I recently read an article about the effects of global warming by Hilary Kotoun, the Social Impact Director at Sailors for the Sea in Newport, RI. That article and the beautiful accompanying image of a breaking wave (on page 26 of this issue) brought back memories of summertime in Nantucket and the fun my siblings and I had bodysurfing and Boogie Boarding at Nobadeer, Surfside and Siaconset beaches on the South and Southeast sides of the island. Due to severe corosion, those beaches have seen a reduction in size over the years – at an alarming rate in some areas. Conversely, sections of Madaket on the Southwestern side of the island are subject to accretion.

Those of us affected by Sandy and other big storms in recent years cannot help but think .that we are living in an ‘affected’ state of climate and environment. And no matter what side of the aisle you are on (there are those who believe this is a natural cycle and others who claim these occurrences are brought on by human activities) the fact is, the world over, humans are destructive to our ecosystems. By association, as sailors, our favorite places (on shore and off) are affected and we need to act now.

Look at any current international sailing event and you’ll notice that amongst the headlines about sailing routes or event venues, the subject of trash in the water is prevalent. Here are a few examples: The Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 recently sailed across the Bay of Bengal through the Malacca and Singapore Straits. Many of the daily reports were littered (a little levity?) with instances of flotsam and jetsam slowing, or in some cases damaging boats.

These boats are designed to handle most anything Mother Nature can throw at them, and yet the crews must remain vigilant to avoid hitting man-made objects as they sail through what they call “a sea of obstacles.” The upcoming Olympic Sailing Regatta is in peril because the waters off Rio de Janeiro are inhospitable. On high performance dinghies, sailboards and cats, where going into the water is a very real possibility, falling into waste is not something that should be on the mind of racers hoping to bring home the gold.

Likewise, accounts from world cruisers indicate shipping containers, telephone poles and just about anything else man-made that can float out there are multiplying, and there is even a large patch of trash swirling around the Pacific Ocean right now…literally an island! If you haven’t heard of it, search the web for the North Pacific Gyre garbage patch. It will sicken you.

Take a moment to stand up and look around. (I’m hoping that you’re reading this article outdoors.) More than likely, there’s some sort of discarded trash within five feet. Then think about the grass you’re standing on and the fertilizers seeping into the watershed, or the blacktop road where runoff of many of the chemicals from winter de-icing, motor oils and a million other contaminates continually enter our bays and sounds. Ours is one of the most educated societies when it comes to the environment, yet we remain indolent. We know that plastic water bottles are one of the worst objects to introduce into the environment, but they sure are convenient. Pop into the local corner store, grab a spring water and off you go, right?

Whether you think global warming is a threat or not, you cannot argue that humans are damaging the environment. What that impact is, be it positive or negative, begins with each and every one of us. Sailors are making a strong effort to effect change, to be the educators and to demand that we do better. For example, look at Sailors for the Sea’s Clean Regatta certification program, Connecticut’s Clean Marina program, and the many grassroots, boating-borne environmental organizations in our region.

So, from an individual standpoint, why not start with something simple. Bring a reusable water bottle when you come to see the Volvo Ocean Race in Newport next month. There will be filling stations on site. When you send your kids off to their Opti regatta this summer, be sure to equip them with all the right gear – including a water bottle. There will no doubt be filling coolers on the dock and in the coach boats. When you see a plastic water bottle on the ground, pick it up. As Hilary notes in her article, “ecosystems in the United States have long faced environmental struggles. It’s time we start preserving and restoring these vital habitats.” If each of us starts small, we can make a big impact and contribute to keeping places dear to us out of harm’s way.

See you on the water.

Chris Gill