We are so obsessed with pollution that it is sometimes difficult to see beyond our degradations and catch sight of the sea itself. To paraphrase an old saying, we cannot see the ocean for the plastic, the oil slick and the dull-white coral. Pollution is not only in the air and water, it is in our eyes; at times, it’s all that we can see. That is the price to pay for our environmental consciousness, a penance of sorts. In a crisis that is entirely of our own making, there is a risk that we will become blind to everything but its symptoms.

I remember growing up in Singapore and Hong Kong in the seventies and being fascinated by the multicoloured floatsam that littered the beaches and harbours, so different from the pristine Brittany coasts of my summer vacations. At every opportunity, I would rumage through the rubbish in search of  new bits and pieces to play with. So many toys! I thought to myself. The sea is indeed bountiful… I did not see the plastic as pollution but as another sign of the sea’s boundless generosity. Our children don’t look at plastic the same way; they know better. One has to go to the third world to see children playing with plastic litter, untethered by their parents environmental consciousness, guilt-free. Honi soit qui mal y pense.

The sea is a world, neither first nor third world, neither sanctuary nor resource, neither sacred cove nor rubbish tip, neither primeval force nor environmental project, neither friend nor foe but all those things together and infinitely more besides.

Featured image: Gustave Le Gray, Mediterranean, 1857