my friend the boundless sea: intro/part 1

This summer I’ve been learning a lot about the ocean. It’s the first time I’ve lived so close to a coastline; I can literally walk to a beach in ten minutes! And for some reason I’ve been obsessed with learning about maritime history, marine biology, ocean ecology and related policy-making, and just about any and everything to do with saltwater and the things in it. I’m reading many books for the occasion, but the big kahuna is The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia. I put it on hold and the library, and when I went to pick it up I discovered it’s over 1000 pages! It’s fascinating stuff; it’s all about maritime exploration and trade through history across the world. A few parts are very… well, let’s just say you can tell it was written by a British guy, and it has the typical problems history books often have in describing certain civilizations as more “advanced” than others for using written records instead of oral records, that sort of thing. But there’s so many societies I never even knew about, so many fun facts from folklore to floating fleets, and it’s quite witty for being a dense history book. I’m determined to finish the whole thing, partly to learn but admittedly partly to say I did it! (Plus it’ll give me good material to brag about on this blog).

Part of my summer-marine (hah, sounds like submarine) adventure has been making a junk journal, titled “my friend the boundless sea” (can you guess what inspired the title?). It spawned from my wanting to make some nautical-themed collages, but I realized the items I had would be better kept at least slightly more in tact. I’m basically treating it sort of like a one-of-a-kind zine, and I’m writing some pieces on various marine topics in my usual musing nonfiction style. Once it’s done I’ll film a flipthrough of the journal to show off the images pages and folds and pockets and envelopes and all! In the meantime, I wanted to share the writing bits here. I get the feeling this journal is going to be given away to somebody once it’s done, so I’d like to preserve the pieces for later. Hope you enjoy following along!


National Marine Sanctuaries

National Marine Sanctuaries Anniversaries

  • Monitor — January 30, 1975
  • Channel Islands — May 5, 1980
  • Gray’s Reef — January 16, 1981
  • Greater Farallones — January 16, 1981
  • American Samoa — April 29, 1986
  • Cordell Bank — May 24, 1989
  • Florida Keys — October 24, 1989
  • Monterey Bay — September 18, 1992
  • Hawai’ian Islands Humpback Whale — November 4, 1992
  • Stellwagen Bank — November 4, 1992
  • Olympic Coast — July 22, 1994
  • Thunder Bay — October 7, 2000
  • Mallows Bay-Potomac River — September 3, 2019
  • Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast — August 16, 2021

Proposed Sanctuaries

  • Chumash Heritage — Anticipated 2024
  • Lake Ontario — Notice of intent declared April 17, 2019
  • Hudson Canyon — Notice of intent declared June 8, 2022
  • Pacific Remote Islands — Notice of intent declared April 17, 2023
  • Lake Erie — Notice of intent declared May 19, 2023

Do you know how difficult it was to find the official days the National Marine Sanctuaries were designated? It’s a little ridiculous! Some of the sanctuaries have official dates on their subpages, but not all of them, and every page is arranged differently. Wikipedia, as I seem to have been encountering more and more lately, is just factually incorrect about things even as simple as verifiable dates. And when I found an official NOAA Marine Sanctuary timeline, some of the dates didn’t even match their own information! I ended up digging through the Federal Register archives, which reports the date declared on the date declared, and don’t get me starting on looking for reports from before 1994.

I did it because I feel like it’s a sign of respect to these sanctuaries. We have so many days in which we honor “great” people and events; it was literally only two years ago that Columbus Day was federally recognized/renamed as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And here I didn’t even know we had National Marine Sanctuaries until this summer when my post office had commemorative stamps. It’s like the least I could do to find out and acknowledge the days these incredible places were federally protected.

Well, I say that, but you also have to wonder what would happen if an oil company drilled just outside the boundary of the sanctuary. With any luck, next year we will see the Chumash Heritage area officially designated as a sanctuary, which would make an uninterrupted sanctuary from Cordell Bank north of San Francisco to Santa Barbara, the site of the 1969 oil spill that released three million gallons of crude into the channel and killed countless animals. That was the event that, being the first televised oil spill, finally mobilized people and got the government to sign bills to try and keep oceans cleaner. At least “our” (as in US-governed) oceans. now I’d like to see how we plan on tackling Trash Island.

Anyway, I am glad that environmental concerns seem to be getting more attention again lately. There was such a long drought (pardon the pun) from Thunder Bay’s designation to Mallows Bay. I wonder if the Chesapeake Bay will ever get designated; I’m sure it must be on their suggestion list somewhere. Maybe then the government will finally get Omega Protein regulated.

This stuff is hard to learn about sometimes. It’s hard to stay optimistic and motivated in the face of the harsh reality of environmental health. And it’s hard when you know it wasn’t your fault, that so much happened before you were born, that so much is baked into capitalism and society and protestantism and racism and Western culture in general. But it’s still important. Obviously so we can start to halt the damage being done, but also for the sake of seeing ourselves clearly. I think there’s some element of self discovery that is happening as I’m spending the summer learning about marine life and marine health.

“We humans, like other land vertebrates, have bones and organs and cells organically evolved in the sea, and we can live out of the water only because we still carry the ocean–our blood–within us.” —The Most Important Fish in the Sea

“My hope, my grand poetic intervention here is to move from identification, also known as that process through which we say what is what… to identification, that process through which we expand our empathy and the boundaries of who we are becomes more fluid, because we identify with the experience of someone different, maybe someone of a whole different so-called species.” —Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals

Image of M.C. Escher’s Genesis 1: 20-23 from his Days of Creation series (1926).