The ocean: not pristine but still wild and full of life

I was on the Outer Banks of North Carolina this week and was again reminded of how many wild places there are still left in the world, even close to home. It was very windy all week (often blowing 30-40 mph) and I had some epic ocean-kiting sessions with my new crazy friend Bill. Even in it’s somewhat diminished state, the ocean is still an awe inspiring place. The wind is as strong as ever, the waves are huge and powerful (and apparently growing), and the water can still be dark, foamy and a little scary. Wild.

Bill and I launched for a session on a remote stretch of the National Seashore north of Avon on a wide, sandy, windswept beach. There was no sign of humanity. No garbage, just sand, wind, driftwood, foaming waves, and sea birds. Untamed.

Iv’e come to think that part of my job as a conservation biologist is to document the decay of the natural world. Like a war correspondent. Even if this doesn’t eliminate the problem, I think it is crucial that we bear witness to how the natural world is changing. In a historical sense.

Yet there is still at least as much good news to report as bad and it is just as important that we share those lessons too. There is so much in the ocean still worth preserving.

This winter Iv’e seen immense flocks of many thousands of cormorants on the Outer Banks. They are nearly always on the horizon fishing with Northern Gannets. One evening during Christmas break, a flock flew over us on their way to a roosting site and it took a good ten minutes for them to pass there were so many. Iv’e been seeing dolphins in the ocean every time I surf. During a late December session, they were surfing with us and shooting out of the waves as they broke. On thanksgiving day, a humpback whale swam by me as I surfed next to the Avon pier. And on Tuesday, a Park Service truck pulled into a gas station we were at with a pilot whale in the bed! OK, it was dead, but still, to know they are in that part of the Atlantic is pretty cool. There have also been recent observations of Pygmy Orcas and Right Whales locally. Bill saw sea turtles several times while windsurfing this week and my kids found some massive horseshoe crabs wandering around near the shoreline in the sound.

Remember, this isn’t some remote exotic location. Or a Marine Protected Area. There is lots of fishing and tourism and people. And yet, this part of the ocean world, though far from pristine, is still wild and full of life.


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