The title of the event said it all: Curiosity Days! It was held at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle and featured a wide variety of science-related activities and displays meant to encourage interaction, exploration, and education. That day my daughter/business partner and I had volunteered with our donation partner SR3 (www.sealifer3.org), which works to preserve and protect the marine wildlife of Washington state through rescue, rehabilitation and research. Our job that day was to support their outreach efforts by engaging with attendees and sharing information about the residents of Washington’s waters, answering questions about our marine wildlife, and introducing people to the important work of this vital organization.
The kids in attendance were amazing! Many, not taller than the table in front of them, were bright-eyed, inquisitive, and possessed an impressive repertoire of marine knowledge. Some said they had learned about the subject in school, while a heartening number of others shared that they just learned it on their own by reading books and pursuing knowledge with a passion. I pictured them curled up in a quiet corner, lost in photographs, illustrations and stories about the mysterious deep, their minds filling with wonder and excitement. I was that child. I remember vividly my favorite paperback book on the fishes of the sea. It was a small book in size, but thick, and every page featured information about a different fish or sea mammal. I read that book until it was dog-eared and worn, as the illustrations fascinated me, particularly the picture of the ocean sunfish, and the massive whale shark. How did the sunfish stay upright and swim with seemingly only half a body and no discernible tail? How was it possible that the whale shark – the largest fish in the sea – was a filter feeder that survived mainly on plankton? I devoured the details of each fish, and my mind pondered the wonder of it all.
The stream of inquisitive future scientists that day was complemented by some adults who marveled with childlike curiosity at the size and weight of a sperm whale tooth or the curious features of baleen. This was equally rewarding! It was a bit jarring then, when a gentleman approached to have dialogue about the merits of marine conservation. I am always happy to talk about conservation and sustainability, and we answer these questions all the time when Barefoot Eco Outfitters has a booth at events around the region. I am excited when people want to question or know more about what it means to be eco-friendly, why it’s important to us that our products and practices are kind to the environment. But it was where that conversation landed that made me sad. Now, it’s not offensive to me if people don’t agree with me – I’m good with that! But his parting comment was, “do you really think you’re making a difference? Does it really matter?”
No matter where you fall on the spectrum of the importance of conservation efforts, the notion that trying to make things healthier or better is wasted is less of a personal or political stance, than it is a lack of hope. I thought by contrast of the young children who came to the table with wide, excited eyes, and asked how and why and more importantly, why not? It never occurs to them that such things are not important, or not worth protecting. The world is always new to someone! Even in it’s tired and worn out state, this world holds the same hope and wonder for a child now as it did when we adults were young. It’s not in the nature of a child to look at something as awesome as a whale shark and not be moved or inspired.
My daughter and I often participate in beach cleanups, and yes, it has been said that these efforts are not what is going to save our seas. Maybe not in and of themselves, but there are tons less trash on our beaches and in our oceans than the day before, and that is leagues better than what it would be the day after with no intervention. While some work tirelessly on the sandy shores picking up all manner of plastic and other garbage, there are others – most specifically our young people – who, with fresh perspective, are developing new ways to eliminate plastic or toxins from our oceans, or to protect our wild places and the wildlife we hold dear. They see the future, whereas some among us see the past. I say this: every single effort matters. Every single effort makes a difference. Every single effort is a symbol of hope for our future. Jane Goodall said it so beautifully, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
For me, ultimately it comes down to how I want to view this gift of life, what I want my legacy to be. One of my favorite quotes is by Martin Luther: “If I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” I have always been endlessly curious by nature, always wondering, “what if?” – a problem solver and hopeful seeker of solutions. I feel the same excitement and thrill now when I see a photo of a whale shark, or ponder the ocean sunfish that I did so many years ago. Life feels always new! I won’t ever apologize for my childlike exuberance, and I won’t ever believe that efforts to protect, preserve, and conserve are in vain. When you get downhearted about the current state of affairs, remember what it was like when the world was new for you, and let yourself wonder at the marvel of it all. Then ask yourself again if you feel that it’s worth it. This life wasn’t meant for the answer to be no.
Tracy Strandness, Owner/Founder