Life, death and sea lions

Sea lions in Monterey Bay, California. ©Erica Cirino

Sea lions in Monterey Bay, California. ©Erica Cirino

In the early morning haze

I watch a hundred or more

Wet, round, brown bodies 

Flip, flop and shimmy

Through sparkling blue waves.

Sea lions.

They are gaping, gasping for air 

As they heft their mass across the sea. 

I had, up to that point,

No idea that sea lions were capable

Of such a laborious task,

Normally I see them socializing or

Resting on rock rookeries.

Out here they must move fast

To avoid sharks and killer whales.

By the speed at which they move

I can tell they are clearly aware

Of the possibility of attack.

And so I contemplate

Whether or not sea lions 

Live in fear of death, 

Like so many people do.

Or if they just forge ahead,

Heaving up and out of the water,

Straight into a place of danger–

Of sharks and killer whales–

Driven by the necessities 

Of finding food

And a place to rest 

And breed and build a life.

I do not think sea lions

Live in fear because 

Even the imminence of death

Does not hold them back 

From diving into the unknown.

Today the sea lions appear full of life

Because they live without fear. 

Originally published to Medium on October 7, 2017. 

New stories by me to read - September

A Day in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s really like to cross one of the most plastic-polluted parts of the world, you should check out this video.

Danish environmental nonprofit Plastic Change completed the last leg of its two-year expedition collecting microplastic samples across several seas and two oceans last fall. The final part of the journey took the crew from Los Angeles, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii, in 23 days. Before that the organization had sailed its sloop “S/Y Christianshavn” from Denmark through the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal to the Galápagos, and then up to California. I accompanied them on their L.A.-to-Hawaii sail to witness and document what is considered one of the worst-polluted stretches of ocean in the world, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This video outlines one day (Day 14) of the group’s scientific research at sea, as well as major ideas related to the world’s plastic pollution problem. Mange tak to Plastic Change for taking me on board. 

Video credit: ©Erica Cirino.

Meet me in the sea

Green sea turtle and divers, Honolulu, Hawaii. August 2017. ©Erica Cirino

Green sea turtle and divers, Honolulu, Hawaii. August 2017. ©Erica Cirino

I’ve been long drawn to the ocean, 

Its depth, its breadth, 

The way it crashes on shorelines

Vast and varied, on sand or shell,

The ocean doesn’t discriminate

Where and on what it breaks.

The ocean is unrelenting, 

The ocean is dynamic, 

The ocean is life.

It reminds me to live deeply,

Not necessarily comfortably or easily,

But to inhale life slowly and fully,

Drawing it in and breathing it out rhythmically

Like the steady streams of air I take and give

Through my diving regulator

When I’m a few dozen feet below the surface

When I kick, kick, kick my finned feet smoothly

So I can hover just above a coral reef, in the thick of

Streams of swift and sparkling fish, just above 

Several somnolent sea turtles and swirling sea grasses,

Where, nearby, I see sleek whales and dolphins swimming and playing

Sharks and rays shimmying, gliding fast with little effort,

And jellyfish bobbing up and down through the water column.

The sea is full of life, 

And, I realize, we are life, 

Like coral, a fish or a turtle, a piece of sea grass,

Like a whale or a dolphin; a shark, a ray or a jellyfish.

All of us exist together in this sea. 

The question is: Once the water gets deeper,

Once you’re surrounded by sharks,

Do you flee to the surface or sink to the bottom, 

Or do you suspend yourself

In that deep sapphire blue water of existence?

In this ocean, I hope you seek the depths,

In this ocean, I hope you’ll join me here.

Originally posted to Medium on September 1, 2017.


An early morning encounter with a green sea turtle elicits an ocean of thought

lightened cropped green sea turtle.jpg

Just now, in the dawn, unable to sleep, I emerged from the hot steel hull of our ship for some fresh air. It takes a second for my body to adjust to the busy world around me. It’s breezy up here. Shining street lights dance white, red, green and orange ripples on the quiet water’s surface all around the harbor. Somewhere, a rooster crows. Cars, trucks and buses are just beginning to rumble, roar and buzz down Honolulu’s highways. The gray and black sky is slowly turning purple and blue in preparation for sunrise.

I’m absorbing all of this when I notice something moving just at the edge of my sight line — down in the water just below the cockpit where I’m perched on a bench. It’s a cluster of barnacles attached to a dark, hard surface.

Honu, is that you?

I kneel on deck and peer over the side of the ship and I see a small, curious face pop up from the water. Honu. She swims closer. Just inches away now, she locks eyes with me for what seems like an eternity. She’s studying me.

I’m studying her. Every mosaic-like scute on her shell, every wrinkle on her face. I wonder how old she is, how many years she’s lived in this harbor, watching the people on the boats. How many propellers she’s had to avoid. How many pieces of trash she’s accidentally ingested. I worry for Honu.

I worry for humanity. People are causing problems for Honu. People are causing problems for people. As if on cue, an Army jet on the nearby base revs, runs and throttles itself up into the sky. War. Deceit. Death. For what?

Honu’s eyes are dark and thoughtful, as if she too is processing our interaction, as if she too is thinking about her place in the world. Sea turtles are not creating these problems but are forced to live in a world where we do. I feel love for Honu, for her innocence and thoughtfulness, for visiting my ship in the dark dawn at the precise moment I came up for air. I feel sad and guilty. I feel betrayed by humanity. We are failing this sea turtle. We are failing ourselves. We are failing all life on Earth.

While I’m still lost in thought, Honu slowly lowers her head into the water, locates some breakfast and dives below our vessel to catch it. I watch the ripples her wide shell leave on the water’s surface before I slip back down inside the ship.

Originally published to Medium on August 31, 2017.