if Not Me, Then Who? if Not Now, Then When?

Alejandra Mateo-Flandorfer

I have always felt a strong connection with the ocean. One way or another I was always drawn to it. Land sports were never my strength; running or jumping around felt heavy and cumbersome. In the water, however, my short legs and long torso were not awkward or inconvenient - they were the perfect tools.

Photo: Alejandra Mateo-Flandorfer @alemateofg

Photo: Alejandra Mateo-Flandorfer @alemateofg

My elongated feet with short toes weren’t ugly in the water; they helped me swim faster and better. The fickle little fish weren’t afraid of me; they would let me follow them around as long as I wanted. The big waves didn’t scare me; they were my playground of choice accompanied by an old blue and yellow ‘foamie’, who had more bruises and scars than my two brothers and me combined. The sea had always shared her plentiful bounties with me: fun, entertainment, fascination, calmness, freedom. But what had I given back to her?

A few summers ago, I was lucky enough to travel to a bewitching wonderland: Indonesia. Following my utter and irrevocable enchantment with this extraordinary country, I was deeply and entirely startled by how blind I had been for the past couple of years. The sea, my eternal companion and treasured ally was dying, and all the marine life she possessed was dying with her. It baffled me to think I had been ignorant to this for so long. How was it possible that the bleaching of our coral reefs wasn’t everywhere on the news? How was it possible that I didn’t know how many micro-plastics we consume, via the fish we eat due to their natural foraging in the ocean (Karami et al, 2017)? How was it possible that the biggest fish in the ocean – our magnificent whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) - has decreased in population by 50% in the past 70 years (UCUN Red List, 2016) due to human harm?

Photo: Alejandra Mateo-Flandorfer @alemateofg

Photo: Alejandra Mateo-Flandorfer @alemateofg

With knowledge comes power, and so I began a research frenzy on the current state of our oceans, particularly on the global coral bleaching event that took place from 2014-2017 (NOAA, 2018). Specifically, this event killed up to 50% of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, (The Guardian, 2016) known to be the most breathtaking coral reef in the world. Many of you may ask why coral reefs are so important. They are home to a quarter of all marine life (Spalding & Grenfell, 1997), and are being destroyed by none other than us.

The more I read, the angrier I became. The more I understood, the more I hated myself for my continued ignorance, and the more I cursed the world for its disregard.

What could a minuscle, singular girl in the world do to change this?

My hateful resentment wasn’t going to change anything. So I asked myself a very theatrical question: if not me, then who? If not now, then when?

From then on, I made it my mission to raise awareness of the hardships our oceans suffer through every medium possible. I’ve realized the hard way that to make a difference, you don’t have to go full on crazy, shouting at people who use plastic straws, or stealing them from bars (been there, done that, it was useless). You merely have to educate people of the safer alternatives to use and explain to them the harm the straws have on our marine life (Gall & Thompson, 2015).

People are not bad, they are just unaware

Once we start making little tweaks to our daily routines - such as having our coffee in our own reusable cup (e.g. KeepCup) - we will understand how easy it is to cooperate together. I believe that with the necessary information, and the correct instruments, we can all be the leaders of the change we want to see. We must be the game changers. It is our responsibility, as humans who inhabit this earth, to take care of our mother nature.

I finish this little piece of mine with a quote from a movie that often lingers with me:

We all come from the sea, but we are not all of the sea. Those of us who are, we, children of the tides, must return to it again, and again
— Chasing Mavericks, 2012

Let’s fight together for that return.

Alejandra is the Co-Founder of @durhamagainstplastic. If you’ve enjoyed this article, follow her here: @ALEMATEOFG

Want to write for us? Check out our ‘get involved’ section


Blog, GeneralRebecca Daniel