Fewer fish, brain corals dying: the ocean needs help
One of the most profound changes that happened to me here in Bermuda was forging a deep and strong connection with the ocean surrounding us – I went from an attitude of taking, to one of protecting.
This was fostered by my husband Bill’s lifelong interaction with the sea. He began working on a dive boat at the age of 14 in 1968, and has spent countless hours snorkelling and diving the local reefs.
Every day in the summer, weather permitting, you can find him snorkelling the breakers of the South Shore or exploring the vast maze of reefs that extends to our west and north.
Through his eyes and his countless stories, I have become aware that Bermuda’s coral ecosystem and all its colourful fish are a pale shadow of what existed here when he was a boy. He calls it “the catastrophe of a lifetime”.
He says if people only knew how few reef fish are left in Bermuda – less than ten per cent of what existed in the 1970s – they could not buy snappers or hinds or even groupers with a clear conscience.
People often ask him if he is afraid to snorkel alone so often out there on the barrier reefs. What about sharks? He just laughs. “Seriously? There’s nothing left for them to eat. I haven’t seen a shark in decades. I don’t even think about them.”
I always had a dream to live next to the ocean. But I had no idea about the ocean’s collapse until recent years. It started when I moved here nine years ago. It began with seeing fewer and fewer fish when Bill and I were snorkelling.
Nowadays, we are overcome with sadness and keep asking each other where all the fish have gone. We wonder what is happening to our beloved ocean.
We are swimming in these pristine turquoise waters and they are almost empty. No fish follow us like they used to when I first came here.
We are very concerned now that almost half of the brain corals died in the last year on the South Shore, victims of an underwater virus that has swept Florida and the Caribbean. It is called stony coral tissue loss disease, or SCTLD. It quickly turns the formerly endless fields of brain corals into rubble.
What will become of the gorgeous parrot fish that feed on hard corals, creating our stunning beaches?
The final shift in my attitude happened five years ago when I watched the remarkable and heartbreaking documentary A Plastic Ocean, presented at BUEI by former BBC producer Jo Ruxton.
Her team went for a four-year global odyssey to explore the issue of plastics in our oceans and its effect on marine ecosystems.
We took Jo in our little centre console boat on a snorkel tour starting five miles offshore at Blue Hole, and continued to the shipwrecks of the Constellation, Montana and Lartington. It was a long day, and I realise now what a privilege it was to spend hours talking with her about her passion to save the oceans.
She told us how she was so desperate, yet committed to finishing this epic documentary, that she mortgaged her home to complete it! She used all her savings for production of this stunning documentary, now one of the most popular on Netflix.
It was a phrase in A Plastic Ocean that was my awakening: “If every person could reuse a plastic bag or bottle once, just once, it would cut in half the amount of consumer waste dumped each year into the sea.”
That made me think: “What can I, one person, do for my ocean?” Right away we started to wash plastic bags and reuse them. We stopped buying bottled water.
I laughed because they were things I already did when I was living in the Soviet Union. We simply didn't have very many plastic bags and I reused them over and over until they broke. We washed them and hung them on the line with the drying clothes.
We bring our own reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. I watch store staff double paper bags, and I shake my head in disbelief. Why not just use one, and handle it more carefully? Why use plastic bags for fresh produce? They are handled extensively anyway. I sort things out on my kitchen counter.
I always say “no” to plastic when I can. Plastic straws are the worst offenders! They end up by the millions in the stomachs of turtles and fish. Why not just tilt your glass to drink?
Finally, when we moved last September next to the beach on the South Shore, I found myself cleaning it. It became a habit. I walk my 10,000 steps per day, take pictures of the beautiful scenery and look for plastic pieces in the sand to put out with the garbage.
It feels really good. I feel I am doing my tiny contribution to help the ocean to live and breathe. I even speak to the sea in my mind. Often, I ask forgiveness for all the harm we are causing.
In Bermuda we incinerate most of our disposable plastics, yet this does not mean we have solved the problem. We just create other problems. Use less, because it’s easy to do, and you will find yourself smiling.
I want the younger generation to experience the wonder and magic of a clean ocean with schools of colourful fish, exotic corals, playful dolphins and magnificent whales. Small efforts create vast improvements.
What small effort can you make for this bountiful and generous sea?
Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at www.ninalondon.com