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Preparing to Paddle

It's warm and steamy here in Medford Lakes, NJ. My kids, Billy and Julia, are happily soaking each other with their water squirters in the lake while I sit here and type. We're lucky to live on a lake that's swimmable and clean. In so many areas of the world, kids have no access to clean water. Fortunately, leaders in the past have made conservation a priority, as that is the key to a secure future. We need to manage our resources so we can count on them being there for our future generations. As Teddy Roosevelt said over one hundred years ago in his address at the Deep Waterway Convention in Memphis, Tennessee, "The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem.  Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others." He understood the intrinsic connection of conserving our natural resources to our future well-being as a country. It's as simple as "money in the bank."

 While my family and I love our life here on the lake, for much of the year we look forward to our week at the Jersey Shore.  Growing up I was fortunate that my dad's parents lived at the Shore. As a Methodist minister, my grandfather did the ministry circuit from Long Branch to Cape May Courthouse. Back in the late 30's and early 40's he lived in a parsonage in Somers Point, where four of his six children, including my father, were born. Every visit to my grandparents was an excuse to dig for sand crabs and other treasures, or at the very least, an excuse to go down to the boardwalk and look at the sea. We loved, and still do, the smell of the salt air, the roar and crash of the waves. Never mind listening to the waves, we wanted to jump in them, be tumbled by them, and taste their saltiness, much like my children do now. The last thing we ever thought about then was getting hepatitis from the water. Not  like now. Now in many parts of the country, the shellfish industry is closed down as well as beaches after rain, as nutrient-rich run-off sends bacteria and algae levels rocketing.

 Now we are bombarded with information concerning the problems of the ocean and how this national treasure and resource is in crisis. We have the Pew Report on the Oceans and the US Commission on Ocean Policy, two reports developed independently from both ends of the political spectrum, saying pretty much the same thing. Our oceans are in danger of collapse, and they need some sort of national policy to avert disaster. And they need it now.

 Last year I paddled from Miami to Camden, Maine, in order to reach out to as many people as possible to draw attention to the sorry state of our ocean resources. It was my hope that if I, not a professional athlete or even a very good paddler by any stretch of the imagination, not to mention a mother of two young children, could make the effort to paddle up the coast, then others might feel moved to do what they could do to make things better for our watery world. It's relatively easy, actually, compared to paddling in 29mph gusts and ugly chop. Like Jack Johnson sings, "reduce, reuse, recycle" is a very good start. Sound ocean management policy on a national level is another. After all, the ocean knows no boundaries.

 During that epic paddle, when I got to New Jersey I took a day off and visited Washington, DC. Actually, I went to Capitol Hill and listened to a group of concerned Congressmen, members of the Ocean Caucus, discuss their plan to remedy the current failings in ocean resource conservation and management. Management is pretty crucial. After all, you manage your money, right? If you spend it all, you go broke. This is basically what we are doing to our ocean, and this is exactly what these leaders in ocean conservation hope to prevent with the HR-21 bill (Oceans 21) in Congress, which is expected to be voted on in committee this before Congress convenes for the summer.  We've got the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and now we need an Ocean Conservation Act.

 The ocean is a wealth of resources on so many levels. Many corals and sponges produce chemicals useful in medications, although unfortunately, many of these are dying before they can be fully explored as potential cures for many of our ills, like cancer and HIV-AIDS. The coastal areas provide food and recreation, tourism is a huge industry, especially here in New Jersey. And then there's the fishing. I've got fond memories of my grandmother cooking up the fish my uncle caught, fish he never liked to eat, but liked to catch. Last year I paddled by plenty of commercial and recreational fishermen complaining of poor, if any, catches. One fisherman I ran into behind Cape Hatteras seemed to have more terrapins in his nets than fish.

 Needless to say, after last year's mega-paddle up the coast, I was thinking that this year I'd focus on writing and helping David Helvarg, President of the Blue Fontier Campaign promote the Blue Vision Summit in 2009, a meeting of ocean and coastal resource lovers from all walks of life, from all over the country. But then I got the call asking if I'd be interested in paddling to Washington, DC to rally support for Oceans 21 as well as collecting "Save our Seas" messages to take to Congress. How could I say,"No?"  If there is more I can do so that my children can enjoy the wonders of the ocean as well as secure our ocean resources for their future, well, isn't that as important as putting money in the bank for them on so many different levels?   After all, I hope never to see the day when swimming in the ocean is a health hazard rather than a healthy activity. Unfortunately, in too many of our coastal areas, because of run-off and overtaxed sewer plants, it is.  The ocean's delicate balance tips precariously toward a dark unknown.  Changes are inevitable, and they're not changes for the better. I've paddled through enough stinky algae-laden water, a result of excess nutrients, to smell it coming.

 The time is now, while we can still do something. If we wait, it will only get worse. Don't believe me? Cod is a classic example. The cod industry has evaporated. Go visit Gloucester, a once-booming fish town.  Oh, and try to get some locally caught clams there while you're at it.  Ipswich clams are great. If you can get them. Last year as I paddled through Cape Ann's waters I could not, because of the Red Tide. I met an old fisherman during one of my "training paddles" on the Mullica River last year. Back inthe 60's he worked at the fish-factory that is now vacant and delapitated on the Great Bay. He told me that he was on  the beach of Atlantic City recently, and someone caught a cod and had no idea what kind of fish it was.

 Every parent knows if their child's messy room is allowed to get worse, there's a whole lot of wailing that goes on at "clean up" time. Let's not let the growing mess we're making of our ocean get to that point. Let's take care of it while we still can, so we hear no wailing from the mouths of our beautiful children when they realize the treasures of the sea are unavailable to them. I'm only to happy to take on this latest project with NRDC while also promoting David Helvarg's Blue Frontier and the Blue Summit of 2009. Joe Payne, of the Casco Baykeepers, said it best. He quoted a famous quote, "with everyprivilege comes responsibility, and we are all responsible."

  So maybe I'll see you on the water, hopefully you'll have an "SOS  Message" for my bottle, and maybe we can chat next year at the BlueSummit in '09. We sure have to do something to put an end to the degredation of our ocean resources. Now.