ocean as wilderness
Shimmering waves and pura vida off the coast of Costa Rica. Photo: Jeff Johnson

Oceans as Wilderness

"Fifty million buffalo once roamed the rolling green prairies of North America. Gunners reduced them to near extinction. Now, hunters are at work on the rolling blue prairies of the sea, and already, the big fish – including miracles like thousand-pound, warm-blooded bluefin tuna – are 90 percent gone. What we regret happening on land, may again happen in the sea. Those who care about wildlife should get to know about oceans." – Carl Safina, "Comes a Turtle, Comes the World," Patagonia 2006 Heart of Winter Catalog

On land, we saw once what wildness meant. Imagine it: 50 million buffalo. Passenger pigeons that flocked so thick they covered the sun. A Spanish explorer sailing up the coast of California described a beach with scores of grizzly bears feeding on whale carcasses. Now, the vast numbers have dwindled or gone extinct. Only a remnant reminds us of what was, the animals and land we destroyed in our belief that there was a never-ending supply. We protect them with the Endangered Species Act, wilderness areas and hunting and fishing laws – having finally learned that we must.

And so now the sea: In Maine, they used to catch lobsters by gaffing them in shallow water by the shore. Cod were so numerous and so easily caught that prisoners complained because they were fed the fish too many times a week. Once, salmon returning from the ocean so crowded rivers and streams that people told stories of walking on their backs. Marlin, swordfish, mako, bluefin, abalone – everywhere in abundance.