Unless — Ocean Girl

Posted on April 15, 2013 by

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“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

~Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Author: Skylar Bayer

First article in the new Unless series.

These days, I find it a bit overwhelming that there are so many things going wrong with the world. Our oceans are dying, our planet’s species are dwindling, our American school systems are failing our future students before they’re even born, and there’s the threat of being thrown back to the days before Roe vs. Wade, which particularly concerns me because most younger Americans don’t even know what that ruling was all about.

(If you’re not sure what that ruling was all about, I beg you to read the following link.)

I’m a doer. I like to get things done. If there’s a problem, I want there to be something I can at least start actively doing to make it better. I’ve always been this way. When I was eight, I wanted to grow up, change the world and save the environment. My perception was that this was a feasible task to accomplish in the lifetime of a professional adult. And at the age of eight, I actively chose to be a vegetarian because, honestly, I thought that would make a difference to the state of our degrading environment (although these days, consuming only vegetarian options isn’t necessarily helpful).

I think it at least made an impact on my parents and some of the adults in my life… but here I am, 18 years later, a marine sciences graduate student, still wondering if I’ll ever be able to make the impact on the world I thought I could as an 8-year old. I felt particularly destitute about my impact the day I heard that the NYTimes Environmental Desk team has been dismantled and redistributed.

At times like these, when all seems doomed, I usually watch an episode of Ocean Girl. Ocean Girl, you say, what tomfoolery is that? Don’t you know, I say, the Australian ecologically responsible kids show from the mid-1990s?!

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Neri, on her awesome island home, looking fabulous.

As a kid, I was lucky enough to grow up with cable, and Ocean Girl was aired on The Disney Channel in the early evening. I used to fight with my brother over the remote to watch my favorite show versus something on Nickelodeon.  I suppose it was fated I’d love the show – I was already tracing pictures of whales and giant squid out of guide books in my elementary school library, grooming myself for a career of marine biology-ing (not a real word). But Ocean Girl was absolutely what motivated me to become a marine biologist. Hands down, at the age of eight, I was hooked (this was obviously a big year for me).

The show takes place in the “near future” where people can live in underwater marine stations on the Great Barrier Reef, women have absolutely insane hairdos, evil research guys run around in white tyvex suits and spandex, and studying whale communication is at the forefront of research. Who wouldn’t want to become a marine biologist after watching this show?  (And who wouldn’t want to move to Australia?)

The ‘ocean girl’ of the show is a mysterious teenage girl named Neri who lives on an island and her best friend Charlie is…a humpback whale! And yes, she can communicate with him, no joke.

Brett and Jason, the sons of my first female scientist role model, accidentally stumble across Neri and her island and unravel the mystery of where she’s really from. However, they need a trusty gang of kids to help keep Neri safe from the bad in this world (especially evil UBRI scientists running around in white tyvex suits).

Neri, hanging out with Brett (left) and Jason (middle).

Neri, hanging out with Brett (left) and Jason (middle).

The thing is, the kids almost always succeed (with a little bit of help from adults) because they care about the whales, the fishes, the ocean and most importantly, they care about Neri.

As an 8-year old, Neri was who I wanted to be when I grew up. I figured I could learn how to talk to whales, hold my breath for an hour, swim like a dolphin and be super strong. They have schools for that, right?

As an adult, I now see Neri as that good conscience that resides in all of us. She loved the ocean, but she also loved people. She thought both were important and that people and Earth could reach some harmonious balance. Now that, that’s inspiring as not only a kid but as an adult. As campy as the show is, I place the messages it sends on the same level of Star Trek episodes. A little bit of idealism can be a good thing.

Environmental conservation as an ideal is not a new thing, but sometimes the way the message is presented is very negative. Our worldwide problems are often depicted as something too big for each one of us to tackle or our own impact on an issue is too small to matter. However, each and every one of us matters, as Ocean Girl and countless real life role models have made me realize. I think so, not because of necessarily what we can do individually, but because we can all represent an idea, a hope, a goal, a message to one another. It only takes one person to symbolize such a thing and then it never really dies.

The Lorax, a story about the consequences of industrialism, is a perfect example of this, although a far more negative story, initially, than Ocean Girl. I watched the new movie version, and although it is a bit hokey, I thought the message was clear – It can take just one seed, one person to care an awful lot to make some change for the good in this world. But it still takes one, someone, anyone, to plant that seed of caring, and doing something about it.

With all that is wrong in the world, who will it be that sets that seed of idealism in people to work together to fix our problems? Will it be me? Will it be you? I hope it’s the Neri in all of us that does it.

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Neri, hanging out on the reef.

Neri: I help find something under the sea. Something they call “titanium.” Mother says if it is learned of, many greedy men will come here and search.

Mera (Neri’s sister): Well, then, it must be kept a secret.

Neri: The one they call Captain already knows. And if he tells others, they will tear the heart out of the ocean. I don’t understand. There is everything anyone could want here. Isn’t it enough for them?

Mera: You said Father warned. For some men, there is never enough.

Photo credits: http://www.oceangirl.org/

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