How did you feel the first time you saw, smelled, heard or felt the ocean?
In all likelihood, you felt a sense of calm, rejuvenation and peace. As it turns out, there’s a physiological and chemical basis to these feelings. Medical studies are measuring reduced cortisol — the stress hormone — and increases in serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine — the feel-good hormones — in people as they spend time in, on, around or under the ocean. Ocean access programs are resulting in clear benefits to veterans suffering from PTSD, young women experiencing reduced self-esteem and at-risk youth. More time around natural water bodies also helps reduce distraction and anxiety. For many families, the ocean also provides good, lifelong memories of quality time together. Changes in our brain chemistry as a direct result of the ocean’s influence can help us live with a healthier Blue Mind.
Just looking at the ocean’s surface helps garner these aqueous benefits. But that blue veneer alone isn’t enough. We need clean, healthy and biodiverse seas to get the full value of enjoyment, exploration, excitement, relaxation and calm. And we must go deeper.
If you’ve watched, played in or surfed on the waves, did you wonder what lay below? Many areas of the ocean floor are not a barren bottom, but thriving ecosystems emitting colorful hues of hot pink, purple, green and gold. The seafloor off California is teeming with colonies of slow-growing, delicate animals, like corals and sponges, that cover rocky reefs, underwater canyons and sea mounts. These landscapes provide shelter and areas for feeding and breeding for recreationally and commercially important fish. Sea stars and octopus also find shelter here. This deep, dark, nutrient-rich seafloor is inextricably linked to the rest of the ocean food web and species we’re more familiar with such as whales, dolphins and seabirds. It also offers some intriguing clues of little-seen ocean species.
So, what do corals and sponges have to do with the sense of calm the ocean imparts? One of the many reasons we enjoy the coastal environment is the scenery and the opportunity to experience wildlife. Shore visitors seek the chance to spy acrobatic humpback whales, see pods of dolphins riding the surf, scuba dive in underwater forests, bird watch and catch fish.
These opportunities provide a pathway to a blue state of mind not possible without protecting and preserving the ocean’s special places. The Pacific Fishery Management Council — a federal 14-member voting body —will decide this fall if it will designate and protect important deep-sea places as habitat conservation areas. At risk are diverse areas of the seafloor that are subject to being bulldozed by bottom trawl fishing gear if the Council does not protect them. A despoiled and empty ocean won’t make us happy, induce calm or boost creativity. Rather it makes us feel sad, mad and even guilty.
Dive into the ocean’s health benefits and protect the resources it provides us. It’s never too late to blue your mind.
Read more HERE
Ashley Blacow is the Pacific Policy and Communications Manager for Oceana, a non-profit dedicated solely to ocean conservation.
Wallace J. Nichols, PhD is a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences and author of the New York Times bestseller, Blue Mind.
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