Marine biologist uses blue marble to express importance of the ocean

A marine biologist discussed the interconnectivity of humans’ love for the ocean, neurobiology, sustainability and turtles April 23 in the Ted Wilson Gym. He brought his knowledge, a sense of humor and a conservation model to Linfield students in all fields of study.

Dr. Wallace J. Nichols is fascinated by the ocean and why we feel the way we do about it. What is it about the ocean that we love so much? He described his personal connection to the ocean- from the smells to the sounds, and the feelings that certain photos evoked.

“What do you really love? Really think about it,” he said. “I love the ocean and my family, and the best thing is those together.”

Using a blue marble to represent the Earth, Nichols gave his audience a new perspective about the size of the world in comparison to a drop of water from the ocean.

“Look at your marble. That’s what we look like from far away. Blue, small, round,” he said.

Nichols said that every element of the universe exists inside a drop of water.

“Imagine swallowing a mouthful of sea water. You’re swallowing the universe!”

Nichols discussed the balance between “blue mind” and “red mind.” Blue mind is the state of mind we feel when we are calm, content and happy. Red mind is at the opposite side of the spectrum, with emotions such as frustration, stress and anger.

“Red mind is part of how we survive. But living in red mind all the time will make you sick,” Nichols said. “We need to learn how to manage them together because both are essential to our survival.”

Nichols is especially passionate about sea turtles, calling himself a turtle expert. Although his work seems appealing, part of his job as an ocean researcher includes unpleasant things like pollution and disaster. He addressed the crisis that the ocean faces.

“If you love the ocean and want to work with it, you have to be ready for the relentless wave of bad news,” he said, referring to the problems with pollution and extinction that plague the ocean.

He said we are putting too much into the ocean, taking too much out and putting too much pressure on the edges. People love the ocean, but it is putting pressure on coastal areas. It is predicted that in 10 years, 75 percent of Americans will live within 20 miles of the coast. The waters are being overfished, and pollution is depleting the aquatic environment, Nichols said.

He also said that oil spills have a devastating effect on the ocean. Sea turtles often swim face-first into the spills. Animals like albatrosses ingest things we use every day. Nichols and his colleagues once found a green sea turtle with 3,400 pieces of plastic in its stomach.

“When you have a stomach full of plastic, you don’t really feel like doing things like reproduction and migration,” Nichols said.

He said that nature is good for humans and our emotions, and conservation is essential to that. He presented a model for sustainability that involves networks, knowledge and communication.

“We need to reconnect ourselves with nature,” he said when discussing the benefits of nature for our brains. “Use nature to manage your emotions.”

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Kelsey Sutton/
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