Shared hope


I had the deeply stimulating experience of watching a premier screening of Mission Blue, a documentary about the life and achievements of legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, co-directed by Robert Nixon and Fisher Stevens. The screening on August 5 was Menemsha Beach after dark. Several sailboats lay at anchor, bobbing under softly reflected mast lights and glowing amber lit cabins. An ingenious portable screen set up facing  northeast was the focal point of a large crowd spread on blankets and chairs. The bell buoy chimed like a zen gong on occasion, as small boats entered the port.

I migrated to this Island through that jetty in Menemsha. During the serene evening my mind drifted back from time to time. I came in 1972 as a commercial fisherman. The 70’s were a time of women becoming emancipated. I’d left a computer room and walked onto the deck of an inshore dragger when my then husband had returned from Vietnam. We fished inshore in a small fleet of 50 some boats, following species. Spring always brought us to “the Bite” in pursuit of fluke.

Fish were plentiful and we were making so much money we turned down “extra” parts in Jaws when they offered them to us, because we couldn’t afford not to fish. I set the precedent for the first seaman ever paid maternity rights. I “got” Sylvia Earle as I watched, she was of my era. We moved to the Island to raise our children, it was the next best place to being on the ocean for me.

This Island is the best of both worlds. The fishermen and farmers have been infiltrated by many people who bring tremendous capabilities with them. On occasion I think that some of the wisdom of the old ways is easily overlooked. It’s easy to think that the progressive way would be correct, but look where it’s led us.

Without being a spoiler, this film is a definite must-see, and it will be showing on Netflix after August 15. After the showing, Sylvia Earle spoke and fielded questions. Her voice is easy to listen to, melodic, and she laughs deeply and often. She encouraged a 13-year-old girl who’d asked what she, the girl, could do, to look around and figure out what she could do. She told her to speak up. Sylvia Earle elaborated on her passion of setting up sanctuaries all over the globe and her desire to do something around the Island. She terms them “Hope Spots.”

She said that she knew that many people made their living from the sea on the Island, but that what was important was for them to realize that it’s not just about making a living, but about living. That unless we can create sanctuaries for fish to propagate that the sea will continue to die.

As I left the beach, saddled with my backpack beach chair. I was already dealing with some very mixed emotions. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about what might be proposed regarding a sanctuary, I don’t think they themselves know that yet. I agree that the sea has become a difficult place for many species to propagate, and, undisturbed breeding grounds would help, but it’s not just overfishing that has contributed to the demise of the ocean. The film has a shot of a map of the major rivers that feed the Mississippi River that are pouring nitrates and other toxic chemicals from the corn growing regions into the Gulf of Mexico.

If you are going to ask a small-time commercial fisherman who is struggling to make a living on Martha’s Vineyard to accept that an area might become closed for the good of life on planet Earth, fine, but let’s get the wealthy people to join in the movement as well. Don’t just go to them for political clout or money to help make a sanctuary happen.

It’s not okay to be fracking and piping, pumping and skimming and then back some kind of plan to fix the ocean and mention that the little guy can’t look at the loss of his living because he has to think about life for everyone, unless everyone is going to give up something. Yes, everyone. How much should we give up? What about if it was proportionate to what we have?  A Hope tax. Just imagine how much of the planet could be healed and how fast?

It was the face of the 13-year-old girl asking Dr. Earle what she could do that gave me the courage to speak the truth here.

Doing doesn’t mean you donate money to a good cause, buy a Mini Cooper, or somehow buy points to offset your carbon footprint, and then carry on with business, Doing means you fess up, wake up, shake up and realize that you could certainly live with a lot less and feel elegantly proud inside and die a good death for stopping actions that are killing our planet which you make lots of money from.

We are living in a time of unprecedented opportunity, still the home of the brave. Yes, the brave. The people who are going to lead change on this planet are just a few, they are already wealthy, but troubled. It won’t be a small-time fisherman this time. Maybe the Vineyard was the muse that made them dream. There are a few, and they are doubting, and when they rise up, breach from the school, and begin to take a lead, then anything is possible.

Betty Martin