When describing the wonders of the ocean, it can be hard to know where to start – the giant tube worms that live on deep-sea vents? Dolphin talents for tools, communication and culture? The 1,600-mile coral that is The Great Barrier Reef? The insane cloaking of the vampire squid?
Here’s one potent starting point: Of the 750,000 marine species out there, only a third – all the viperfish, blobfish and longhorn cowfish included – have been revealed by science.
The point: While we are filled with wonder and humility and inspiration by our oceans, we barely know a baby humpback from barnacle. Endless discovery and exploration awaits. Even Fabien Cousteau, born to the foremost underwater family in the world, is just getting around to living down there (for a month straight), as part of Mission 31, which started last week off Florida.
We do know oceans supply a massive amount of our oxygen. They eat up the shark’s share of our carbon. By way of plastics, pollution and overfishing, we’ve already done irreversible harm to its chemistry and its residents.
That means we’re killing something we love, before we even know how deeply we love it. It’s a little like smothering a baby in the cradle before it can get any cuter. Only this baby goes and the life we’re used to goes with it.
I’m hoping more attention to and from its native species – including supermodel Marisa Miller, superstar Jack Johnson and supercephalopod Vampyroteuthis infernalis – will help amplify ocean awareness. And that awareness will lead to more mindful seafood and policy habits.
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Speaking of oceanic wonders, Miller’s husband Griffin Guess just inked a deal to manage the Mavericks big wave surf contest 90 miles north of here – to “see them get the recognition, bring money home to families,” she says – but her relationship with the sea stretches much further back. Her first visit to the beach came when she was a day old. Her nickname growing up in Santa Cruz: sea star.
That ocean affinity came in handy professionally as she traveled distant and tropics for high profile Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secret shoots.
“One of great things about the ocean,” she says, “is I always felt like home no matter where I was – I could be so homesick, but there was something so grounding about the ocean. I think every surfer, every waterman, would tell you that it’s kind of unexplainable, but you get in, and you come out a different person. That’s why I go out when the waves are bad. Just to get wet and be out there.”
When it comes to defending her birthright, she prefers practical over preachy: Skip the plastics, bring the reusable bag, ask servers about sourcing so they know sustainable seafood is a priority.
“It is important to ask questions,” she says. “And then make choices. Every time you purchase something, you’re voting. People need to adapt – and to know small decisions have big effects.”
Last weekend she earned one of the first ever Paul Walker Ocean Leadership awards, named after the late Fast and Furious star for his own enthusiastic advocacy. As with Walker, the Aquarium played a fundamental part in evolving Miller’s consciousness.
“It was the field trip I looked forward to most,” she says, unknowingly hinting at the power of the vampire squid.
It’s hard not to love a guy like Johnson – even before you find out he married a Monterey High Toreador. (Smart man. Kim was class of ’93.) He’s pals with G Love. He started Brushfire Records, home to artists like Love and A.L.O., and all about greener ways to release records and produce tours. He loves the surf he learned in his Oahu youth and chases along Big Sur, stopping by Nepenthe to use the facilities along the way. The folk singer behind To the Sea is a big-hearted humanitarian; he dropped $50,000 on Hurricane Sandy alone. He’s tight with two-time James Beard Award nominee Ed Kenney of Town restaurant in Honolulu. But he’s not cool with the parade of pollution he finds near his favorite breaks.
“Plastic is building up,” he says, “and so much of it is avoidable.”
He pledges to do five beach cleanups for each his fans do. (“Maybe we’ll do one together,” he says.) He and his wife’s Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation supports environmental initiatives, art and music education around the blue planet, and back the Aquarium’s Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit.
“The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a special place for our family,” he says. “I appreciate the energy they put into educating the public on sustainable seafood, marine debris, and the overall health of our oceans.”
He’s the star of the show Saturday, June 14, with Kenney chefing and proceeds going to the Children’s Education Fund so more might grow up deeply connected to the ocean and its creatures like Johnson and Miller have. The evening, which also includes a talk from MBA chief Julie Packard and one between Johnson and scientist-author Wallace J. Nichols, requires a $300 donation. Field trips – and how to eat good seafood consciously – are free through the Seafood Watch guide on any smart phone.
The Tentacles exhibit is already arresting. The nautilus mezmerizes with gliding geometry. The day octopus kicks in kaleidescopic camoflauge. The giant octopus is a giant genius. But enter the vampire, and suddenly the exhibit has a new ability to suction cup the mind.
The vampire appeared on display (briefly) for the first time ever last month. “You could hear reactions just walking by,” Aquarium spokesperson Mika Yoshida says. “Someone said, ‘It looks like a swimming pickle!’ Kids and adults were all crowded around the tank.”
As the Aquarium celebrates 30 years, it’s their ability to cultivate these moments – and connect them with kids – that are the institution’s single most powerful weapon. The exceedingly popular model with a heart and the folk hero with a cause are cute as cuttlefish and inspiring as mighty bluefin. But this situation is a societal one. We need the squid to hypnotize and catalyze children – like the otters once did Marisa Miller.
The problem is deep-sea cephalopods are harder to score than two superstars in consecutive weekends. Fortunately the Aquarium crew has partners in Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute even Cousteau would envy.
“MBARI has some of the best deep-sea biologists in the world,” says Bret Grasse, an aquarist working on the exhibit. “They’re great at collecting deep-sea animals. We’re good at keeping these animals alive and figuring out how to share them with the public.”
The first challenge: finding the creatures to place on exhibit.
“Few, if any, aquariums in the world have the kind of access to remotely operated vehicles [ROVs] we get with MBARI,” Grasse says. “Even with these amazing robots, we have to find the animals.”
The next challenge: keeping the deep-sea animals alive once they reached the surface. As MBARI spokesperson Kim Fulton Bennett reports, “the deep sea is almost pitch black, with crushing pressure, near-freezing water, little oxygen, and sparse food. These conditions seem daunting to us, but they are ideal for deep-sea animals that have had millions of years to adapt to these harsh conditions.” Hopefully the vampire squid returns this summer – blowing minds with its unreal ability to cloak its body with its own arms and webbing.
“For such animals, it is our bright, busy world that is a dangerous, alien environment,” Fulton Bennett adds.
Especially as ours seeps into theirs.
~ QUICKBITES ~
• Soban Korean opens in the Barnyard Sunday, June 15. Check www.mcweekly.com/edible for a menu preview.
• Mediterraneo Imports & Coeur d’Olives (393-1075) just opened on Echo Avenue by Bottoms Up in Seaside, selling and serving carefully curated extra virgin oils, balsamics and exotic rubs.
• Win passes to the Saturday’s 34-brewery Monterey Beer Festival ($45-$70) on the blog, www.mcweekly.com/edible.
• Carmel Belle (624-1600) starts dinner service this Sunday, June 15. More details simmering on the blog.
• Cool thing happening at Wharf Marketplace (649-1116) by Wharf Two: Military Mondays, when a $20 box of produce is $10 for active duty, 4pm, first come first served (it sells out).
• Let the World Cup commence (and include some justice for Brazilians). The Brit (656-9543) on Alvarado in downtown Monterey is my #1 seed for fútbol.
• Ag Against Hunger’s Ag Woman of the Year for Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties is Mikel Ann Miller.
• The next Valley Hills Deli & BBQ ($15, 293-8608) wine tasting and four-course food pairing event Wednesday, June 25, benefits bellies and Labrador Retriever Rescue.
• Andromeda IPA out of P.G. is now in Northern California BevMos.
• Lobster is two-for-one at Abalonetti on the wharf (373-1851) for Dad’s Day.
• The MPUSD School Board has approved a “nutrition services culinary specialist” position (read: “chef”). Which is good. Now they need good candidates. 392-3947 for more.
• Community Palette is curating the West End fashion IMAGINE. RECREATE. FASHION. show. To join the runway, apply by June 15. More on the blog.
• Free popcorn Mondays at Lighthouse Cinemas (643-1333) in Pacific Grove.
• Monterey Beer Garden Sept. 27 from Peter B’s now has discount early bird tickets on sale ($40).
• Like one fatherly – and anonymous – quote goes: “My dad didn’t tell me how to live. He lives and lets me watch him do it.” Happy Fathers Day, Big Daddy.