Ocean trash is one of the problems photographed by Christopher Swain on his 1,000-mile ocean advocacy and education journey.
As the Obama Administration’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force moves into its sixth public meeting on an interim report in Cleveland this week, one determined ocean advocate is continuing to make his way from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C, in part to dramatize his concern about the state of the seas.
Christopher Swain’s 1000-mile swim, which includes frequent stops along the way to educate students and to do sampling, was born out of a childhood connection to the sea growing up in Massachusetts. He says the journey will take about 200 days of swimming over two years — and will continue off-and-on through the winter.
Checking in by phone last week from the East Coast, Swain had recently posted a telling entry in his blog. Nearing dry land in the harbor of Manchester-by-the Sea, he wrote, “Unfortunately for me, some boater had decided to illegally pump out their holding tank just before I arrived, and so I took my last few strokes through a stinking slurry of sewage.” He added: “I found myself wondering: what would it take to get the entire east coast of the United States declared a No-Discharge Zone for Vessel Sewage?”
Concern about ocean habitat decline and impacts of climate change is a primary motivator, Swain says. He likens his daunting swim to the answers to these problems: “Part of the solution to how we begin living in a healthier way, is to leave our comfort zone and do things that are challenging…It’s strange how we live in a time when we not only know what the problems are, we know what the solutions are. So what’s the holdup? Why aren’t we living in the healthiest way possible?”
Swain says the Ocean Policy Task Force report has much to commend it, although he thinks it should go farther in recommending extensive ocean education. “Education should be one of the top budgetary priorities to come out of this. If you give teachers the resources they need…some of those kids might come up with solutions to ocean problems later in life.”
He says fashioning and implementing a meaningful national ocean policy will require strong Presidential leadership “to compel the agencies to work together.”
“We don’t talk about abstract issues, we talk about people who embody change,” says Deron Triff, Co-President and CEO of Changents. “Christopher, as he swims, is talking about his journey and people are getting updates. As you follow him, you get connected to his journey he’s making, and you learn about declining ocean habitat first hand.”
The swim seems to be galvanizing the younger generation. Says Swain: “I certainly can tell, with schoolkids…that they appreciate that there’s an adult who is standing up in front of them not telling them what to do, but is willing to take risks to gather information about oceans to bring back to them. I see they think that’s cool, and they get that there’s this element of risk, but also something exciting about it. I’m hoping they associate some of what they see with projects they can work on.”
Photo credit: Christopher Swain