When videographer, master scuba diver and ocean expert Annie Crawley was young, she learned that the oxygen we breathe comes from trees and plants. It was only after she started scuba diving that she learned the larger truth: More than half of the planet’s oxygen comes from phytoplankton and marine plants in the sea.
“Every breath we take, we breathe ocean,” she says.
Crawley, a resident of Edmonds with a world-wide reach, returned from filming humpback whales in Tonga last weekend. On Sunday, she will take center stage at Vashon Center for the Arts with the presentation, Our Ocean and You, intended for all ages. It will be a virtual tour of the ocean from the coral triangle to the Pacific Northwest and everything in between, she said, and will showcase some of her favorite places. Additionally, it will include the importance of the world’s oceans and address their many challenges, including large amounts of plastic waste.
The island nonprofit Zero Waste Vashon, which is focusing on the reduction of single-use plastics as one of its goals this year, extended the invitation to Crawley, who has been recognized internationally for her work in ocean conservation and education. Will Lockwood, a member of the Zero Waste Vashon board, said the group wanted Crawley to come to Vashon because of her work on the world’s oceans as well as her political activity, which included working at the state level to pass plastics legislation this year as well as previous advocacy regarding a single-use plastics ban in Edmonds.
Crawley will speak in the island schools on Friday, prior to her Sunday presentation, which Lockwood said he encourages everyone to attend, as the issues she will address affect all people equally. That element — of everyone being affected by the ocean’s health — is part of Crawley’s message.
“Everything we do on land affects the ocean,” she said. “It’s important for us to realize it is the great regulator of the planet. The ocean’s story is our story. We are completely connected to the sea.”
In addition to plastic pollution, Crawley says the health of the ocean is at risk from overfishing, noise pollution and climate change, or carbon pollution. But the biggest threat, she said, comes from people’s inaction regarding all those challenges.
While the subject matter is serious, Crawley promised that her presentation — with underwater photography and videography from all across the globe and her personal anecdotes — will inspire. She acknowledged the current environmental challenges coming from Washington, D.C., but also pointed to signs for hope. Ten years ago, she said, she traveled to the North Pacific Gyre, the location of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and when she returned no one wanted to hear about her experience there. But there has been a notable shift since then, and awareness of the plastics problem and the desire to do something about it has increased. Now, Crawley says it is important not to listen to naysayers, but rather, unite within the recent momentum around this issue.
“I believe the time is right now,” she said. “We cannot reverse immediately what we have done, but we can wake up and say, ‘We will no longer live this way.’ It is a choice that we have to make every single day.”
In fact, it is this kind of thinking that could lead Vashon — a small island in the middle of the Salish Sea — to be a leader on plastics and other issues, she said, describing the action and collective mindset she believes is needed: “We set our goals high on what is achievable and don’t let the negative impact our vision for the world.”
This fits with Zero Waste’s Vashon effort this year of reducing single-use plastics, including its Bring Your Own Mug campaign last April.
“There are no quick and easy solutions,” Lockwood said, speaking about recycling challenges associated with plastics and other materials. “But the one thing there is a solution for is dramatically reducing single-use plastics. They are the worst offenders and what ends up in the sea.”
Crawley, a highly regarded public speaker, has the reputation of leaving her audiences with a renewed passion for the ocean and the tools to act on their behalf. Top on that list, Crawley said, is being mindful of corporate choices, where each of us invests our dollars and participating in elections.
Crawley also believes in the importance of educating youth about the ocean, and in addition to talking to school groups she has created an award-winning series of children’s ocean books, eBooks, DVDs and educator guides. She also teaches children as young as 10 to scuba dive in a class she offers in the Pacific Northwest for kids and teens.
Crawley was born in Chicago and earned her degree in journalism from the University of Urbana-Champaign, according to her website, but realized her true calling was the ocean. After learning to scuba dive and sail, she began traveling the world as a field biologist and became a Professional Association of Diving Instructors master diving instructor and a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton captain. With all her experiences behind her, including traveling to the ocean’s most beautiful and most polluted areas, she believes all people will need to be involved in turning the tide to create healthy seas.
“It is going to take all of us,” she said.
Annie Crawley will speak at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, at the Kay White Hall at Vashon Center for the Arts. Tickets, available through the VCA website, are $10 general admission and FREE for youth.
At 3:45, the event will open with a showing of “Oceana, Sounds of the Sea,” a collaboration between contemporary composer Stella Sung and Annie Crawley that showcases a symphony and film and about the beauty and fragility of the ocean and human impacts, particularly ocean noise.