What is it? Big pristine ocean areas where fish run amok? Or does ocean wilderness live in the hearts of people? It matters, because the answer guides our ocean future.
Imagine a young city person at a beach, putting on a mask and diving cautiously under the surface. What’s there? Murk and muck, and the bright shimmering of the surface seen from below. Further out, what’s that?…A fish. A real live ocean fish in a real live ocean, the first time. A brief sight, and then it vanishes into the depths, a magic visitor from another world. Running up the beach, tearing off the mask and shouting, sky-high with joy.
Is this ocean wilderness? An electric feeling that changes a life?
Picture a scientist, drawing lines on a map. After reading studies of currents, fish, dolphins, whales and corals. Lines on a map become an idea…then a goal, protect a big area forever. Save a piece of the ocean’s finest, forever.
Is that ocean wilderness? Protect the best we have left, save ocean ecosystems for future generations?
The difference is the role of people.
Are we partners? Lovers and protectors of our oceans? Is there a place for us since we’re trustworthy friends who didn’t mean to cause harm?
Or are we some sort of plague on the earth, a virus or cancer that only destroys oceans?
I think we need to be careful of misanthropy when we answer. Do we dislike people, and seek reasons for a purge? Is wilderness just an excuse to create a zone of exclusion where there are no people?
In the underwater world of blogfish, people are welcome. Here, wilderness is a state of mind, and if people say they’re friends of the ocean, then they are. And when that city kid comes roaring out of the ocean with a shout of joy, I want to be there and offer encouragement, because that’s a person who is ready to join the cause.
It's true that we need Ocean Wilderness areas that are protected from human impacts. But we'll never get there by needlessly alienating people. We need to find a way to embrace people, work with their feelings of connection--whatever the source--and pursue shared conservation goals. Sometimes, it seems that too much of conservation has an alienating holier-than-thou flavor. That's not good.
Because we'll never save our oceans by attacking people.