A Message From the Future
2017, High School, Prose
I stare out onto the water from the pier. The view is unrecognizable from when I was last here, almost 20 years ago.
“Momma, where are we?” the little girl in my arms asks, bewildered.
“This is the beach, Maya,” I say gently.
“It’s ugly!” I almost laugh at how right she is, then grimace. Instead of cerulean waves gently rolling on golden sands like in my memories, only sludge-colored water and mountains of garbage dominate the landscape as far as the eye can see. Strong winds blow the odors of decomposing fish and rotting garbage, rather than its once-signature salty aroma. I crinkle my nose in disgust.
“Believe it or not, it was once very beautiful. People used to come here every day to swim and play.”
“What did it look like?”
I instruct her to close her eyes. “Imagine the ocean, the same color as Cinderella’s dress, crashing onto the sand.” I imitate the noise and Maya chuckles. “Some people swim in the water with little fishies while others lie on the beach under big umbrellas. Kids just like you build gigantic castles with the soft, white sand. It’s bright and sunny, and there’s not a cloud in the sky.” I smile at the distant memory.
“Did you say fishies?”
“Yes, the ocean was filled with them! And dolphins, and crabs, and all sorts of creatures!
“What happened?” Maya wonders.
The real question was what had not happened. The shore that lies before us is the product of almost everything environmental activists said could go wrong: acidification, pollution, dead zones, oil spills. And it is not just this beach, but all of them.
“We made the ocean sick, sweetheart.”
“We gave it a cold? Does it need tissues?”
“Not that kind of sick, silly goose!” I give a halfhearted giggle. The thought of exposing her innocent mind to such harsh and confusing truths unnerves me. I choose my words carefully, “First, the ocean became too acidic—or sour. We made the air dirty by burning too much fuel. The bad gas in the air then infected the water. There was less good air. Because of too much bad air and not enough good air, some plants and bacteria grew too much while many of the fish and other animals were poisoned. It’s called a dead zone.”
“It’s dead? Is that why the water isn’t blue anymore? It looks like mud.”
“Kind of,” I continue. “We were not careful about how we treated the land with chemicals, and they got into the water. We used too much and did not listen to warnings. When it rained or snowed, the chemicals and wastes from places like farms and factories would run into the water. Then it would reach the ocean and make it dirty and unsafe. Then people were careless when they were moving oil on boats. It spilled and created a big mess.”
“When I spill my juice, we clean it up with paper towels. Can’t we just do that?”
Once upon a time, scientists had a similar idea, but after years of trial and error and millions of dollars thrown at research yielding no progress, they reduced their efforts and eventually capitulated. Some problems, they had said, simply did not have solutions.
“We tried but couldn’t. The oil can’t be split from the water.”
“So no one swims anymore? No one goes to the beach?” Maya asks despondently.
“It isn’t safe to, and it is no longer pretty to look at. No one has a reason to come.” I glance around the pier. Indeed, we are the only people here, and likely the only ones in a long time. The thin sand layer that covers the wooden planks has only been disturbed by our footprints.
“Then why is everyone’s trash here?”
“Garbage on the beach has been a problem for a long time, too. It is another reason so many sea creatures died. People were lazy and didn’t care about what happened when they didn’t clean up. Animals would eat it or get tangled in the trash. Some people were worried and tried to clean the beaches, but there was always more junk. When they closed the beaches because the water was unsafe, people started to leave their trash here more. No one was using the beaches, so they thought it did not matter.”
Maya gazes up at me with eyes like shattered mirrors, the color of the overcast sky above us. Her cheeks are turning pink.
“Momma, we did this? The ocean is dead because of people?”
“Yes.” I reply solemnly.
“And it will never get better?”
I can only nod.
“I will never get to go swimming with a fish or lie on the beach?”
“No,” I whisper.
Maya buries her head in my neck and begins to cry. First, they are tiny sniffles, but then giant sobs rack her small body. She will only know the filth that lies before us. She and her friends will never have a relaxing trip to the beach or fun memories in the sun like I had growing up. She will never surf or feel the sand tickle her toes. For this, I close my eyes and weep too.
