A harrowing kayak accident off the coast of northern California nearly cost author Liz Cunningham her life. Left at home recovering from her injuries, Liz was faced with a newfound fear of the ocean she had once loved; yet at the same time, she became more curious about the role of the ocean in our lives.
Determined to explore this further, Liz set off on a journey to understand the personal bond she felt with the ocean and our larger cultural relationship to the seas and to water. What Liz didn’t know was that the odyssey in which she would embark would not only bring her to some of the most remote, far-off places in the world, but also within herself, helping her to heal, holistically, from the trauma her accident had caused.
Ocean Country is Adventure, Meditation and a Call To Action!
From the Turks and Caicos, to the Mediterranean, to northern California, and Sulawesi, Liz shares stories of people that she met along the way that are working hard for the oceans in her book, Ocean Country. Ocean Country is an adventure story, a call to action, and a poetic meditation on the state of the seas. But most importantly, it is the story of finding true hope in the midst of one of the greatest crises to face humankind.”
Hope is certainly a theme that resonates throughout her book and during her chat with 2016 Blue Ocean Summit host, Laurie Wilson. But before she found hope, Liz had to confront the feelings of despair that had engulfed her, particularly when it came to the damage humans have inflicted on the oceans.
In today’s world, the reality that the oceans are at a breaking point is ever-present. Whether it’s aquatic life trapped in marine debris and plastic, or starving polar bears stranded on melting Arctic ice, the future looks bleak. So how do you find hope when you’re surrounded by sadness and despair?
“We don’t always know what to do or what difference we can make,” Liz continued. “But it’s important to remember that small actions multiplied can add up to big change. We just don’t always get immediate feedback. The first step is beginning that search for a finding a role to play.”
Reflecting on her first-ever dive in 1990, Liz recalled the fear she had while descending into silt-filled water. As she kneeled on the ocean floor, her dive instructor reached over to a visibly-shaken Liz and squeezed her hand. While that gesture may have seemed small and unremarkable to her instructor, it was a pivotal event in Liz’s life. As she puts it, having her hand squeezed at that second in time, “changed the whole game [for her] with the ocean.”
Liz’s story is, in fact, an analogy for the greater efforts to reverse the ocean’s course taking place around the world. We don’t always know what is going on, or how small efforts can effect large-scale change, and that’s ok. What matters is that you share your knowledge or take action in your own way, Liz argues.
As her great uncle, Kurt Hahn, who happens to be the founder of Outward Bound, used to say, “People need to be rescued from the misery of the feeling that they’re unimportant.”
Just like the dive instructor who grabbed Liz’s hand likely didn’t know how that small gesture would change her life, it’s impossible to know how the small things you do each day are going to impact another person. It’s with this mindset that Liz encourages viewers and readers to reevaluate their definition of hope, to recognize that their voice matters, and to plant that seed of those insights with the people around them.
Liz quotes the words of eco-philosopher David Orr, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”
For many around the world, their sleeves are already rolled up. Whether it’s people all over the world coming together to save the bluefin tuna, or fishermen in Sulawesi saying “no more” to dynamite fishing, or companies incorporating sustainable practices into their business model, the reality is that conservation practices continue to move forward around the world.
“We need to allow for the possibilities that we can’t see how it’s going to add up,” Liz said. “I learned that one of the important things is that even if you can’t do that math, don’t quit.”
Liz credits the hope she found on her journey to the “most amazing people” she met along the way. In fact, that hope has inspired Liz to focus her next book on what she calls the passion for rescue.
What exactly is the passion for rescue?
“When the going gets impossible, it’s not about can we, it’s about we must do this,” Liz said. Liz believes that the world is at a turning point when it comes to how society treats the oceans. While many feel the situation is hopeless because environmental issues are often at loggerheads with the economy and social norms, Liz points out that major social movements such as the antislavery, civil rights and women’s movement have successfully taken on issues that were totally enmeshed with our economy. These movements are unfinished, but they have changed innumerable lives and changed our world. Liz, like many other authors, believes the movement to save our earth and to make our societies more just is the largest social movement in history.
“The largest social movement is afoot,” Liz said. “There is a role for you. We need you.”
Liz stressed that while she might not see the changes in her lifetime, she continues to plant the small seeds of awareness and is living her life every day as if her voice matters.
Laurie put it best after hearing about Liz’s kayak accident, “Liz is meant to be here to do this.”
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