Everywhere I go, people ask: "What one thing can I do for the ocean?"
My daughter, a kindergartner, answers simply: "pick up your trash." Of course, using energy-efficient light bulbs or driving a hybrid are good answers, since global warming is fundamentally an ocean issue. Then again, the simple act of choosing to eat seafood that is sustainable and healthy can help the ocean.
But our ocean is in serious trouble. Reading recent news and scientific papers is enough to make your head spin. They tell us that there is no corner of our vast ocean that is not free of human fingerprints.
As an oceanographer, I'm quite familiar with the relentless bad news. Keeping up-to-date on it all is a part of my job. Since the ocean holds the majority of life on Earth and governs our air, our climate and our food, that means we're in real, big trouble.
As daunting as it appears, the ocean crisis can be boiled down to three problems: we've put too much in, we've taken too much out, and we are wrecking the edge.
Who wouldn't be concerned about the ever-expanding Texas-size "garbage patch" in the Pacific Ocean, the shutdown of West Coast salmon fishing, right whales and sea turtles drowning in fishing gear, and the summer closure of beaches due to toxic pollution?
What you can do?
Obviously, there is no silver bullet - or, is there? If I had one answer to give to those who ask, "What can I do for the ocean?" it would be this: "Live like you love the ocean." Living like we love the ocean means putting less in, taking less out and protecting the ocean's edge where so much life lives.
Less in. Less out. Protect the edge.
Rather than wringing our hands, hope is on the horizon. We can live like we love the ocean in many ways.
First, shop like you love the ocean.
Buy products that are ocean-friendly. Use a canvas bag to get your stuff from the store to your car to your house, rather than a plastic bag that will stick around forever. Drink filtered tap water from a refillable glass or steel bottle instead of buying water shipped halfway around the world.
Second, eat like you love the ocean.
When you choose seafood, be sure it's caught sustainably. That's gotten a heck of a lot easier lately as Whole Foods, thousands of local restaurants, and even Wal-Mart are going organic and sustainable.
Third, vacation like you love the ocean.
Doing your part
This summer, hike in a coastal park or visit an aquarium. Go on a sea turtle or whale watch where your visit supports conservation. Surfing, kayaking and snorkeling are all ocean-friendly activities. Why not join Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup and make a day of it with your friends?
Lastly, vote like you love the ocean.
Many local, state, and national politicians support bold efforts to tackle global warming, create ocean parks - our so-called "Undersea Yosemites" that Ocean Conservancy is helping to build - and better fund cutting-edge ocean science. With our votes, we must be perfectly clear: We want leaders who bring about sea change.
We are entering a decade of progress in the culture of conservation and sustainability. Millions who care deeply about the ocean are joining to transform our relationship with the sea - they are starting a sea change.
Each of us must be part of this ocean revolution - each in our own way, each as part of a connected whole.
Join for yourself. Join for others. Join for the ocean. But, when you join, please remember to live like you love the ocean.
WALLACE J. NICHOLS is a senior scientist at Ocean Conservancy and a research associate at California Academy of Sciences. He was featured in the documentary film "The 11th Hour." He wrote this article for the Mercury News.