The Boulder Public Library was packed on Sunday for an unusual reason: A symposium, Making Waves in Colorado, that brought together some of the world's foremost experts on oceans and the threats facing them.
If that's not enough to answer the question of why anyone would talk about ocean conservation in landlocked Colorado—well after living at least in Boulder for a little over two years, I can at least speak to the local community's interest in conservation, understanding how environmental issues are interconnected, and acting on that understanding. And this small city embodies the 'think global, act local' mantra more than anyplace I've ever seen.
Louie Psihoyos' answer to the question is that Colorado lies "conveniently between two oceans." His organization, the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS), is based in Boulder, a community he applauds for its focus on sustainable living. "We live in the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy right here in Boulder, Colorado," adding that he likes to tell people he drives a VUS, a Vehicle Using Sun—"the opposite of an SUV."
The Colorado Ocean Coalition, which hosted the symposium, points out: "Until now, there has never been a unified voice for ocean protection in the Mountain States." The coalition's mission is to create a strong network of ocean enthusiasts—scientists, activists, businesses and ocean supporters—to address threats facing the ocean, including overfishing, pollution from plastics, ocean acidification, and a lack of marine-protected areas.
To illustrate the consequences of ocean acidification, Psihoyos showed a time-lapsed video—a sneak peak of footage to be used in an upcoming film—of a seashell disintegrating in vinegar of five-percent acidity. The shell had completely disappeared by the end of the video, which he said covered about seven hours.
Talking about endangered species conservation, he said, "We're doing species triage now." An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 species are going extinct every year around the world and realistically, focused efforts can only try to save the tiniest fraction of that. So instead of fighting for entire ecosystem preservation, we're trying to prioritize and figure out which are the most important to save.
Looking for Solutions
It's pretty clear from his films and photography that Psihoyos believes in awareness and education. (He was challenged on Sunday about the carbon footprint of the filmmaking process itself, and Psihoyos acknowledged it's a high-impact, carbon-intensive industry. But, he added, he believes in awareness and that a film is a "weapon of mass construction." And the OPS office is 100-percent wind-powered.)
Down the hall, an audience gathered for David Helvarg, founder of the Blue Frontier Campaign and author of "50 Ways to Save the Ocean." He spoke about some of the tips in his book—eat organic and vegetarian, conserve water, use less plastic—while ocean-loving cartoonist Jim Toomey live-illustrated the discussion. It was pretty awesome.
So are the things that Helvarg includes in his 50 Ways book, some of which many TreeHuggers are likely already doing. And some, probably not.
One of Jim Toomey's live illustrations during Helvarg's presentation.
Faced with the overwhelming size of the threats facing the world's oceans, he said he's not demoralized so much as frustrated, because it's not like we don't know what to do to curb or stop the problem. But he believes there's still time to reverse the trend, and pointed to the state of the Great Lakes just three or four decades ago. With better practices and improved regulation, the lakes have managed to restore themselves.
"The Great Lakes were a success story, and the issues they faced are global," he said. With sufficient behavior change and proper regulation, the oceans have a chance. Without those steps, they don't.