I am startled awake with hot, salty tears rolling down my cheeks and sweat dripping from my hairline. The alarm clock on my nightstand reads 4:39 A.M. I hear the waves crash. I scramble to the window and fling open the coral curtains. Under the starry, midnight sky, the navy current undulates over white sands, just as I had left it before I went to bed. I turn around and glance in the mirror behind me, only to find my 18-year-old self gape back with crazed, red-rimmed eyes.
“It was all a dream?” I exclaim. More like a nightmare. It all looked and felt so real. I quickly realize it could be. Maybe my dream was a call to action from the future …
But what can I do? How can I change the fate of the ocean? All I know is I cannot keep sitting back and watching as the ocean becomes sicker. I must do something, for herand those like her. The future must have the chance to know the ocean like I do, not the broken shell of itself. The wheels in my head begin to turn.
I plop down at my desk. College applications crowd every inch of it. Many are almost complete, except one blank: major. I had been bouncing around different prospects for months. Journalism, neuroscience, business – I could never pick. It is challenging enough deciding where to apply, let alone what I want to dedicate the rest of my life to. Though I still have plenty of time before the first ones are due, I was convinced I would be sending the applications in “undecided.”
Suddenly, I know what I am meant to study, a way that may help me stop the ocean’s grim future from coming to fruition. I grab my pen and start to scribble on each application: “environmental engineering.”
I look down at the pile of papers and grin, feeling fulfilled, but why stop here? It will be five years until I graduate with a degree, possibly longer since I will need to specialize in ocean engineering. I will be equipped to protect and improve the environment then. What can I do now?
The next idea washes over me like the tide. I scan my calendar. Today is September 2nd. My school’s club fair is in three days.
I force open my laptop and create a new document. “Join Ocean Awareness Club,” I peck frantically in bold, sapphire letters. I disperse bullet points with activities across the flyer: “monthly community-wide beach cleanups,” “learn about problems plaguing the ocean and how we can stop them,” “fundraisers for research to save our beaches.” I add pictures of littered shores and polluted waters that resemble what I witnessed in my nightmare. Finally, I add the tagline “Together, we can make a difference” before I make an online order for 50 flyers at the nearest copy place.
I check my clock again. 5: 23 A.M. I think about going back to sleep, but my new plans have shocked my system awake like sprinting into the ocean in January. I sit in front of my bay window and admire the view for the first time in what seems like forever. The thought of losing it horrifies me. I never truly appreciated the ocean’s magnificence before my nightmare took it all away. It must be preserved.
I may be one person, a teenager, but one can unite hundreds, even thousands. I will have my club, and now I have a path for my future. I can help save the ocean. Anyone can. It will be years of hard work and frustration, but I know it can be done. And maybe, there are others like me, a generation full of dreamers who want nothing more than to see the ocean live on, and we can fulfill our ambitions together.
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Piccirillo, Clara, PhD. “Oceans Acidification: Causes and Possible Consequences.” Decoded Science. WordPress, 31 Oct. 2013. Web. 5 June 2017.
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“Simulate an Oil Spill Cleanup.” National Geographic Society. National Geographic Society, 7 Aug. 2015. Web. 5 June 2017.
“The Future of the Ocean.” Gumbo Limbo Field Trip. Gumbo Limbo Conservation Center, Boca Raton. 25 Feb. 2010. Lecture.
“What Is an Environmental Engineer?” EnvironmentalScience.org. EnvironmentalScience.org, n.d. Web. 8 June 2017.
“What Is Nonpoint Source?” United States Environmental Protection Agency. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2 May 2017. Web. 3 June 2017.
“What Is Ocean Acidification?” PMEL Carbon Program. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, n.d. Web. 1 June 2017.
This is an opportunity to combine my passions for writing and ocean conservation. I hoped to paint a picture of my fears while providing hope for the future with a positive resolution. I wanted to remind the reader that anyone can make a difference – we just need to figure out how to face these daunting problems. I remember the confusion of hearing about these complex issues, so I desired to share the message in a way that was simple enough for anyone to understand, even a child.