Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rambling On with Lucas Oswald

I’m going to be rambling on for a little bit here, so don’t mind me! It’s something I’ve gotten quite good at here while sailing the seven seas, except this is a unique and rather sane opportunity for my ramblin’ as I actually have an audience. Normally, my ramblin’ takes place in the wee hours of the night under the star spangled midnight sky. I can always count on a good conversation with myself to keep myself wide-awake, alert to what may come on that horizon, and in good spirits!
And anyway, sometimes its not ramblin’ as much as just singing. I may have just not had a good opportunity to try it out before this, but as it turns out, singing is a fantastic way to entertain yourself while clipped into the bow of the ship on the long midnight look outs. Whether I’m squealing out in a disgraceful replication of Robert Plant,
“Hey-hey Mama, I said the way you move,
“Gonna make you SWEAT,
“Gonna make you GROOOOOVE!” soon followed by a copious amount of “Wah-wah-wah’s!” and “Duh-nuh-nuh’s!”
As if I weren’t already sweating enough out here. Or perhaps during my more desperate and shameless moments, wailing out to Neptune with a voice crackly,
“What if GOD was ONE OF USSSSSS!
“Just a FOOL like ONE OF USSSSSS!”
These episodes usually last as long as it takes for one of the daily miracles of life, beauty, or science to emerge and distract me from my singing, as they do frequently. Like, for instance, noticing that out in some special spots of the Pacific, stars shine not only from above but also from below, with bursts of neon bioluminescence trying as hard as they can to mirror the sprawling Milky Way from the depths. Or maybe that daily phenomenon is a new and mysterious creature pulled up from the blackness beneath us, now blobbing about indifferently in a jar of formalin.
Anyway, now for the important stuff. As part of our Marine Conservation class, we are each giving what we call  an Uncommon Dialogue, a talk hosted by the students on the deck of the ship as we traverse the worlds largest ocean. My own Uncommon Dialogue, however, will take place with you, our family and friends back home, as I will be reporting on the talks we have with occasional blog posts.
On our way down to Palmyra Atoll (a unbelievable place that certainly merits a later blog post of its own), our very own Evan Clark started us out with a fascinating talk about conservation from a planetary perspective.
Evan told us about one moment during the Apollo 9 space mission, during which an astronaut was given the opportunity to observe earth from afar for 5 minutes while he was alone, floating in space. During this time, the astronaut realized that the planet he was seeing beneath him was nothing less than a perfectly sustainable space ship, possibly the most successful one in existence. With this in mind, conservation is not only a social and scientific movement but also the maintenance of our very own global life support.
Evan then posed as interesting question. We as conservationists feel the responsibility to care for the life on our planet, but would we have that same responsibility to care for life if it were discovered on another planet? And what do the answers to this question tell us about our role as the stewards of life here on earth? How far do our responsibilities extend, and what gives us those responsibilities? After all, as Evan told us, it was a single photograph of the earth rising over the surface of the moon from afar that began the green movement.
Following Evan, Caroline Ferguson started us off on a conversation about the farming and manipulating of marine organisms, which spun quickly into a class wide debate on the potential, and also the limits, of aquaculture.
From the perspective of feeding the planet, aquaculture is a great accomplishment for the human race. But, as Caroline reminded us, the situation is not so simple. Aquaculture entails the confinement of fish to a small and usually enclosed area in contrast to the vast oceans they are evolved for and used to. The result is in an unhealthy buildup of byproducts and waste that pollute our waters to a dangerous degree. And the problems do not end there. Aquaculture comes hand in hand with selective breeding, where fish are chosen for their abilities to mature quickly, grow large, and also develop at a favorable feed to size ratio. What this means is that we are fundamentally changing the species we grow, and all this is aside from the so-called “Franken-Fish,” which are explicitly genetically modified salmon that are awaiting USDA approval.
So the question remains, how far can we take aquaculture? As more and more selectively bred fish escape into the wild each year, competing with the already depleted wild stocks and also potentially muddling their gene pool with unnaturally selected traits, the problem is growing exponentially and may soon get out of hand.
As we sail, each week will bring about a new round of uncommon dialogues, which I will do my best to summarize and bring to you via our blog here at sea. This is Lucas Oswald signing off, and until our next report, be sure keep an ear to the wind. Who knows, you may just hear me singing us down to Christmas Island. 
-Lucas Oswald

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