It seems Halloween and Thanksgiving have barely passed and already the smell of evergreen trees and roasting maroni are starting to tickle our frosty noses as we wander down the streets, already aglow with twinkling lights and jolly bearded men clad in red jumpsuits.

For many, this marks the beginning of their favorite time of year. A time to spend with family, and loved ones. A time of indulgence and festive cheer. People start lining the streets armed with fluffy jackets, and thick gloves, their hands laden with bags of every color and type. It’s a time to treat yourself, it’s a time we choose to share our good fortune with others. We painstakingly select presents for those we hold dear, while spending hours slaving away over Christmas cards written to distant relations and vaguely remembered acquaintances. Some, might even be so inclined to offer some money to the beggar by their local supermarket. Some might even volunteer at a soup kitchen. But most of us content ourselves with just enjoying the good cheer the season brings. We hole ourselves up into our toasty homes, curl up by the fireplace, and pretend, or rather forget, that not everyone, is as fortunate as us.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a lover of Christmas if there ever was one. I’m one of those people who would like nothing more than to start putting up the decorations as soon as the calendar month turns to November. There’s just something about Christmas that brings so much promise and joy, and even the ground and the trees become veiled in a blanket of pristine innocence. But I think what so many of us forget in the mayhem that is roast turkey dinner, carols, and baking cookies, is that there is more to this season than extravagance.

And so, in an effort to recapture some of the magic that has been lost OceanCare and I have come up with a series of four posts, one for each advent, which we hope might allow us to ponder what it is that we truly think Christmas should be about (needless to say with an ocean focus).

The Candle of Hope

Hope is a funny thing. Another one of those four letter words that seem so simple and innocent, and yet can utterly define someone. This word is often used rather flippantly in everyday conservation, “I hope they have falafels today” or “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” But this little word can mean so much more than that. It is a promise that things will get better. A promise that if we are willing to put in the time and effort, something will change. Our hard work will be rewarded. There is still time left to make a difference.

When it comes to our oceans, it seems every other headline is some sort of doomsday prediction. Which, unfortunately, are not some far-fetched science fiction plot, however, we must remember that there is still hope. I think many of us read the headlines forecasting the collapse of commercial fish stocks by 2050, and the death of over half of the Great Barrier Reef in just two years, and we tell ourselves it’s too late. There’s nothing left we can do. We think to ourselves, “Well that’s a shame, wish I could have done something,” and then we forget about that article. We push it to the back of our mind, and tell ourselves that if there’s anything to do it’s now out of our hands. We’ll leave it to the scientists to solve, and the politicians to decide upon. Or we’ll shake our head, maybe shed a tear or two when the predictions finally do come to pass.

But as Rahel Beck from OceanCare so aptly put, “You should never underestimate your power to invoke change. Big changes start with small things.”

How do you think all the great revolutions of history started? Do you think they started with a thousand people all at once? Do you think they all just came together one day, united under a common goal and marched into battle? No. All these great paradigm shifts at one point, came from one person. One person with an idea, who decided their ideas were worthy enough to be shared with others. One person who decided they would try to do something even if it seemed impossible, even if their goals seemed out of reach. What if Rosa Parks had decided to just cave in and give up her bus seat? What if Albert Einstein had just decided to give up when he couldn’t find a job as teaching assistant? What if Charles Darwin decided he didn’t want to go against the status quo? What would our world look like today if no one decided to act? What if everyone thought they couldn’t possible make a difference? Is that the type of world you want to live in?

It is a dangerous thing to believe yourself too small to make a difference. Because, truly, even the smallest of actions, or the shortest of phrases is better than doing nothing at all. When talking to Beck about plastic pollution she said everyone can do their part, it can be as simple as, “Reducing one-way plastics. Using steel bottles or reusable coffee-mugs. Or even better, use your voice and speak up against polluters.”

With Christmas inching around the corner, there is a simple thing that every single person can consider. Wrapping paper. It seems like such an innocent thing, like so much else that we take for granted. How could a coffee cup possibly do any damage? Would taking one car off the road really have such an impact? But what happens when everyone has those same little thoughts running through their heads? What happens when, thousands, millions, billions of people decide that their actions, whether good or bad can’t have an influence on our planet? Well, I think it’s become pretty clear when enough people think the same thing, it can have catastrophic effects on our planet. Beck said there is currently no way to remove all plastics from the ocean, and to make matters worse, every year metric tons more are being added, all of which takes centuries to break down. We have, as a collective population, justified our use of these one-use plastics because we believed that our singular contribution would be negligible, but clearly united under this one flawed idea we’ve managed to wreak irreparable havoc on the seas. So why can’t we do the opposite? Why don’t we use this as evidence that we can make a difference? If everyone decides this Christmas that they will consider alternatives to wrapping paper, that they will make an effort to use reusable, or at least recyclable materials we can make a difference. Beck suggests using old wrapping paper, making it from scratch, or even using old cloth or material as a substitute. There is no question if we will make a difference, if even one person decides to use newspaper instead of plastic foil, it will make a difference. It might not be a very big one, but to the whale that now doesn’t have a piece of plastic floating in its gut, it will. And if two people do it, even more will change, if a dozen embrace the call perhaps we can save a turtle, if a hundred or a thousand, perhaps we will see tangible change.

This year instead of giving to those who have more than they could ever need, perhaps consider giving back to the oceans. Consider giving back to the oceans which have done nothing but give. But if we don’t start giving something back in return someday, probably sooner than we’d like to think, it won’t have anything left. Like the Giving Tree, one of these days she’ll have to say, “I am sorry Boy […] but I have nothing left you give you.”

Sophie Zweifel

Sophie Zweifel

Sophie is currently a student at the University of Edinburgh studying environmental chemistry. She plans to specialise in marine chemistry, with a tentative focus in how ocean acidification affects marine megafauna during her graduate work. Sophie has been supporting OceanCare for many years – thanks a lot!