“I have not a clue whether we humans will live for another 100 or 10,000 years. We can’t be sure. What matters to me is the fact we have fallen out of a very ancient love affair – a kind of dream tangle, with the earth itself. If, through our own mess, that relationship is about to end, then we need to scatter as much beauty around us as we possibly can, to send a voice, to attempt some kind of repair. I think of it as a kind of courting – a very old idea. This isn’t about statistical hysteria, it’s about personal style. Any other response is just not cool”. Dr Martin Shaw.
While on a dry land, we are surrounded by other living species with whom we, in one way or the other, can communicate. Through the process of domestication and anthropomorphisation – we can relate to some of them and in a way start treating them as a part of our “tribe”. We communicate with dogs and cats, hamsters and rabbits, sometimes birds and foxes…we can sense that they have similar to us responses – fear, happiness, hunger, fun…And so in our heads we create stories about them and we feel emotionally connected to them.
We all, the land creatures, are very much aware that ocean life is vital for us. It is a vast world, pretty much unexplored but already altered. I fear that some of that unexplored world will be lost forever, even before we learn about it. I think that is my FOMO – there are habitats and communities of species busy doing amazing things, and I might not ever get a chance to meet them. It terrifies me that while knowing how much we depend on oceans, we keep polluting them with plastic and chemicals or altering its eco balance by overfishing.
And we do that because most of us (from so-called “first world”), while living our urban, hip and busy lives, have no idea that coral reefs, tuna, sharks, dolphins, sea snails or clownfish are there somewhere at this very moment and they are creatures with sensations and instincts just like us, living their own dramas. OK, we know that they exist, because we either eat them, watch documentaries about them or look at their photos. However because we are so far away from these animals, the very concept of their existence as a living, responsive, sentient and important to us and our lives being is somehow very abstract.
We do not “socialise” with them on everyday basis. We do not meet them on our way to work, while doing our shopping (unless in a form of food) or while we are at home. Only some of us are lucky enough to be able to see them while on the vacation. So is it really strange that we cannot develop any emotional attachment to these species, however vital they are for the well-being of this planet?
And so while I was on the beautiful island of Thoddoo in Maldives – rural, green, sunny and with a very few tourists – I kept wondering – how can we develop the emotional bond with these parts of the world and these species which are so far away from ¨home¨?
Maldivians themselves have plenty of old folk tales featuring sea creatures and coral reef monsters. These legends once upon a time acted as a sort of moral code dictating what one can and cannot do to other animals, plants or entities such as sea or soil. Probably now these stories are considered as local curiosities, but thanks to their significance in the past, Maldivians managed their resources very well and kept their environment beautifully balanced and therefore fruitful.
We have tales like that in any part of the world, written before the era of “globalisation”, about our local fauna and flora. But now, whatever we do, that also affects another side of the planet – that is, for example, Maldives or Tuvalu, which in return can impact on live of people in there and subsequently ours. Is there then a good time to create and tell new myths and stories? Ones which are about our relations not only with our immediate surroundings but also with things far away from us?
Can I fall in love with a polyp? Or befriend an Orange Triggerfish? How about if I write a letter this sea snail in the pink shell? Or have a skype conference with the family of hermit crabs?
Those are naive ideas – fairytales and fantasies, however thanks to such imaginative concepts we have developed the relationships with our environment in the past. These weird stories offered explanations about things which we couldn’t yet understand, when in place of scientific knowledge (as we know it now) we used our imagination to unfold mysteries governing our environment.
We seem (and act) now as we know too much to believe legends. The magic is gone, and if I tell you that my crustacean mate and I have some special connection, you will consider me infantile and/or mad. But then again people of Maldives have to have a very special relation with crustacean and other living forms from their oceans, after all their livelihoods in big measures depend content of ocean water as a source of nourishment and income. Ask anyone who works all his/her live on the sea – and you can be assured to hear about all sorts of magical experiences, feelings and adventures one has encountered, despite the fact that we are in the 21st century and we shall know better. And that is perhaps the essence – I cannot directly communicate with the reefs at the moment, but I can communicate with people who live and socialise with them on everyday basis. Stories told by these people are my connections to these other creatures which I fall in love with. Together with my memories and hopes that I would visit them soon again I can pass these stories further – injecting at least a little bit of my love for them in other people.
I want however to end this essay with another thought from Dr Mark Shaw about why those stories were important and why those one from the past are so very much relevant today.
“This is hardly a new practice; for many millennia humans understood that it was necessary, now and then, to seek a fresh exchange with the living cosmos, and to craft from that exchange something so beautiful it feeds the stars and coaxes the hunkered moon up through the tangle of branches to launch itself across the pool of night.¨
So next time I see you – please tell me a story of a creature or a land and its beauty – and I will tell you mine. We pass it on and let it travel, so that a sea snail from my story will be connected through this story to the rest of the world.