In these times of intense preoccupation with climate change, depleted natural resources and man-made pollution, it is sometimes difficult to see beyond our degradations and catch a glimpse of the sea itself. To paraphrase the old saying, we cannot see the water for the plastic, the oil slick and the dead, dull-white coral. Pollution is not only in the air and water, it is in our eyes; at times, it is all we can see. That is the price we pay for our environmental consciousness; a penance of sorts. In a crisis that is entirely of our own making, there is a risk that we will become blind to everything but its symptoms.

I remember growing up in Singapore and Hong Kong in the seventies and being fascinated by the multicoloured floatsam that littered the harbours, so different from the pristine Brittany coasts of my earlier youth. At every opportunity, I would rumage through the rubbish in search of  new bits and pieces to play with. So many toys! I thought to myself. The sea is indeed bountiful… I didn’t see the plastic as pollution, I saw it as another sign of the sea’s boundless generosity. Our children don’t look at plastic the same way; they know better. One has to go to the third world to see children playing with plastic litter, unhindered by their parents, guilt-free. HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE.

The sea is a world, neither first nor third world, neither sanctuary nor resource, neither sacred place nor rubbish tip, neither primeval force nor environmental project, neither friend nor foe but all those things in one and far more besides.

Featured image: Gustave Le Gray, Seascape with a Ship Leaving Port, Sete, 1857

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