I recently watched the documentary Mission Blue on Netflix, part biography of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, part call to action to save the oceans. Marine conservation seems to be a hot topic as of late, with ocean salinity and coral bleaching an oft referenced issue. It’s easy to see what we are losing through dramatic shots of dead coral and barren ocean compared with shots teeming with life. You can see the sorrow on the face of Sylvia Earle describing the dramatic decline she’s witnessed in her lifetime.
Overall, I enjoyed the film, it progressed as a history of Sylvia Earle’s life juxtaposed with the life and decline of the oceans. It told a nice story, had lots of beautiful underwater shots and gave you the sort of call to action that made you want to get up and do something. Only they never really gave you anything to do. They spoke of Sylvia Earle’s idea of hope spots, sort of an extended national park system for the oceans. There are some Marine parks that already exist amounting to about 1% of the Ocean, Dr. Earle has the lofty goal of 20% by 2020. However, right when you’re getting ready to jump up and offer your help, the next scene is one of death and devastation. They return to one one of Dr. Earle’s favourite dive spots she’d been to long ago and found only mounds of dead coral. But the kicker is that this spot is actually in the Coral Sea, in the Great Barrier Reef, one of the largest protected areas in the world. So she gets you all excited about her plan for Hope Spots, but then shows you five minutes later that the ones we already have aren’t working? Well as a viewer that takes you down a few notches.
The last few scenes of the film is a montage of experts telling you that we have to fix this issue right away, we are losing this battle. Then Dr. Earle saying she’s happy to be alive in this moment in order to combat this problem, wage this war. But again, no concrete advice, no telling us as viewers what we can do, how we can help. The closest she gets to concrete advice is a clip of an interview with Stephen Colbert where he’s asking her what he’s supposed to do. He mentions that his doctor is always talking to him about Omega 3’s and how he should eat more fish, he asks Dr. Earle if she eats fish and she replies no. “No?” He asks her, none at all? “None” she replies again, and then says that Omega 3’s are not actually produced by fish themselves but by the seaweed they eat. That’s it, that’s our advice clip. Don’t eat any fish, eat seaweed. Perhaps there’s some Omega 3 pill on the market that’s derived from seaweed? Maybe don’t eat chicken that’s fed ground up fish as feed as well. But now what? We’re not supposed to eat fish, we’re not supposed to eat meat because of factory farming and cows produce too much methane, and carbs are bad for us. So what are we supposed to eat, to do?
I enjoy watching nature documentaries and find myself slightly on the side of environmentalism. I take public transit, I walk to places close by, I get vegetables locally when I can, I wash clothes in cold water and hang them to dry when possible, but I’m not extreme. I’m not a vegan and I’m unlikely to ever be one. My apartment building doesn’t compost and I produce more garbage than is ideal. Sometimes I forget to turn lights off when I leave. My point is I want to help, I do, but you have to give me some specific instructions. Tell me don’t eat tuna, eat this fish. Only buy fish certified by the MSC, or only eat invasive species. Spell it out for me, make it clear, make it easy. Whenever I watch these types of films I always end with a doomsday feeling. That we’re bound to fail no matter what and ruin it for everyone. I appreciate people like Dr. Earle, the dedication they have to these causes and to life, but I always feel chastised by them. That if you’re not at the ultimate extreme level of dedication then you’re failing. Sure, the world would probably be better off (at least environmentally) if everyone had that same dedication. But that’s unlikely to happen. So just throw us a bone, give us that first little step we can do to make whatever small difference. Then give us another step, and so on. A lot of people want to help, you just have to show them how and not be too hard on them.