Changing Planet

Love and Death in the Sea – World Ocean Day 2011

The sea almost killed me a couple of times. It wasn’t her fault; it was mine, for not respecting her. I still remember the last time, a stormy day off the Costa Brava of Spain, in early 2008. Every time I think about it my heart races, and my guts jump to my throat.

The cove where I used to swim every day was hit by a storm with strong eastern winds. The turquoise, transparent waters of summer quickly transformed into a dirty soup of stirred sand and cold grey water. Unfriendly waves were breaking in dirty, chaotic patterns. But beyond the surf zone the sea seemed swimmable. In a moment of Catalan bravado, I donned my swimming suit, mask and fins, and jumped in the water. I shouldn’t have gone, but I did, swallowing an abrasive mix of sand and salt while trying to break through the surf zone. I swam, unpleasantly fighting – I still don’t know why – for twenty minutes, and decided to call it a day. I swam back towards the beach. Then realized I couldn’t reach it.

Waves were breaking all around me without respite. I tried to bodysurf one to shore, but it collapsed suddenly and took me down as though someone had turned the gravity dial up ten-fold. When I surfaced to take a breath, I turned around and a second wave hit me as hard, taking me down again. I hit the sandy bottom. I pushed myself up but once again, waves were coming and not allowing me to rest and breathe. I was caught in the surf zone, with waves pushing me out and a rip current pulling me in, unable to reach the beach.

The sea is our mother, sister, and home, and as such I love her. She gives us life, oxygen, food, regulates the climate, and makes ours a wonderful life. We should thank the sea, the ocean, every day. Without the ocean and all the life in it, our planet would be much poorer. But on this day I was having a hard time being grateful.

After a few more plunges I decided to let myself go, and give up the fight. I took a deep breath. The next wave took me down, and forward. I hit the bottom with my back, rolled over, hit my head, and after what seemed the longest minute of my life, found myself lying in a foot of water. I scrambled as fast as I could out of the water and onto the beach. Only then did I realize that I had lost my mask, snorkel, and one fin. My whole body was sore, as if a gang of boxers had punched me viciously. I sat on the beach, breathless, watching the sea and feeling lucky to be alive. I walked back home slowly, ears down like a beaten dog.

Some days the sea wants us, and some days she doesn’t. Since that day, I have not been to the sea when she does not want me. I learned the lesson. I now thank the sea every day the surface is calm, the waters are clear, and diving is easy. And I ask for forgiveness every time I dive and see no fish.

Celebrate World Oceans Day 2011 by sharing with us your stories of the oceans in the comments below and by learning ten things you can do to protect the ocean.

Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.
  • Mark Gibson

    This is a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

  • Katarina Martinez

    Wow i absolutely love the sea!!! your story is so full of experience you speak so wisely!!! thanks for sharing

  • Juvy Love L. Lacre

    what an inspirational story to share…I’m very pleased that you’ve shared your experience about the ocean..I do agree that oceans is part of our existence..without them..we’re nothing..

    I really love the sea…it makes me feel relax and it’s magnificent beauty..priceless…^_^

  • Bronislava Hanulova

    This is very beutiful story. Thanks.
    I love the sea…the view of the sea give me a strenght and peace…
    I like the 4th paragraph in your text: “The sea is our mother, sister and home….etc. ” This is a big true. The oceans don’t need US, but WE need the oceans for our life. And this is the reason to protect it. The sea will be here forever, the people maybe not.

  • Angela Ayios

    Perfectly expressed and a salutary tale for all of us who have ever wanted to push our boundaries just a little too far. My 11 year old has asperger’s syndrome but is a passionate and skilled snorkeller who insists we spend hours amongst his beloved sea-life inhabitants during our vacations, come rain or shine. I will keep this tale in mind whenever the seas, which he desperately wants to spend his life protecting and saving along with all the sea’s inhabitants, are telling us ‘not today, take a rest, that is how to protect us and you’.

  • Annebeth Riles

    You are invited to participate in Oceans Outreach 4 Unity & PEACE & Protection of Our Planet…

  • Justin Flamion

    We all love the sea,she’s a misterious part of our earth.Respect she has earned through her life and power.I spent alot of years on the water,so i know nothing is impossible through her.One way to respect her back is to keep her clean,they say clenlyness is the next closest thing to god.

  • Himani

    You’ve expressed it all so beautifully and vividly! 🙂
    Congrats for being so brave, and a fighter! You didn’t give in/up!

    I love “The sea is our mother, sister, and home, and as such I love her. She gives us life, oxygen, food, regulates the climate, and makes ours a wonderful life. We should thank the sea, the ocean, every day… !”

  • Sandy

    Thank you for this beautiful story.

    It only goes to show that we owe our lives (literally and figuratively) to the sea and our oceans so we need to respect and protect it.

