I Heard You, Greta.

I Heard You, Greta. September 26, 2019

I think it’s the sound of being underwater that I love the most. The noise of the world dulled and cloudy as though far away, the liquid sound of bubbles and the surface meeting air and objects and other swimmers. It’s quiet, peaceful, relaxing. It’s beautiful, too. In the ocean, as the sun’s rays burst into the deep, they illuminate little air bubbles escaping from fins and snorkels and sea life. Like glitter ascending to the heavens. Feeling suspended, near-weightless and floating in this zen soup is one of my favourite things in the world. I love the ocean and every little creature in it.

Me, getting ready to snorkel with my mom and brother in Rarotonga. Copyright Courtney Heard.

There was the purple octopus I spotted while free-diving for shells in French Polynesia with my dad. The unconfirmed shark I launched myself into a boat to get away from in the Andaman sea, in Thailand. I loved the giant clams at the Great Barrier Reef that I would dive down to and startle so they’d slam shut and send a cloud of ocean debris up toward the surface. There were the wild dolphins we fed in Monkey Mia, Western Australia and the stingray that swam alongside our boat out to Dunk Island in Queensland. I swam with enormous sea turtles in Akumal in the Mayan Riviera before it turned into a tourist trap. Even though it stung me, the jellyfish I spotted in a bay off Rottnest Island was beautiful. There were rays that swam around my feet by the dozen in Exmouth; the moray eel that peeked out from under dead coral in Mexico; the sea snakes that scared my dad in Moorea; the electric-blue man o’ war jellyfish that dotted the beach in New Zealand. 

I spent my entire life worshipping at the altars of the oceans, my feet encased in flippers. As a child, I’d suck the salt out of my hair as I lay on the beach watching the waves crash into the shore. I’d stare out into the vast blue, and my torso would inflate with contentedness. No water would scare me. It always filled me with an overwhelming imperturbability. Nothing could ever get under my skin when I was with my ocean.   

That is, until I got older; until I started to see reality. 

I was 13 when I snorkelled Hanauma Bay in Hawaii. All I saw was dead, grey coral and masses of people abusing what was still living.

I was fifteen when I went to the Great Barrier Reef. It was 1992. On the boat out to the reef, we were spoken to about the dying reef. They told us not to touch the coral, but of course, as I free-dove to startle giant clams, I would see one or two of my shipmates standing on the reef, utterly oblivious to the fact that they were killing something alive.

I was fifteen as well when I rode a longtail boat down the canals of Bangkok and was warned not to let the water splash me or I would get sick. 

In Bali, the less popular beaches were littered with garbage that had washed ashore. In Playa Del Carmen, I donned my scuba gear, and all I saw was dead, grey coral as far as I could swim on one tank of oxygen. In Akumal, where I swam with the giant sea turtles, I’d have to scoop candy wrappers and chip bags out of my way. 

Me, diving in Phuket, Thailand, 2006. Copyright Courtney Heard

You know me as a heathen, a lifer atheist who hasn’t had a religion a day in her life. If I had to choose something to worship, though, it would be water. I am intimately connected to the water. Every single body of water. I feel it. My heart aches for it. I have deep, passionate, bonafide love for water beyond any words that I am capable of conjuring. 

I love the ocean, and I have seen it dying. I don’t know all the scientific talking points about climate change or marine pollution, but I have seen my ocean dying. I have swum in it as it gasped for help.

I recently went back to Akumal a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, it seems, the more we know about what we are doing to the ocean and its creatures, the less we seem to care. I walked out onto the beach there, and it was a sea of hundreds upon hundreds of people. Where I used to lay sprawling on the beach, amongst maybe a dozen others, you couldn’t even see the sand for the people. 

My life has been one big education on what we are doing to our oceans and so, the other day, when Greta Thunberg asked how dare we, I knew she was talking to me. 

I have known about this for years. I sat through a lecture about it on a dive boat out in the Great Barrier Reef with my neon pink snorkel hanging alongside my face. I was told before we jumped into Hanauma Bay with flippers on. I saw the loss of life at the bottom of the Caribbean in the Mayan Riviera. 

I knew our oceans were dying and I’ve done nothing. 

Indeed, Greta. How dare I?

It’s not that I don’t care. I care deeply. It boils down to two things, really, and I would suspect these things are the same for many other people:

  1. It doesn’t seem real. It is real. I know the science has been “crystal clear for thirty years”, but the climate crisis is something I find near impossible to wrap my mind around. The urgency is not felt because I can’t imagine the consequences. It feels like a movie. Again, I know it’s all true, but it’s hard to really understand what that means because it’s just so monumental. 
  2. The feeling of absolute and utter futility – though my rational mind tells me that if everyone who felt it was futile just got to work taking climate change seriously and making personal life choices that benefit the oceans and our environment, then we might make a difference. But right now, it feels futile. I don’t know very many people for whom this is even an issue they vote on. 

Neither of these is an excuse. So, it’s hard to imagine? Suck it up and do it anyway. It feels futile? Maybe it wouldn’t if you took the first step? 

So, Greta, I want you to know that I heard you. I know you were talking to me and I heard you. I will, in this upcoming election and all that follow, be voting for my oceans. I will be voting for our world. I will be making changes around my house to reduce my carbon footprint, and I am going to use my platform more to talk about climate change. 

One day, I want my son to be able to enjoy the sights of the Great Barrier Reef. I want him to see the sea turtles I swam with when I was pregnant with him. I need for my son and grandkids and great-grandkids to be able to carry on their family’s worship at the altars of all the oceans of our world. 

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