By: Ben Scheelk, Program Associate, The Ocean Foundation
Boulder, Colorado is an honorary coastal community of California. Boulder, Colorado is a federal disaster area.
These two distinctions were presented in profound similitude at this year’s Making Waves event in Boulder. The event, which is organized annually by The Ocean Foundation’s fiscally sponsored project, The Colorado Ocean Coalition, is meant to draw attention to the connection between Colorado—and all inland places—and the sea.
This year, state assemblyman Mark Stone from the 29th District of California (Monterey Bay) formally recognized Boulder as an honorary coastal community of California for spearheading the inland ocean movement. But, in the wake of a tragic and unprecedented storm in the region, fueled by currents of warm, moist air from the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico entrained by an unmoving low-pressure zone, the connection between Colorado and the sea was put into sharp focus.
“Indicative of the new norm.”
These words, spoken by the Making Waves keynote speaker, Fabien Cousteau, in reference to the hurricanes devastating the East Coast in recent years, echoed throughout the weekend. Are episodes like this, when a long, persistent drought is interrupted by a 1000-year storm that dumps well over a foot of rain in a few days, the new norm for the region?
While it is hard to predict the precise effects climate change will have on Colorado and surrounding states, most scientists agree that the region is going to have a lot less water. And although Colorado has not had ocean waves lap at its shores for hundreds of millions of years, its fate, like all other places on the planet, is intricately connected to changes taking place in the oceans.
Since its inception in 2011, the Colorado Ocean Coalition, led by Vicki Nichols Goldstein and her dedicated team of oceanaphiles, has worked to help people understand how the sea impacts our everyday lives, and why it is so important for even residents of land-locked states to be involved in their protection.
This year’s Making Waves event was the perfect platform for their message. Topics at the speaker’s symposium ranged from discussions on next generation aquaculture with The Ocean Foundation’s Ocean Doctor, David Guggenheim, to sustainable market innovations, the need to reduce marine debris, and the diverse opportunities presented by ecotourism to promote environmental conservation. Moving stories about piloting a submarine at the interface between the Gulf Stream and the surrounding ocean, and diving with marine wildlife, were incredible reminders of how the ocean has the ability to inspire and push us further to explore its mysterious depths.
Fabien Cousteau spoke about his upcoming expedition, “Mission 31,” in which he will spend an entire month living and conducting experiments in the last undersea laboratory in the world, Aquarius, located off the coast of Florida. Spending weeks deep beneath the surface, Fabien is sharing the adventure in real-time with people all over the world in an effort to capture the imagination of tomorrow’s explorers and scientists. If only the international community were as invested in the sea as it is in the stars, perhaps we would someday see an inner space station… Or a deep-sea orbiter exploring our vast blue frontier.
Richard Charter, a Senior Fellow at The Ocean Foundation, and project manager for TOF’s fiscally sponsored fund, Coastal Coordination Project, spoke of the power of resonance, transmedia storytelling, and re-programming in the age of the 24-hour news cycle. He stressed the need for us to form “coalitions of coalitions” and how monumental our privilege is to be at a point in time where we can determine what our oceans will look like in the next century. He told a story about baffling a group of oil drilling executives at an industry meeting with his conservation message. Richard quipped that since he looked like them and dressed like them, they had assumed he was the head of “Charter Drilling” and not there to speak on behalf of the oceans.
One of the most touching moments of the three-day event—which served as a vivid reminder of our origins in the sea—was a scene from a bodysurfing documentary, “Come Hell or High Water,” that was presented as part of the Making Waves film festival. In the scene, captured through stunning cinematography, a young autistic boy is shown to be completely free and sublime in the ocean. How powerful it is to reflect on how this child, who faces such extraordinary obstacles to lead a “normal” life and interact with the world around him, appears to be totally at ease, and in his element, when he enters the ocean.
As our thoughts return to the victims of the recent flooding in Colorado, and the enormous challenges that lay ahead, it is clear that Making Waves presented an opportunity for people, still reeling from the horrific tragedy that took place only days before, to come together as a community to share stories, connect with neighbors—and mourn for those lost in the storm. It was something to look forward to, a chance to celebrate our shared connection to the ocean, and find some light during such a dark time. The inland ocean movement is rising—making waves—and reminding us that we are all just drops of water waiting to return to the sea.
The Colorado Ocean Coalition is a fiscally sponsored project of The Ocean Foundation. To learn more about fiscal sponsorship, please visit http://www.oceanfdn.org/ocean-conservation-projects/fiscal-sponsorship.