|A Note from David E. Guggenheim, the “Ocean Doctor” ? (February 20, 2009)|
Finding the Ocean in All of US
ifteen thousand miles, six states, 13 speeches, two thousand students, a dozen cheeseburgers, one broken finger, one case of the flu, and a frightening number of cups of bad coffee, I’m one month into the Ocean Doctor’s 50 Years – 50 States – 50 Speeches Expedition and relishing every moment of it.
This project takes me back to my roots as a marine science teacher and I still find it every bit as fulfilling to watch young eyes widen, perspectives change and horizons broaden when the students I visit with learn about the sea and its mysteries. But it’s also gratifying to realize that a 50-year-old ocean doctor is capable of learning so much from the students and teachers he encounters, and his 50-year-old heart capable of being deeply moved by the faces, lives and stories he encounters on his journey.
I visited a high school of 100 students in Kansas, not far from the geographical center of the lower 48 states, a community that had recently been devastated by two killer tornados. I visited a high school 23 times larger, a fortress of 2,300 students in Rapid City, South Dakota, where I was enchanted by the Black Hills and ventured into a snow storm for a mountain-top meeting with four former presidents: George, Thomas, Teddy and Abraham.
I spoke to 400 elementary school students in Sonoma California and 300 high school students in Ventura, California. And I spoke to students studying Coastal Law and Policy in Sarasota, Florida. I landed in a blizzard in St. Louis, traveled a treacherous highway with cars strewn in all directions, only to learn that the schools would be closed, classes cancelled.
I spoke to middle school boys and girls at Boys Town, Nebraska, the school made famous by the 1938 film and from where the famous expression, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” originates, a school that continues a rich tradition of helping children reach their potential. And I made a special presentation, in the best Spanish I could muster, for a 10-year-old boy named Alexandro in Havana, Cuba, a practice run for what I hope will eventually be a presentation for all of his classmates.
I’ve met incredible teachers and seen firsthand their extraordinary achievements and selfless dedication to bringing the gift of a strong science education to their students.
I’ve learned that there’s a surprising passion and sense of connection to oceans, even among students who’ve never seen an ocean — roughly half of those I met in Kansas, South Dakota and Nebraska.
I’ve also seen fear in the eyes of a few students who hadn’t seen an ocean and said they didn’t want to see the ocean. Why? “Sharks, of course,” they replied. Hmmm…there’s still work to be done.
I’ve taught the students I’ve visited about the connections they have to the oceans, even if they’re living more than a thousand miles from the nearest salt water. I’ve shown them how 95 percent the ocean has yet to be explored, and how it will soon be their turn at the helm, our next Lewises and Clarks. I’ve showed them how their landlocked farming communities might just be farming marine fish some day soon in high-tech, land-based recirculating aquaculture systems, a more sustainable alternative to depleting wild fish stocks. And I’ve given them a peek at the next-generation of technology that will take them to the bottom of the sea in Ironman-like pressure suits and deep-flying subs that resemble jet aircraft.
I’ve begun filling 50 bottles with messages from students representing each of the 50 states, expressing their thoughts, hopes, and dreams about our oceans in notes that I have promised to deliver to the Obama Administration at the completion of the expedition.
And I’ve started an online social network to connect all of the schools I visit to allow them to share their experiences and perspectives with one another, create their own ocean blogs, and interact with ocean experts.
Later this week, a return to Florida to a community where I once lived, Naples, Florida, in the Western Everglades. Then off to Wisconsin, Kentucky, and later, points north…way north: Barrow, Alaska, on the northern slope, the northernmost community in the U.S., where the temperature as I write this is -37 F.
This expedition is giving me a unique chance to learn from the people living and working in communities around the country, about their lives and their ideas about the ocean, and I’m sharing these learning experiences through my OceanDoctor.org blog posts and photographs.
Please accept my invitation to join the expedition as one of its supporters. My fatigued credit cards and frequent flier accounts have carried me nearly as far as I can go on my own. Please help me continue this unique and important journey of discovery and education, without interruption. Your donation to the Ocean Foundation’s “50 Years – 50 States – 50 Speeches Expedition” fund is fully tax-deductable and will ensure that I can continue to bring the awe and wonder of the ocean to students across the country, and bring their stories to you. Please help me continue to find the ocean in all of US.
David E. Guggenheim, Ph.D.
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