Capitol Hill Ocean Week: An Intern’s Experience

As an intern in the Education Department, my work revolves almost exclusively around themes and concepts related to the ocean. Lately, I have been thinking about my personal connections to the ocean.

A Thought-Provoking Seminar on Capitol Hill
I recently attended two seminars at Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW)–June 5 through June 8–that allowed me to expand my thinking. Linwood Pendleton, Director of Ocean and Coastal Policy at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, led a seminar called “Oceans and Growth in America.” He explained that our relationship with the ocean is shaped by how we use it for extraction, such as harvesting of abalone in California during the late 1800s, and recreation, such as beach volleyball. The ocean has had, and continues to have, strong impacts on people along coasts, inspiring art and other forms of cultural expression.

Pendleton concluded by stating that growth without diversity will leave our coasts compromised, arguing that we need to move beyond the ocean’s economic uses, such as commercial fishing, in order to understand and appreciate its other values. It was this final point that has stuck with me since Linwood’s address.

Personal Reflection: A Childhood by the Sea
Linwood’s conclusion made me think about why I value the ocean and its resources and whether the reasons I value it fall under any of the categories about which he spoke–extraction, recreation, inspiration, etc.

As a child, I grew up in a suburb of Boston, but spent summers in
Duxbury, a coastal town on the South Shore of Massachusetts. This town
became my full-time home at the age of nine. My appreciation for the
ocean and beach unquestionably increased with my move to the rural,
landlocked college I attended in upstate New York. I missed the opportunity to swim in salt water and dig my feet into the sand. Now when I return
home, I make sure to spend some time by or on the water. When I am not
home, it is worthwhile to reflect upon why I appreciate the ocean.

Why I Value the Ocean:

that have shaped my own connection with the ocean include informal
sailing lessons with various family members as a young child, formal
sailing lessons starting at age eight, and work as a sailing instructor
for five years as a teenager at the Duxbury Bay Maritime School. Some of
the first sailing memories I have are from when I would take naps in
the bow of our Marshall 15′ Catboat. I could hear the water pound
against the hull of the boat as it moved up and down the waves. Growing
up as a sailor, I believe I gained a unique appreciation for the bay.
There is something distinctive about being under the power of the wind,
rather than an engine. So, as Linwood also highlighted, I value the
ocean for its recreational opportunities, but certain types of
recreation hold more personal importance for me.

My dad and niece enjoying a sail in Duxbury Bay in a Marshall 15′ Catboat.

I value the ocean for its aesthetics–it’s difficult not to! During the
summer, both locals and tourists visit the beach in my town. Visitors
must cross a half-mile long wooden bridge, built in 1892, to access the
beach. There is also public access to the north of the bridge. My family
has always avoided the drive-on part of the beach, opting to stay away
from the SUVs and instead walk onto the beach. On the opposite side of
the ocean is the bay, nearer to the bridge, where the water is much
warmer. There, we also share the sand with creatures such as hermit
crabs and horseshoe crabs.

The winter is perhaps my family’s favorite
time to spend at the beach, as there are few people and it is easier to
find sea glass. Sea glass is created through the weathering of glass in
the ocean, resulting in a beautiful frosted treasure. During the
coldest months of the year, my family likes to take long walks–our sea
glass collection is large and growing as a result. We are lucky to have
access to a spot with sea glass.

Winter family walk along Duxbury Beach.

or how I value the ocean for its economic or commercial values is more
difficult to think about. I am not a particularly big fan of seafood,
although I do eat shrimp or salmon occasionally. I try to be conscious
about the sources of all my food, including seafood.

Of course, there
are other economic resources provided by the ocean from which I
benefit, but do not often realize. The beach certainly represents a key
source of income into Duxbury, as non-resident beach permits are
expensive. Even with the high traffic at the beach, the town works to
conserve parts of the beach that are integral to the survival of
endangered species, such as piping plovers, by blocking off various
sections of the beach for human use. Individuals who visit Duxbury
because of the beach likely visit some of the historical features, such
as the Myles Standish Monument or the King Caesar House, both within a
few miles of the beach, which may contribute to Duxbury’s economy.

on all this, I believe I value the ocean for its beauty and the
recreational opportunities it supports more than for its commercial
values. I would be willing to give up the small amount of seafood that I
eat in order to aid in efforts to preserve the diversity that is
necessary for our ocean and coasts to remain resilient. However, there
are certainly business owners who rely on the ocean for their
livelihoods, which cannot be ignored. Still, cultures of ocean-faring
communities and the diversity of the ocean should not be compromised in
order to leverage the ocean’s economic opportunities. There will need to
be compromises among groups that value the ocean for different reasons and have various needs. Recognizing the reasons why people value the ocean
and why it has value in itself will be necessary in order to preserve
the ocean’s resources.

There are lots of ways to learn about why the
ocean is valuable and needs to be protected. If you’re interested in
learning more about protecting the ocean, read an article about Marine
Protected Areas
. If you’re a teacher or informal educator, check out
topics and activities provided by NG Education, such as ocean lessons, watershed maps, and resources related to Marine Protected Areas.

Students in my sailing class.

— Cassie Lawson for National Geographic Education

Editor’s note: Cassie is a summer 2012 Geography Intern with the National
Geographic Education Program, working with the oceans team. She
graduated from Colgate University in May 2012 with a BA in Environmental
Geography. She enjoys working
with children and is interested in pursuing a career in environmental

One thought on “Capitol Hill Ocean Week: An Intern’s Experience

  1. Very well written! Love to hear someone’s experiences with the ocean–we need more passionate people like you!

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