  • bryan

    i wouldnt live anywhare away from the ocean,its like havining a hundred friends,sometimes calm then its raging and the waves are calling to you to come in if you dare,somtimes caressing and warm and friendly, but dont you dare take your eye off her or treat her with contempt because she will make you pay big time. so enjoy her moods and you will live in serenity with the ocean

  • Matt Boland

    Spirit in the Water
    The ocean is a funny place.
    It is hard to get to know it.
    It takes time to get comfortable in it, time and experiences.
    “Live and Learn Matthew “, that’s what my father used to say.
    There is great peace in the water, and great danger, if you do not respect it.
    When I was young I tried to swim out to a boat, it was far, and I was choking and gasping.
    Now I am here.
    I did not swim in the ocean for many years.
    Oh I played in the water, but as life goes, I got “busy, busy”
    Growing up, tears and fears.
    Kids, school, family, friends and jobs.
    ‘No time” I would say “No time”
    Now I know, you have to make the time.
    When I awake and am aware of my thoughts, after the chores, dogs, kids, coffee, and conversation,
    I check the trees, and feel the wind, look towards the sky
    How will the water be today?
    Rough, cold and tumultuous?
    Or calm, clear and cool?
    In the morning, the air is still cool and the sun bursts through and rises with the clouds.
    Maybe, the turtles will come and swim with me today.
    Not every day is the same.
    My mind tells me “too busy, too busy “”rush, rush”
    Or it’s dark and maybe raining.
    Lots of things try and keep me from the water.
    Sometimes I need a push,
    “Are you afraid of getting wet” she asks???
    GO, you’ll feel better, she says
    Once I make the decision, to go.
    I feel better already
    Mind over matter, get your mind around what matters
    Its cooler in the early morning, the sun will not burn me.
    As soon as I see the water, I am checking
    Is it Clear, Waves? , current? rough?
    How are the waves breaking, rolling, white water caps?
    Not every day is a good day
    There is always something
    You have to just jump in
    Sometimes it’s cloudy and rough close to shore
    But when I get out in the open water it’s clear
    You never know, you have to keep going to find out
    Jump right through the breaking waves, get out there
    Today it is calm, clear and tranquillo
    The stones and coral are undisturbed on the sandy bottom
    I can even see tracks in the sand, hermit crabs, or starfish?
    It’s like a fresh white powder snowfall.
    If there is no current, I glide along, as much like a fish as I can
    Scanning the ocean floor, the grassy patches
    Some days you can see for miles it seems
    What I am looking for?
    There’s always that thought, something big!
    Maybe a whale or a dolphin?
    I see turtles, and sting rays, spotted eagle rays and green turtles
    Some schools of fish surprise me
    It’s like being in the mountains, the view the colors, the peace and quiet, the beauty
    Every day, it’s a different world
    You have to “breathe in” to get it, the inspiration I mean.
    A lot like living above the water.
    Some days rough, crazy, unknowns, issues
    Start out, make the choice, and get in the water
    Breathing in and out, deep pulls, stroke and kick move forward glide….
    You always get to a better place.
    Take the time, to notice the surroundings
    There is always something good
    Even in a storm, it is always peaceful under water.
    Beneath the waves, no matter how rough, the ocean is calm and quiet
    Sometimes you can’t see anything, the water is cloudy
    Can’t see even the sea floor the whole trip
    But I still have to be here.
    Lots of thoughts go through my mind, the day ahead the future, the past
    This is my time, my reflection
    Let it go .let the thoughts run, unwind
    It’s not perfect every day, things happen, we make mistakes, life happens
    The water sets me straight, be grateful today
    Beams of sun light refracting through the water
    Shine the way ahead, altering my perception
    I cannot be afraid of shapes and shadows
    Or worry what is behind me
    There is always something there
    Disturbing thoughts or false emotions
    Dark and distant shadows
    Acknowledge them and move on
    I must focus ahead where the light of the spirit shines
    Not to worry and misuse my imagination, faith not fear
    Keep pointed in the right direction, breathe in and stroke
    The next right step, do what is right in front of me……

  • Joe Thompson

    I loved being in the middle of the ocean on an aircraft carrier when I was in the Navy back in 1976. Never before or since have I seen such a truly glorious night sky. The uncountable stars in the sky really gave me a perspective of what a tiny part of this universe we are. I cannot even imagine that a being that could concieve of, let alone create, such an unfathomably huge construct would spare even a nanosecond concerning itself with a semi-intelligent and ludicrously egotistical, yet embarrassingly destructive species such as homosapiens a first thought let alone a second one. Even now that we know that a new island of plastic waste is forming we do absolutely nothing to clean up our mess. When I see & feel the power of the ocean, our birth place, and look at what we have wrought I am deeply ashamed to admit my relation to this species.
    As for myself, I apologize GAIA.

