Blue Marble

Wallace J. Nichols, sea turtle specialist and peripatetic ocean advocate, has developed a brilliant physical symbol by which to distill and motivate empathy for and understanding of the ocean as an essential element in our lives: a blue marble -- a blue glass sphere that when held between thumb and forefinger against the light glows with a palpable iconic power. It is what earth looks like from space -- in scale and color and beauty -- a planet that might well and better have been called "Oceanus."

People often ask me how to explain in the shortest amount of time the reason for my personal obsession with the ocean, with the need to communicate its vast utility and purpose and relevance to our future. It has not been easy to do so. The ocean is so complicated and diverse, its systems so complex, just when you view it as a nearby place for recreation or renewal. But add to that view the global system of connection, and further add still the financial, political, and social implications, and it seems almost impossible to reduce its relevance to a convincing, effective few minutes of information and conviction. But in the chance encounter, the elevator or hallway, produce the blue marble, let it attract and refract the available light, and use it as a focus by which to make four simple points:

  1. The sea connects all things in a dynamic cycle of water, temperature, and circulation that nurtures an enormous diversity of plants, animals, substances and processes that are essential to a healthy planet and its civilization.
  2. As we exhaust the land, the sea will become the last possibility for us to support a burgeoning population, to meet our expanding need for fresh water, food, energy, health, security, and spiritual meaning.
  3. Indifference to this situation is ignorant and unacceptable if we are to survive. We must not extend the practice and values we have applied to the earth. We must work together to put such foolishness behind us and to accept -- indeed welcome -- the change required in our conventions, actions, and intentions.
  4. Keep this blue marble as your talisman and pledge to do your part: spread the message, change your ways, advocate for similar change in the communities you inhabit, and join with J. Nichols and Sylvia Earle and so many others, united to save our water world.

I promise you this works. Over and over again, I can see a person's attention captured, a new idea of the ocean amplified and revalued, and innate curiosity peaked in the questions that follow. I leave the marble behind, as a gift and reminder that by its transfer my new ocean friend accepts an obligation to become a "citizen of the ocean" and to share responsibility for the ocean future.

Thank you J. Nichols for this brilliant idea. J's campaign takes him on a constant voyage to colleges, meetings, youth groups -- from what I can tell there is no place that he will not visit if there is an opportunity to proselytize about the ocean. His backpack is heavy with blue marbles. In gratitude and emulation, I carry a supply with me everywhere as a simple metaphor and provocation for a sudden conversation, an unexpected realization, and a binding agreement to ally.

You can carry blue marbles too. Visit, click on to Blue Marbles Project and you, too, can order online your supply by the hundreds.
Here are three quotations from J's website:

From James Irwin, American Astronaut: "As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart."

From Carl Sagan, Astronomer: "It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

From Rumi, 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic: "You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop."