I am not a scientist. But I am a reader.
My first dives into the ocean’s depths were through books and beautiful photographs. Growing up in landlocked Chicago, I felt so far away from the ocean. I immersed myself in written pieces about strange and fascinating creatures who lived beneath the icy waters of the Arctic or in the rich bright colors of the photographs I savored of the Great Barrier Reef.
But when I experienced a real dive into the Great Barrier Reef, I was shocked. It was nothing like I’d seen in those photographs. I felt like I was looking at a graveyard — a graveyard of dull, bleached corals.
The images I had memorized and expected to see were a far cry from the reality of vast ecological damage. I knew I could not and would not forget what I’d seen.
When I arose from that dive, I was not only a reader of ocean stories. Now I would write them too.
My “hour in the deep” left me feeling like no matter where I lived or what career I chose, I was still responsible for the ocean and all of the life it contains. I knew I could not just fly back to Chicago and forget about what I experienced on that dive. Though Chicago is bordered by Lake Michigan, one of the largest lakes in the world, the ocean is so far away from me. I knew I couldn’t easily join beach cleanups or other conservation projects. But I didn’t want being landlocked to prevent me from taking responsibility for the ocean. Nature cannot express itself the way humans do — with a voice. The natural world just endures as the actions of humanity lead to the bleaching of coral reefs, extinction of ocean species, or the pollution of water. So in order to tell stories on the ocean’s behalf, I decided to create a digital magazine — An Hour in the Deep.
I thought to myself, if doing a one-hour dive could really shift my perspective so profoundly, then I ought to use one hour to shift the perspectives of others as well. An Hour in the Deep is intentionally forward-looking and solutions-oriented. There can be a lot of fear mongering or shame based eco-activism that feels defeating for many people who are landlocked like myself or just unaware of the issues facing the ocean. I think good eco journalism about the environment and climate change ties together technical concepts like data and hard science with emotion and literary sensibility. It blends science and emotion into an art form. In order to really propel people forward, I designed the magazine to illuminate the science and art of ocean conservation. Fellow youth leaders share their ocean solution stories in one of five subsections: Ocean Solutions: Future, Ocean Science, Ocean Conservation, Ocean Storytelling, and Spotlight – which has “spotlight” interviews with youth and adult ocean advocates from various fields (e.g., science, journalism, technology, or exploration).
We take the approach of not looking at problems at face value. Our contributors share insights on various angles about the complexities of ocean conservation. I think instinctually people are drawn to the ocean because it is beautiful, but there is also carnage going on beneath the waves. I want readers of the magazine to understand that a “solution” has many different dimensions, and it’s important to consider all of them, so we can better understand the effects it’ll have on various underwater life forms. We want to guide readers to move past a surface level understanding, and walk away with more questions that will propel them into taking action.
You don’t have to be a marine biologist to take action. You don’t have to be an outspoken activist. There is room for everybody here and anyone can be a conservationist. You just need to use your conviction to hold yourself and others accountable and to lean into your natural talents. If you are really good at rallying the people around you, then start a beach cleanup. If you are really good at science, do some research and publish the data. If you’re really good at mobilizing people, take the activism route if it calls to you. Just play to your own strengths, but try to at least produce some output at the end of the day. There is no single definition of a conservationist.
So often in the world of ocean conservation, we hear stories of big names like Sylvia Earle and Jacques Cousteau, who are very well-established. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “I don’t know if I’m cut out like them. I don’t think I’m made of the same stuff as them. I guess it’s too late for me.” I remember feeling that way, but it is not too late for any of us. The advice I would offer other young people like myself who want to create change in the world is to light the fire under yourself. Seek opportunities to use your talents and your voice to create change and open other people’s eyes to the issues that matter to you. Finding a cause that is bigger than yourself will propel you forward. Be open to how the world—and the ocean—needs you.
Our generation cannot wait for others to make change and cannot be afraid to take shots in the dark. After all, there are fascinating sea creatures in the depths of the ocean who live their whole lives in the dark. If we don’t speak for them, who will?
Join Sruthi and marine ecologist, Salome Buglass and award-winning ocean photojournalist, Brian Skerry in the April 21 National Geographic Virtual Field Trip. Youth can see what it takes to capture a photograph of a whale pod and what whale culture can teach us. Then they’ll journey to the Galapagos islands to learn how remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) give us an unprecedented view of landforms called seamounts. And finally, we’ll learn what “eco-journalism” is from one of our youngest explorers, Sruthi Gurudev, and how she’s building a community of like-minded young people through digital media. These explorers will share their experiences and highlight the importance of storytelling to protect our planet.
The National Geographic Society’s growing #GenGeo community of young people is helping to shape the conversation, drive progress, and seek solutions to help protect our planet. Learning to be a better storyteller is one key way to make that happen.
Created in partnership with Adobe, Storytelling for Impact is a series of courses taught by world-class National Geographic photographers, videographers, and visual designers that teaches youth how to use compelling photography, video, audio, and graphics to tell stories in the most impactful ways to effect change. Register for free today and find your storytelling voice.
Feature photo by Jennifer Hayes, from a National Geographic Magazine story on reef preservation in the May, 2021, issue.