  • Souvik Sarkar

    It’s a beautiful story. Vivid. It’ll stay with me for the rest of my life.

  • Christina

    I loved this story! It is so true, we need to respect not just the ocean but all that mother nature has given us! Where would we be without her? She needs just as much respect as anyone of us do! 🙂

  • Naomi Smith

    I was born at sea 42`52″North 05`32″ East, on the SS Irpinia, and am passionate about anything Maritime. Ex radio officer and Search and Rescue Office around the world. Everyday I must go down to the sea again, whether it be for the lonely sea and the skies, the raging storms, or the serene beautiful seas of the South Pacific – you must show her the respect she deserves, the love she inspires, and the addiction she evokes. I am the mermaid of the seas 🙂

  • Rohit Shukla

    The Description of sea as “dirty soup of stirred sand and cold grey water” ran a chill in my spine.

    I had never seen a ocean until recently. And when I did, its first look made me in love and filled with horror at the same time.
    This story is having an unusual effect on me. :O

  • Paolo Romani

    Dear Enric,

    I avidly follow your work and I am grateful for the way you let people know about our beloved sea.

    I share your passion but I am not as lucky as you are since the circumstances of life forced me to an office work (not forever I hope).

    I also share it with my fiancée, who is just now recovering from the consequences of a serious diving accident which involved both of us and which somehow was also the result of “bravado” and overconfidence.

    Thankfully no enduring consequences for her but huge scare of the kind which entirely readdresses the way you see life.

    You can therefore easily imagine how deeply I felt connected to your words while reading your story.

    I sent her a few of your lines and she was very touched:

    “Some days the sea wants us, and some days she doesn’t. Since that day, I have not been to the sea when she does not want me. I learned the lesson. I now thank the sea every day the surface is calm, the waters are clear, and diving is easy. ”

    This is exactly the way she and myself feel right now and nobody could have better worded that.

    Thank you

  • Patricia


  • Patricia

    Beautiful! Thks for sharing.

  • Karen

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story, of which I can relate totally. An incident occurred while I was in central America that near took my life.
    As you so eloquently stated “some days the sea wants us, and some days she doesn’t”. That day she did not want me, and let me once again swim in her blueness and share her with all her beautiful inhabitants.
    I am forever grateful to her and never take her for granted.

  • karima

    Sea I find the best friend in the world but that the level of reflections of human beings … she is my confidant and with the waves I feel she wants to express his nerve and feelings of people … I find my pleasure only when I watch the sunset and always admired his encounter with the sun I find this show of love and trust God oh!
    and I have lived a more beautiful love story thanks to the sea then:) when I was 8 my aunt every summer takes me with her to spend the holidays with the children on the first day was a bit of sunshine as it is time to rain so she advised us not to go to the sea is safe …. but my cousin asked me secretly, and I say we go …
    arrival at destination was found that the waves and really terrible I’m afraid I say no in fact this time I forgot all that dangerous, but my cousin asked me to take that hand and market, but I did after a few minutes I could not see anything I hear a small voice crying girl was my cousin so I covered all the water …
    I opened my eyes I found a boy next to the door he was the neighbour of my ount but after all that my cousin told me abt that he was chokked when he saw me like death so he loves me but now i dont know any thing abt him but always he stay my best friend

  • Andrea

    This is so true!
    I have read this story before my vacation to Gran Canaria, and I remembered it when I found myself in similar situation on Playa del Hombre where it is not allowed to swim. I hardly made it to the beach and then I said – respect and thanks god.

  • Vinoth

    Thanks, for Sharing a beautiful Story

  • Madhab Barman

    Thanks for sharing the beautiful story…

  • Ngan

    What does the last sentence mean

  • Stella

    Why did you go out when you knew there was a storm?

  • Cao nhuy

    This is s fantastic story.

  • David

    Thank you for sharing your useful story. It’s is a good for everyone who wants to experience swimming on a stormy day.

  • Minh Trung Nguyen

    Thank you , the story very fantastic , you guide for me survival skill and danger when us go to the ocean .

  • Tra

    Thanks for sharing the beautiful story and it was give me more great experience.

  • Amelia

    Thanks for sharing our this story, its nice.
    You’re a brave when you knew that is a stormy day off the Costa Brava of Spain, When did you learn how to swim? How you can brave to left a storm when you still in a beach?

  • Ha

    Thanks for sharing. This story made me remember my own story.
    In 1994, I almost drowned at the Da nang beach in my campus with my classmates. Fortunately , I was saved by the lifegards. At that time, I did not like the beach, I was afraid of it for a long time.Then, I thought ” There is nothing to be afraid of” And I tried my best , and I turned back to the beach .

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