I have always loved the beach. Born and raised in Saint Joseph, Michigan, I’ve lived less than five miles from the beach all my life. My parents, especially my mom, have taught me to be water-obsessed. As I have developed an interest in the environment, that obsession has evolved into a passion for learning and caring about the fate of our oceans, lakes, and beaches. Though my love for the water has only grown since I have been in college, I still don’t know what to do about what’s happening now.
As millenials, we’re living in one of the starkest environmental situations in history. This comic from XKCD shows how dramatically the climate is changing today compared to thousands of years past. Loss of species diversity, pollution, and sea level rise are all major threats to our oceans, and therefore threaten the beaches I have always taken for granted. As Simon Thorrold, biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) said to me in an interview a few months ago, we haven’t yet reached a so-called “tipping point,” but we’re getting there very quickly:
As humans, we’ve made plenty of mistakes. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be very good at learning from them. The ocean is kind of our last shot. I think the decisions we make in the next 10 years are going to influence what our oceans look like in the next 100 years.
Young people have the power to make or break the ocean’s future, and many millenials are keen to learn how they can make a difference. Over the next two days, Georgetown University’s Sustainable Oceans Alliance (SOA) will host the Our Ocean, One Future Student Leadership Summit – a youth-driven parallel to the Our Ocean Conference, an annual gathering of ocean leaders overseen by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The goal of the university summit is to engage with the next generation of ocean conservationists, scientists, and leaders, many of whom, like me, are currently looking for ways to take action beyond just enjoying their local beaches.
SOA member Sebastian Nicholls wrote in a recent Huffington Post editorial that “empowering more young voices can guarantee the protection of our ocean.” Possibilities range from picking up coastal trash to submitting ocean-oriented action pledges. Though there aren’t any guarantees in today’s ever-changing environment, the more members of my generation that come together to enact change, the better the chance that future generations have the opportunity to be just as obsessed with the water as I am.