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  • Writer's pictureTrack Two

OCEANS 22: Day Four - You think the ocean’s over? Then you don’t know Vorontsova

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Woody Keppel admires the Esalen's Big Sur coastline at Oceans 22


The title of this post is a line from a silly song by Woody Keppel and other artsy types attending Track Two’s Oceans 22 conference at Esalen Institute. It refers to Masha Vorontsova, the multi-talented marine conservation specialist who got an amazing group of scientists, activists and policy leaders together. Masha’s bio describes her thus, and you are way ahead of me if you understand more than half of it:

“She received her Post Doc from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada on the fine structure and immunocytochemistry of the nervous system of the tunicate tadpole.”

We are starting with Vorontsova but it hardly ends there. I thought that, as the conference concludes with a brainstorming session on what we all can do to save the Southern Ocean that surrounds the Antarctic and all the oceans that are part of this most precious life force, I would review the people who have made this one of the most rewarding events I have ever attended.

In Tuesday’s post I ran a few videos of Claire Christian talking about krill – the tiny critters that eat plankton and are the basis of Planet Earth’s food chain. She heads ASOC, a consortium of powerful activist organizations which bring the people’s perspective to the bureaucrats who make decisions on behalf of the whole world. On the other end of the ocean spectrum are Pascal Lamy and Geneviève Pons, co-chairs of Antarctica 2020 who work at the highest level of intergovernmental action to save the ocean and the life it sustains (including yours and mine).

Awesome? Yeah, but in this room they are in good company. There’s John Weller, a writer and photographer, who is neither scientist nor a diplomat, but whose impact on decisions about the Antarctic can hardly be overestimated. He taught himself how the Antarctic currents work and how to scuba dive in the world’s coldest oceans, and nearly was killed by a Weddell Seal for his trouble. Yet he, too, is kind of normal in this crowd which includes:

Minna Epps, a marine biologist and Director of The International Union for Conservation of Nature for Oceans; Evan Bloom of the Wilson Center, a former diplomat who led U.S. Antarctic policy and headed the U.S. delegations to the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings. Yes, we’ve got Russians (Vladimir Burkanov Chief Scientist of North Pacific Wildlife Consulting; and Ilya Lagutenko, lead singer of Mumiy Troll among other things). And we’ve got Chinese (Xiao Qiang, Editor-in-Chief of China Digital Times; and Chen Jiliang (Julian) Ph.D. student in international law). Ingo Gunther, a native of Germany, came with images of data like you’ve never seen it, while Americans Lachlan Campbell and Ella Xu represented Hack Club. Nonetheless, their nationalities are incidental to their shared commitment to saving the ocean. There are more but I will stop there, so as not to overwhelm you. Their photos are below, and their bios are here.

A few observations from me and others before we all go off to our normal lives:

Michael Murphy

While learning about the peril the ocean faces as it is mined and fished and heated, it is deeply comforting to know that there are people like these who are dedicating their lives to saving her. Each one must keep bureaucratic, scientific and conceptual balls in the air, work that takes “perseverance against great discouragement,” as Esalen’s founder, Michael Murphy, put it. Considering the range of talents they bring, he said, “It would be easier to be a theoretical physicist than to do the work you guys do.”

Paradoxes abound: We all know that the oceans connect us, but they also divide us, as evidenced by the storied history and current plight of “the high seas,” (today called ABNJ: Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction), where pirates old and new, individual and corporate, still hold sway.

And, as I wrote earlier in the week, the Antarctic treaty’s rules of consensus have saved it from further decimation. But this consensus, the need for every national party to agree to change the rules, has also prevented urgently needed action as the threat of climate change grows.

Finally, the experts here referred to THE OCEAN, rather than the many oceans as they have been named by civilization, because they understand it is all one ocean. Just as it is all one planet, and we are all one humanity.


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