Today is World Oceans Day – a celebration of the seas around us and a subject close to my heart. You see, I wanted to be a marine biologist from the age of eight. It was Sir David Attenborough's fault. Or rather, one particular scene from his ‘Life in the Freezer’ series: a cameraman became the first person to dive with a leopard seal outside of a protective cage. Counter to its vicious reputation, the seal brought a penguin to the diver, presenting this unexpected gift 'like a cat brings a mouse to its owner'. This moment of unforeseen and tender connection remains etched on my memory, and permanently shifted the course of my life. I turned to my dad, and declared 'I want to work with fish' when I’m older.
Last year another Attenborough documentary changed much more than one child’s life; Blue Planet II awoke our nation to the impact of plastic waste on our oceans and the marine animals that amaze us there. This was another powerful message about connection. We don’t have to dive in Antarctic waters to see the link between our lives and creation; we can find in the daily choices that we make, the plastic that we buy and the waste that we throw away.
And this waste is not just an environmental problem; it’s a public health crisis. Most of the marine plastic in our oceans comes from developing countries where two billion people do not have their waste collected. Lacking alternatives, the waste is burned in slums and pollutes the air that children, women and men breathe daily. Or it clogs up rivers – flooding the homes of people like Maria das Gracas in Brazil, whose home flooded eight times last year – and eventually making its way to the sea. If we want to have healthy oceans, we need to do something about waste.
And the good news is; because of this relationship – we can all take steps to make a difference. We can do this in our own lives, our churches and local communities. We can also press our political and business leaders to prioritise people living in poverty as well as our oceans.
I didn’t become a marine biologist in the end. In the year after I finished the marine biology degree I’d long dreamt of, God spoke to me of the connection between my passion for nature and my heart for social justice. He showed me that they are inextricably linked. It wasn’t enough to just work for better lives for seals and fish. I needed to broaden my vision to the whole of creation: people and the world we live in.
I see that connection every day in my work at Tearfund. And I enjoy it in the choices that I make – from my morning coffee in my reusable mug to the brushing of my teeth with a bamboo toothbrush at the end of the day. This year’s World Oceans Day is themed around preventing plastic pollution for healthier oceans. So pick up your reusable coffee cup or water bottle and join in the celebration of your connection with this wonderful, watery world – and the people who live on it.