Bruckner Chase writes…
“On September 29th, 2009 a tsunami caused by an 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck the island of American Samoa with virtually no warning, killing over 30 people, wiping out villages, and causing extreme destruction in the major city of Pago Pago.
Four years later there are still remnants of houses clinging to the shoreline in the village of Leone while a temporary bridge still connects this village to those further west along the island of Tutuila.
My first trip to American Samoa was in 2011 as part of an outreach expedition with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Sanctuary Program to make a groundbreaking long distance swim between two islands in the territory while also sharing ocean skills with the local department of public safety and the large youth population that have lost too many of their own to drowning incidents in the tropical waters that surround them.
While a little western ocean rescue and swim knowledge has proven invaluable to the community of American Samoa, it is the wisdom and knowledge embedded in this amazing South Pacific culture that has a far greater potential to save the rest of us. This ancient Samoan way or Fa’a Samoa goes back thousands of years. Central to this culture that is intimately connected to the water is a recognition of the need to live in harmony with the ocean and natural waters we all share. Those of us who love the ocean seek to inspire and connect others by sharing the moments of serenity and peace we find watching an ocean sunrise, waiting in the line-up for a wave or exploring a pristine reef. What we also must do is connect that newly created personal, aquatic connection to action that preserves and protects what we love.
As someone who experienced Super Storm Sandy from a front row seat on a South Jersey barrier island I have seen what awaits us if 100 Year Storms happen every 10 years. As someone who is now part of the Samoan culture and the village of Aunu’u I have also seen what rising sea levels and dying coral reefs will do to a culture that has sought to live in harmony with the ocean for 3,000 years. Many Samoans refer to the 2009 tsunami as a “Galu Afi’ “ or a “wave that burns,” unrelenting, raging, destructive and unstoppable.
As unstoppable ocean advocates, we must find a way to extinguish the fires that threaten our oceans before more of our families and communities are consumed by the backdraft.
Those of us who have embraced a connection to the open waters and natural environment cannot be drowned out by the silence of the masses that have not. The challenge is to recognize that “awareness” is no longer enough, and in a world bombarded with seemingly unstoppable natural, political and economic crisis we must find a way to make living an ocean-positive life attractive and sustainable. As more communities continue to rebuild from recent disasters we have the opportunity to build something new and not just restore what was. On the Jersey shore I watched as contractors descended en mass to rebuild before the 2013 tourist season, and city administrators were understandably more concerned with the next summer rather than the next generation.
As a waterman, I witnessed the alarming amount of debris on the water immediately following the storm, and more sadly the additional debris that accumulated as the “clean-up” focused more on appearances than sustainability. We all weigh doing the seemingly best thing for the immediate problem against doing the right thing that what will keep us safe, secure and alive for generations. The opportunity before us is to be the voice and solution for what is right so that all of us, and our oceans, survive and thrive.”
Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming