An Endangered Ocean

Stanley Meltzoff
"Two Bonefish and Coral Clump with Crab at Chub Cay"
Oil on mounted canvas
20 x 28 inches

The son of an avid saltwater fisherman, many of my summer days were spent offshore. Departing the Wachapreague, Virginia, docks at 5 AM, the sky broke pink as my father carefully piloted his Boston Whaler through the salt marsh channels. Upon reaching the ocean inlet, we'd begin a thirty or forty mile run toward the sun-soaked eastern horizon. By 8 AM, we'd be trolling for yellowfin and bluefin tuna, dolphin ("mahimahi"), amberjack, or various mackerel species. If that technique proved unsuccessful (or if my father's fishy hunches proved wrongheaded), we'd move west, closer to shore, so that we could bottom-fish for black sea bass, spot, and weakfish over scuttled World War II ships and defeated German U-boats.

Compared to my father, I was unenthusiastic about salt-water fishing. I much preferred fishing on a pond, fly or spin casting into "honey holes," those storied pockets where the giant largemouth bass, perch and bluegill dwell. The relative solitude and meditative character of freshwater fishing appeals to my temperament. I associate the leisurely activity with the soft-spoken stroke of the canoe paddle; the rhythmic, almost ritualized casting of a fly or lure; the temperate spring breezes that lick my bare forearms as they do the banks' willow and maple trunks; the ecstatic chatter of a kingfisher. Above all, I associate it with a sense of universal benevolence. This, in stark contrast to fishing offshore, where Nature's benevolence is tempered by ambivalent and awesome forces.

Still, I enjoyed being on the open ocean. I loved the bounce and glide of my father's Whaler as it motored over the Atlantic chop, and I was delighted by the otherworldliness of ocean life: shadowy hammerheads passing through depth-piercing sun rays; dolphins propelling themselves skyward to get a better look at us; the surprising company of terns and gulls so far from land; loggerhead sea turtles basking on the ocean's surface; hundreds of cownose rays flying just beneath the water's surface. These images, and many others, stay with me. The ocean is a mysterious, thrilling place.

Sadly, it is also a threatened place. The most dire reports forecast that the ocean's fish species will be depleted by mid-century. If that should come to pass, our world's biodiversity and ecological integrity will have been dealt an awful blow.

Time and evolution will march on, heedless of our nostalgic and preservationist impulses, but their ambivalence doesn't mean we've license to shrug and capitulate to the selfish wonts of the average consumer. Future generations should bear witness to the wonderful abundance that we have known and, to a lesser degree, still know. If we live conscientiously, with an open mind and heart, perhaps that can be so.

Image credit: Meltzoff reproduction via MoldyChum

Note: This post originally appeared in a different form on Hungry Hyaena (June 12, 2009).


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