The Remarkable Role of Story in Saving Our Ocean

Guest post written by author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley.

A book begins in the imagination—a messy place awash in ideas and excitement. We corral those ideas, that passion, and figure out what we want to say on the printed page, hoping when we finally send the book into the world, it makes an impact on its audience.

Thanks to Plastic,Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, thousands of people are being exposed to the problem of marine debris and the impact people are having on our world ocean. Adults and children at the many dozens of presentations we’ve performed are making changes at home and at school. They are rethinking their relationship with single-use plastic and how it affects our environment: refusing plastic water bottles, packing groceries in reusable bags, ditching the straw, and sharing the message with their friends and family.

When The Nature Generation selected Plastic, Ahoy! as its middle-grade nonfiction Green Earth BookAward (GEBA) winner, our book became part of a larger conversation on marine debris. The Nature Generation prepares youth for the environmental challenges they will face in the future by connecting them with nature today. The GEBA is the nation’s first environmental stewardship book award for children’s and young adult books and we were honored to travel to Washington, D.C., to accept it on behalf of Plastic Ahoy!

October 1 dawned with heavy, overcast skies and a light drizzle. It was a welcome sight to Patricia who hails from drought-baked Sacramento, but business as usual for Seattle-based Annie. Patterson Elementary School’s fourth and fifth grades assembled in the gym for our presentation—the first presentation we had ever performed together. Patricia spoke about the scientific method and the need to clearly and effectively communicate your message. Annie treated the audience to photos and video footage of her underwater dives—showing students not just the beauty of the ocean, but the ugly way in which people are sabotaging the ecosystem that makes the oxygen our planet needs for life as we know it. We said, “Breathe in. Breathe out. Every breath you take connects you to the sea. The food we eat, the water we drink, the oxygen in the air we breathe comes from our one world ocean. We need a healthy ocean in order to live, yet we have a plastic sea. Plastic comes from people. How can we work together to stop the flow of pollution into our environment?”  

We encouraged the students to be the voice for creatures who have no voice (#bethevoice). We made a classroom visit after the assembly to personalize copies of Plastic, Ahoy! donated to the students by The Nature Generation.
Later that evening at the Read Green Festival’s Green Tie Reception, we were feted by NatGen board members and the public. Keynote speaker Bob Deans from the National Resources Defense Council spoke about the role of story in preserving civilization and creating positive change. He said, “Because for all the great distance we’ve traveled, and all we have learned to do, our lives remain, as our authors and artists remind us tonight, wedded to the complex yet fragile natural systems upon which all life depends. And the remarkable story we have to tell, the truth we must tell to our children, is that we can find that better way.”

Thanks to The Nature Generation and the Green Earth Book Award, we became part of something larger than ourselves. We found our tribe who understands the importance of environmental stewardship not only for adults, but for children. We’re proud of Plastic, Ahoy! for inspiring students to #bethevoice and we share the message at schools, organizations, and corporate events…but more importantly we hope through the words and images contained within Plastic Ahoy! that you too will reconsider acquiring single-use plastic and realize the impact people have on our environment and our one world ocean.

Photographs courtesy of Annie Crawley

Check out Patrica and Annie’s acceptance speech for the Green Earth Book Award here!
Patricia Newman
Annie Crawley

The Nature Generation