February 10, 2012: Rock Islands Pick-Me-Up
Working to save coral reefs can be overwhelming — and, quite frankly, depressing at times. I usually maintain my optimism, but there are moments when I’m in need of inspiration and a reminder of what is possible.
Nothing cures me faster than a boat ride through the Rock Islands of Palau. I’ve been fortunate enough to take this boat ride (or kayak paddle) several times since my first trip here in 2004. There is truly nothing like it. As I sit on the bow of the boat, wind in my hair, cruising through tight turns and narrow gaps between islands —feeling as if I am in an endless maze…I get this incredible overwhelming sense of happiness. A smile spreads across my face, I take in deep breaths, feeling exhilarated, and I think to myself — this is indeed my favorite place on Earth. This place inspires me — and compels me, really — to keep going and share the mission to protect reefs with others.
My time in Palau is highlighting these deep emotional connections so many of us have to the sea. I have seen this each evening when our learning exchange group gathers to share reflections and lessons from the day. Many times, the voices are strained from holding back tears, the words spoken are powerful, and we are all left knowing that we have been part of something special. A surprising example was the gratitude so many of our participants shared at the chance to eat turtle soup. Unlike Hawaii, Palauans have been able to manage their turtle populations well enough that turtles are still a part of traditional meals held on the most special occasions. Many participants recalled the last time they had turtle, usually when they were small children. Eating the Palauan turtle soup reminded them of a beloved grandmother or uncle and their deep ancestral connections to sea.
In trying to tell others about the value of oceans and, more specifically, coral reefs, I often get caught up in the tangible values the sea brings us, such as food, jobs, and coastal security. I can easily forget the emotional and spiritual connection people feel with the sea and the inspiration and freedom that come with that. Fortunately, I have the ocean to remind me on a pretty regular basis. So much of our lives depend on a healthy ocean and coastal habitats. My colleagues with me this week are lucky enough to understand that.
[Image #1: The author in the Rock Islands. Image credit: Chun-Wei Yi. Image #2: Another view of the Rock Islands. Image credit: Stephanie Wear.]