Can the coral reefs survive us? (Noyle)

NICK CARROLL’S SURFING ILLUSIONS PART 2: THE OCEAN IS LIMITLESS

Sure it is. That must be why the coral’s dying.

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We only ever believe what we see. The rest of it, we dream up. What do we see when we first begin to surf? Often we are not even sure what we are looking at. The realm of breaking waves seems confusing, even frightening. Shit is flying everywhere. So little of it makes sense!

Then at some point we raise our eyes from fearful contemplation of the surf zone to the water beyond, and it begins to dawn on us: we are standing at the edge of an Ocean. There is nothing between us and the horizon but deep deep salt water.

And beyond the horizon? Nothing. Climb the biggest headland, gaze seaward, and still nothing. Just water, sky, and that enigmatic horizon line, forever vanishing into the blue. An unfathomable thing. We may know intellectually that there is land somewhere on the other side of all that blue, but do we really believe it in our guts?

Whole novels have been written out of this illusion. Vast romantic visions. The visions fill our ideas about surfing. It’s a primary source of the belief that surfing is somehow a religion, for in the Ocean, we are in the presence of a limitless being, a God. Our Mother Ocean. One Ocean Once Covered The Earth. Carl Jung called it a symbol of the collective unconscious — a visible surface concealing infinite depths.

Yet it’s a pure trick of perspective. The same trick, in less technologically advanced days, caused people to believe the Earth was flat — then later, that the Sun and everything else in the Universe revolved around the Earth. Because that’s how it appeared when you looked out and up.

If you see something that appears endless, you assume it’s endless.

It’s a dangerous assumption. Because as more and more observations are telling us, the oceans of the world have very well defined limits indeed. Humans can cross even the biggest of them in a matter of hours in a commercial airliner, much less in a high altitude supersonic spy plane, less again in a satellite. Humans can fill the oceans with rubbish and fish them out and even warm them, given enough time, which by the way on a planetary scale, will not be very long at all.

The ocean is not limitless. It may be a symbol of the collective unconscious, but it is not the collective unconscious, whatever that is. It’s not Our Mother, nor is it God. One Ocean never covered the Earth. And we’re not even really in it, are we? We are just dicking around on the edge, barely off the sand, half out of our depth, governed by our own limits, filling our heads with dreams.

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Nick Carroll