had been given the chance for a new beginning, and an opportunity to seize the moment and make the breakthrough I desperately needed.

07.09.2015 – The Descent to Soul

I take at least one book with me whenever I travel, and I try to choose a book that seems to resonate with the way I’m feeling at the time. For my retreat, I chose Soulcraft by depth psychologist and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin. The book had been sitting on my shelf for a while, waiting for the perfect moment to be read, as books tend to do.

Soulcraft is a contemporary nature-based approach to facilitating and navigating the descent to soul, and answering the call to adventure.

“In the mythology of countless cultures, the call – the opening of a destiny – is signaled by the appearance of a herald: a frog, serpent, dragon, or other beast, or an attractive but mysterious man or woman. The herald is often dark, strange, and frightening but also irresistibly fascinating … In our actual lives, the herald takes the form of any number of otherworldly and emotionally profound experiences. We may not encounter a serpent or mysterious individual, but the call is always an experience full of portent. (p62)

“The call to adventure occurs at a moment of major life change, a social or psychological turning point, a move to a different landscape or country, a dark night of the soul, a divorce, the death of a loved one, in the middle of an immense struggle, or at our wits’ end. At moments like these the soul recognizes an opportunity to break through our usually well-defended personalities … If we can stay awake long enough, we can turn such moments of apparent adversity or uncertainty into the most soulful of advantages, often wresting personal transformation from the brink of disaster.” (p64)

The author explains the appearance of the herald and the subsequent ushering of soul across a metaphorical threshold is always accompanied by enormous, often overpowering, feelings of sadness, hope, grief, fear, anger, betrayal, wonder or hope.

In our modern lives, the herald is seldom depicted as a dark, strange, frightening creature, although it may manifest as an encounter with death or another terrifying experience from the depths of the unconscious mind.

The call to adventure may arrive via a being of nature, and may resemble, for example, a ray of sunlight, or a flower, or through a meaningful encounter with a lake or meadow. It may occur by accident, with no warning, when we least expect it.

I became aware of the herald after reading Soulcraft, not long after I encountered the dolphin, and I knew my descent to soul had been initiated and signaled by a being of nature, a lone dolphin leaping into the air, directly in front of me, with no warning, when I least expected it. If I had detoured to the floatation tank therapy centre, or had parked in a different car space, I would not have had the encounter.

I knew the dolphin was my herald, and my call to adventure.

09.09.2015 – Into the Wild

I was feeling overwhelmed by emotional energy that I couldn’t process, so I decided to undertake a weekly four-hour hike/run around the cliffs of the peninsula during my retreat. I breathed the warm, salty ocean air into my lungs, and was soothed by the waves crashing against the rocks. I met many ‘friends on the trail’ – echidnas digging for ants, blue-tongued lizards, wallabies, and various bird species. I was escorted by butterflies as I ran down the sandy tracks to burn off the emotional energy before it consumed me. As the butterfly is a symbol for the soul and of transformation, I knew something deeper was at work. I received many spiritual insights during this time, but one was significant:

Go beyond the point where you want to give up, because that’s where the real work begins, and that’s when the magic starts to happen.

15.09.2015 – Returning to the Salty Womb of the Ocean

I had since returned to the floatation tank therapy centre and had decided to book their introductory float package of three one-hour floats, with the aim of completing the three floats during my retreat. In a floatation tank, the water is saturated with a mineral compound of magnesium and sulphate, which makes the water twice as buoyant as the Dead Sea, so you float in the water without sinking.

Although magnesium sulphate is not technically a salt, floating inside an enclosed tank is like being in the salty womb of the ocean. All life, including human life, evolved out of the ocean, and while in utero, we spend the first nine months of our life in a watery environment. In Untie the Strong Woman, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés reveals the great archetypal mother as patroness of deserts, mountains, stars, streams and the ocean.

When I float, I feel safe and supported by life, and I learn to let go and trust in the moment. I now float regularly, every two weeks.

17.09.2015 – ‘Marine life halved in single generation’ on page 3 of The Age Newspaper

The 2015 Living Blue Planet Report, commissioned by The Royal Zoological Society of London and the World Wide Fund for Nature, tracked 5829 populations of 1234 marine species. The report revealed a 49% decline in marine vertebrate (fish, reptile, bird and marine mammal) populations between 1970 and 2012, and concluded the decline was due to mismanagement of the ocean’s resources, with serious environmental and social welfare implications, including climate change, overfishing and destruction of marine habitats. The usual recommendations were given to reverse the decline – the most important being marine ecosystems needed to receive the same level of conservation focus as terrestrial ecosystems. I realized my actions have directly contributed to this outcome, but knew I had a role to play in helping repair the damage.

