The missing link
Cal Major is a vet, ocean advocate and world-record stand up paddleboard adventurer who founded the UK charity Seaful to reconnect people to the ocean.
For more information or to get involved visit: www.seaful.org.uk
In my first column in this esteemed magazine, I wanted to talk about something I feel incredibly passionate about. Connection.
Over the last eight years, I’ve been using adventure to talk to people about protecting the ocean and its wildlife. In 2016, I stand-up paddleboarded around Cornwall, then a year later the Isle of Skye, to tell stories about plastic pollution. The following year, I stand-up paddleboarded 1,000 miles of coast and inland waters from one end of the UK to the other – Land’s End to John O’Groats. It was during this trip that I realised I could talk to people until I was blue in the face about how dangerous plastic is to our ocean and wildlife, how it’s found in every waterway heading out to sea, on every single remote beach I go to, and how we all have a role to play in the crisis. But without a personal connection to the importance of any of this, my words mostly fell on deaf ears.
I came to realise that as conservationists we often sit in an environmental echo chamber. There’s certainly a place for rallying the passionate troops, but in the face of the climate and biodiversity crises, we need to engage as many individuals and communities as possible to tip the balance in favour of putting the health of our planet at the top of the to-do list. This means diverse voices spanning all walks of life – not just those in our immediate communities.
I adore the ocean – it’s my source of fun, joy, peace, wonder and inspiration. I fell in love with it when I learnt to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef. I love the wildlife – I’m a vet and totally obsessed with animals, from the biggest apex predators to the tiniest multicoloured fish. Surfing was the main way I stayed mentally well working long hours and nights in the practice, getting up at unearthly hours to catch a few waves before work. It remains a huge part of my identity, an irreplaceable feeling of raw connection to myself and our blue planet. Stand-up paddleboarding became my escapism, exploring the ocean locally, and around the world.
But we can’t expect everyone to care as much as we do. Somewhere along the way in our fast-paced civilisation, we’ve become disconnected from nature. We see this manifesting as societal mental health crises, overexploitation of resources, and the prioritisation of profit over planet. We have lost the appreciation of just how interconnected our health and planetary health are, and even more basically, to what the natural world means to us on an individual basis. Without this, I don’t think we can hope for folk to stand up for the protection of nature. This is the missing link for many environmental campaigns.
So how can we inspire an appreciation of nature? I think media has a very important role to play – magazines like this, films, TV, storytelling. But I don’t think there’s a substitute for getting people into the water, seeing what’s there with their own eyes.
To that end, a couple of years ago, I set up a charity called Seaful. The aim is to help people find their own connection to the ocean, and to inspire and empower them to protect it. We provide mindful ocean experiences to those who maybe wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity, or perhaps might not consider this a conversation for them to be a part of.
Last year, one of our sessions was with a group of school children from Glasgow, just a short ferry trip away to the Isle of Arran. Their response to snorkelling in the South Arran Marine Protected Area was brilliant. The life there utterly fascinated them – they oohed and ahhed at hermit crabs, sea squirts and starfish. Their worry turned to joy as they played and splashed in the water, surprised that it wasn’t as cold as they’d expected. I asked one young girl how the experience had been for her, and she told me: “It was amazing! But it also made me mad because now I know what’s in the ocean, I feel angry that people treat it like a trash can!”
If you’re reading this, I suspect you also have a deep connection to the ocean. So, my challenge for you over the next couple of months is to take somebody else, who maybe doesn’t have such a strong connection, to a blue space that you love. It’s ok to explain to them how you feel when you’re there, but please don’t tell them how they should feel. Instead, let them experience it, safely, in their own way. Let them be awed, or intrigued, calmed or excited, and see if that lights a spark within them too.
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