Summer at Sea

Summer at Sea - Alannah's Reflections

A view from the Statsraad Lehmkuhl. Image Credit: Alannah DeJong
October 1, 2022

Summer at Sea

To conclude OFI's 2022 Summer at Sea opportunity, Memorial University of Newfoundland student Alannah DeJong shares reflections on sustainability after sailing—and studying—the ocean for 16 weeks.

Changing our worldview to achieve sustainability

Image Credit: Alannah DeJong

Overfishing, deforestation, and pumping large amounts of fossil fuels into the atmosphere are just some examples of how our environment has been degraded over the last few centuries. The ocean sustainability course on the Statsraad Lehmkul (offered through the University of Bergen) discussed a large number of obstacles that are preventing us from achieving a more sustainable world. Examples include our own inner roadblocks such as fear and greed, and the instinct to protect and provide for our own families over others. The course also expanded into factors such as cultural and political differences and the limits of international law. In some ways, it feels as though sustainability is contrary to human instinct—an unnatural concept that we must struggle to learn and adapt.

While on this voyage, I also began to read a book titled Braiding Sweetgrass, written by Indigenous scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer. The way she discusses the natural world is captivating, weaving science and Indigenous knowledge together to offer the Westernized reader a broader perspective. She writes that rather than seeing the Earth and its resources as property to be bought, sold, and owned, it is possible to view them as gift. As we begin to shift the way we think about the world around us, Wall Kimmerer writes that we also begin to act differently towards natural resources. Showing gratitude, for example, and taking care not to use them in excess.

Hiking in Tahiti. Image Credit: Molly Wells

I have drawn parallels between the teachings of this book and what we have been learning in our Social Anthropology courses on board and in Fiji. The concept of "vanua" in Pacific cultures views nature and resources as something inseparable from people, history, place, ocean, spirits, and culture. This rich worldview which emphasizes the connectedness of living things naturally encourages sustainable living. We see this, for example, in the Customary Marine Tenure practices of the Pacific Islands, established long before humans were aware of climate change. In this way, I feel as though sustainability is perhaps not an unnatural concept, and rather it's what is cultivated by society that will grow within us.

Image Credit: Alannah DeJong

I have been considering pursuing my master’s degree in Peace and Indigenous Science. These four months studying ocean sustainability have reaffirmed this desire. The focus on interdisciplinary learning and collaboration in this course reminds me that there is a great need for resources and skills to help people engage in meaningful conversations with each other. A difference of opinion does not need to be an obstacle to progress; it requires us to consider the many angles of an issue, but this can help to create more sustainable solutions. As much as we as humans have the ability to destroy, we also have a great potential to create. In nurturing this innate creativity in ourselves, our children, our politicians, and businesspeople within a worldview that sees care of the natural world as central to our success as people, we have a chance at achieving sustainability.

Written by Alannah DeJong