17.09.2015 – ‘Plastic waste takes toll on world’s sea turtles’ on page 13 of The Age Newspaper

This article referenced an international study (the research paper was published in the journal Global Change Biology) by a team of researchers at The University of Queensland, in Australia. Approximately 52% of marine turtles worldwide have ingested plastic debris, which can be fatal. Marine turtle populations most at risk inhabit the oceans off the east coast of Australia, North America and Southern Africa. The plastic debris these marine turtles ingest comes from my home.

05.10.2015 – An Answered Prayer

During my retreat, I was overwhelmed with intense pain and frustration due to my inability to break through my creative and spiritual blocks. I was pleading with life to send me something, anything, a mission, a project, or an idea, to inspire me. I experienced a light bulb moment where I was gifted with an idea that has since evolved into a major marine conservation initiative.

12.10.2015 – The Gift of a Rare Opportunity

On the night I had returned home from my retreat, I gave a presentation to the Field Naturalist’s Club of Victoria’s Marine Research Group, on the marine mammal rescue training course I had completed six months earlier. After the presentation, my fellow ‘field natters’ and I were discussing all things marine, including the documentary Planet Ocean. As a result of this presentation, I was invited to join the marine mammal rescue training organization where I had completed my training, as a volunteer trainer.

29.10.2015 – Meeting Brian Skerry, National Geographic Underwater Photographer

I attended Ocean Wild, a National Geographic Live event, presented by underwater photographer Brian Skerry. Brian delivered an inspiring presentation on his life’s work. Photography is a powerful medium to visually communicate critical messages, and his emotionally charged images achieved the desired effect. Tears of Blood effectively highlights a critical message about the cruelty of shark finning, with heart-shattering clarity, and The Sacrifice the collateral damage of bycatch. I met Brian at the book signing afterwards. I told him how much I loved his photographs and thanked him for everything he does to raise awareness about the need to protect the ocean. As he said to me, “marine conservation is a vital issue we all need to get on board with”. Brian’s passion for marine conservation is contagious and meeting him inspired me to stay focused on my goals and create my life’s work in marine conservation.

30.10.2015 – ‘Deep sanctuary bans fishing’ on page 48 of The Herald-Sun Newspaper

The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau declared a 500,000km2 marine sanctuary (equivalent to 80% of its territorial waters), to be phased in over the next five years. The ocean surrounding Palau is home to 1300 fish species and 700 coral species. President Remengesau wants to ban oil drilling and fishing in the sanctuary to allow the ocean to heal after the destruction caused by industrial fishing practices. He knows “a small island can have a big impact on the ocean”. I wondered if this approach to marine protected area management could be applied successfully to other countries.

I investigated this news from Palau further. In the online article Palau set to create one of world’s biggest marine sanctuaries, Remengesau reveals the entire population of Palau (including the fishermen) supports the proposed marine sanctuary. They have committed to growing healthy fish populations that can migrate elsewhere, and will promote scuba diving, snorkeling and eco-tourism as alternative options to grow their economy. I agree that solutions must be universally accepted, or they cannot work. I knew of the potential for fish populations in marine protected areas to re-stock surrounding waters, as marine protected areas have no discrete boundaries. I was impressed by the decision to explore alternative options, besides fishing and oil exploration, to grow the country’s economy.

03.11.2015 – ‘Should you stop eating fish?’ A TED talk by oceanographer Sylvia Earle

I read the transcript of this talk and took seven main points from the narrative:

Fish have intrinsic and ecological value other than their commercial value as food. Fish are unique, sentient, living beings and are critical elements in marine food webs and ocean ecosystems.

Eating fish is a choice for most of us, not a necessity, and should be a luxury, except for indigenous coastal communities with fewer food options, and fish as their only source of protein.

Modern, industrial fishing methods are destructive, indiscriminate and wasteful. Large-scale extraction of marine species captures non-commercial species discarded as bycatch. We remove large quantities of fish at a rate faster than natural systems can replenish them.

Fish farming systems are well-intentioned but highly inefficient. Large quantities of wild fish are required to produce small quantities of farmed fish.

Eating tuna is not eco-conscious, neither is it a healthy food choice for humans. Tuna take years to grow and mature and require large quantities of protein to build their flesh. Toxins, including mercury, bio-accumulate in carnivorous fish. The older the fish, the more toxins are consumed from eating smaller fish.

Eating a plant-based diet, with small amounts of meat from plant-eating animals is better for the oceans. It’s more efficient to eat grazers (animals that eat plants) than it is to eat carnivores (animals that eat animals that have eaten plants). Omega-3 oils can be obtained from marine plants instead of fish.

We need to establish a system with limits and restrictions, create safe havens (marine protected areas) for wild fish to re-stock their populations, and sustainably manage the oceans.

Enough said.

11.11.2015 – Post-graduate Study in Marine Protected Area Management

Three weeks prior, I had arranged to speak with an academic at the Office for Environmental Programs at The University of Melbourne, where I had completed my undergraduate degree. I wanted to know if there was scope within their Master of Environment program to explore marine protected area management and sustainability of the marine environment. My options for further study included sustainable seafood and behavioural change, the law of the sea, marine protected area management via cross-institutional study at James Cook University in Queensland, and research opportunities with Melbourne University marine scientists.

16.11.2015 – Planet Ocean

Planet Ocean is a 2012 documentary by French filmmakers Yann Arthus-Betrand and Michael Pitiot. This film needs to be requisite viewing for every human being. I watched this film for the first time and by the end of it, was stunned and horrified at the damage we have inflicted on the ocean and the Earth, at our collective lack of awareness and foresight, and the serious implications for the human species if we continue down this path.

I have summarized the main points of the documentary and will review the film in my next post. The salient point, which also happens to be the overarching theme of the documentary, is this:  NATURE DOES NOT TOLERATE EXCESS.

The serious implications of this fact for the human species are not explicitly stated in the film’s narrative, although are clear in the subtext. Humans are the final link in the chain of life. We have no predators to keep us in check should our population explode beyond manageable limits. There are billions of viruses with the biological role of regulating the many explosions of life in the ocean and on Earth. But humans have devised ways to outsmart any viruses that would otherwise function to regulate the explosions in the human population and restore ecological balance.

27.11.2015 – A Dream Encounter with the Spirit of Polar Bear

I experienced a lovely dream encounter where the spirit of Polar Bear (a marine mammal) was gently swatting my face with her paw, and chasing me, not as prey, but to get my attention. In Native American Indian philosophy, Bear represents The North and Introspection. Other key concepts relating to Polar Bear symbolism include Power, Strength, Solitude, Patience, Gestation, Individuality, Contemplation, Wisdom, Strategy, Camouflage, Hibernation, Transition, Initiation and Transformation.

Polar Bear hibernates within the icy womb of Mother Earth (or the salty womb of a floatation tank), and knows how to slow down, be still, conserve her energy, and gestate a project requiring a period of time for growth and development before birth.

Polar Bear has the ability to remain invisible, to blend in with her surroundings, and to observe a situation quietly, before harnessing her strength, waiting for just the right moment to emerge and show her most powerful self, when least expected.

Polar Bear is a solitary being, fiercely independent and self-reliant. She is tough and can successfully navigate harsh and extreme environmental conditions, with the heart and the strength to move through the worst of whatever life throws her way.

Life rewards action

I’m aware of the serious issues concerning the marine environment, so these events per se were not news to me. What was significant was the ease in which they aligned so elegantly, like a jigsaw puzzle, and the profound effect this had on my understanding of the critical nature of these issues, on a global scale, and how they impact my life, and the life of every other human being on Earth.

I thought: “Life is trying to tell me something here.”

These events confirmed for me that my life’s purpose is in marine conservation. I experienced a clarity I hadn’t known before. I knew what I needed to do, on a personal level and a professional one.

This understanding will shape my decisions and actions in life, and the direction and content of my blog, from this moment forward.

Over the last year, we focused on simplifying our lifestyles and breaking the cycles of consumption and accumulation, so we could channel our time, energy and resources into discovering and nurturing our true gifts, talents and inner qualities, in a way that honours ourselves, others and the Earth.

This year we continue to streamline our lives, and we will revisit ideas and themes from the last two years, with a stronger focus on how our actions affect the marine environment. I am currently working on several ocean-related projects and the marine conservation initiative due for launch later this year.

I believe life rewards action, so if we take that first step in our chosen direction, and take action towards achieving our goals, life will align itself with us, and provide us with opportunities to achieve our goals. But we must still put in the hard work necessary to achieve those goals.

In the paraphrased words of Henry David Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve always imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will become simpler.”

^I had a beautiful encounter with a solo dusky dolphin off the coast of Kaikoura, New Zealand. I was floating in the water, being mindful of where the dolphins were, not wanting to disturb them, thinking that if they wanted to have an encounter with me on their terms, it would happen, and I wasn’t going to force it. The moment I let go, a lone dolphin swam up beneath me and started swimming in circles around me, then raced off and came back. I was swimming in alignment with the dolphin and, even though the encounter lasted only a few minutes, it felt like an eternity. It was magical.

*I have read that Jung’s theory of synchronicity is simply cognitive bias and/or selection bias in scientific thought, and I agree that interpretation is correct, from a scientific point of view. Our brains do seek patterns in the world to create order in our minds, but to dismiss synchronicity as nothing more than a mind, which is already focused on a particular idea, being more likely to find evidence of that idea in the outer world, which is true on some level, misses the entire point of what synchronicity truly is.

When synchronicity occurs, it is not what is in your mind that seeks reflection in the outside world that is relevant, it is your reaction to it. When a truth becomes clear to you, or you experience recognition of something important about yourself that carries profound meaning for you, when the realization brings you to your knees sobbing, because no matter how hard you try, you cannot deny it, that is synchronicity.

© 2016 Environmental Warrior
Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

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