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Pro­tect­ing the wa­ters around us

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY DR. RAN­DALL H. NIEHOFF Ran Niehoff has been liv­ing ’twixt the wa­ters on Sani­bel since 1991.

HI feel we are all is­lands— in a com­mon sea. —Anne Mor­row Lind­bergh (1906-2001)

ere on earth, life be­gan in the sea. The first sin­gle­cell or­gan­isms and the later mul­ti­celled crea­tures lived, moved and floated in the oceans of our planet. As bi­o­log­i­cal be­ings evolved, some left their wa­tery womb and staked out homes on land. We are among thOse who went ashore, yet sci­ence teaches us that we car­ried the sea within us. Sim­i­lar in chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion to the prim­i­tive sea­wa­ter of the early earth, our salty tears and blood are re­minders of the liq­uid life stream that con­tin­ues to sus­tain us: warm­ing, feed­ing, cleans­ing, warn­ing, pro­tect­ing and heal­ing. It’s no won­der that physi­cians rely on sam­ples of our bod­ily flu­ids to de­ter­mine the mea­sure of our health and the ap­pro­pri­ate means of treat­ment to main­tain or re­store it. In­di­vid­ual well-be­ing re­quires tak­ing care of the wa­ters within us.

Here on the is­lands, life car­ries on while sur­rounded by the sea. As we live, move and nur­ture our be­ing on the edge of the Gulf Coast, the air that sus­tains us is sat­u­rated with the fresh­ness of salty tang and heavy with the bear hug of hu­mid­ity. Our low-ly­ing, frag­ile bar­rier is­lands are bathed with a mas­sage of warm, es­tu­ar­ial wa­ter—a nour­ish­ing “soup” made of a bal­anced mix of fresh river wa­ter and ti­dal gulf flow. The en­cir­cling bays and shal­low shore­line pro­vide for crea­tures of both land and sea a one-stop lo­ca­tion for breed­ing, nurs­ing, feed­ing and rest­ing. Yet th­ese life-giv­ing wa­ters are so vul­ner­a­ble to man­made pol­lu­tion and to the mis­di­rec­tion of flood­wa­ters from up river that the spirit of our times is marked by the re­al­iza­tion that our com­mon well-be­ing re­quires tak­ing care of the wa­ters around us.

Anne Mor­row Lind­bergh wrote the sen­tence that in­tro­duces this col­umn when she spent time on Cap­tiva and Sani­bel in the mid-20th cen­tury. In the 21st cen­tury, peo­ple all around the globe are join­ing to­gether to care for the com­mon sea sur­round­ing our planet.

In 2015 one of the world’s most im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tists, marine ecol­o­gist Jane Lubchenco, was given an un­usu­ally freeform man­date by the U.S. Depart­ment of State: to travel the world as Amer­ica’s first ocean en­voy. Her job is to search for all the ways we can solve our planet’s wa­ter woes. One promis­ing ap­proach is what she and oth­ers in the con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity call “blue parks.” She af­firmed: “Peo­ple know parks on land. They might not know parks in the wa­ter—but they will.”

The good news is that a decade ago only 1 per­cent of the world’s oceans were in a marine-pro­tected area and just 0.1 per­cent in a marine re­serve. To­day, how­ever, 3.7 per­cent is pro­tected and 1.9 per­cent is safely in a re­serve. On av­er­age, within those re­serves the num­ber of species in­creased 21 per­cent and the biomass of plants and an­i­mals r ose 446 per­cent!

Who­ever said, “You can’t go home again”? Wel­come back …

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