Our Oceans Connect the World

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Our Oceans Connect the World

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai , Oahu
Jun 10, 2010

I meant to write this yesterday but meetings ran late, the phone rang repeatedly, urgent emails blinked in my in-box and IM messages kept popping up.

So, today, I am sitting at  Mermaid’s Café  in downtown Kapaa, Kauai, writing this week’s one and only blog post. Indian music blares from the kitchen’s speaker, wafting through screen windows into the slip of an alley where I sit. Cars and trucks chug and huff past the main drag out front. Shoppers browse  Ship Store  Galleries, Orchid Alley  and Island Hemp & Cotton across the street.

Sometimes the only refuge is a busy, public place.

This column was supposed to be about  World Oceans Day , an event that takes place every June 8. According to a press release from The Ocean Project, the goal of World Oceans Day is “to raise awareness about the crucial role the ocean plays in our lives, and the important ways people can help to protect our shared world ocean.”

World Oceans Day only came to be formally recognized by the United Nations in 2008, a full 16 years after the country of Canada proposed it. In the United States, in that same year, Hawaii became the first state to recognize and celebrate World Oceans Day. On Tuesday, volunteers around the state participated in beach clean ups and reef surveys. Seminars and movie screenings educated the public on the prevalence of plastic in our Pacific Ocean. (I wrote about this previously   here   and  here .)

Earlier this year, Hawaii stepped up and passed the first ban in the U.S. on the possession of shark fins and named the North Shore of Oahu and Waikiki as “surfing reserves.” And on World Oceans Day this past Tuesday, Lt. Governor Duke Aiona Hawai‘i signed a law increasing the penalty from misdemeanor to felony for those who harm the  endangered Hawaiian monk seal .

A state surrounded by water understands the importance of protecting our oceans. Not that we don’t still have some work to do. Ask any fisherman, and he will tell you. Hawaii’s fisheries are on the decline.  And there's that issue with the   plastic .

But instead of writing about my experience on World Oceans Day—walking the beach, picking up litter, taking a health assessment of an 8-week old Hawaiian monk seal pup and looking for adult Hawaiian monk seals for scientists to tag with cell-phone-like instruments —I am absorbed in the inner workings of this restaurant.

Mermaid’s Café is a popular sidewalk eatery on Kauai wedged between a  Java Kai Coffee  and  The Eastside  restaurant. You order at the window and sit at one of several tables lining the sidewalk. Or, like me, you sit at the counter in the alley with a view of the kitchen.

The chef punches a stereo button and we move from India to good, old-fashioned American rock and roll. He tosses onions, red peppers and tofu in a skillet with much admired skill, and he scrambles eggs for my Tofu Egg Burrito. His voluminous hair—dreadlocks?—is tucked under a knit cap.

When I arrived at the beach on Tuesday, a Great Frigatebird chased a Red-footed Booby for its meal, because Frigatebirds do that. The two birds dove and whirled 100 feet in the air. I couldn’t help but think about the oiled seabirds in the Gulf.

In Hawaiian, Frigatebirds are called ‘iwa. Means “thief.” I call them the Pirates of the Pacific, because they go around stealing food from other birds. But don’t label Frigatebirds bad birds. Their thievery would better be labeled an amazing act of survival. Their feathers are not all that water-resistant. If they spend too much time in the water, Frigatebirds get water-logged and cannot take off again. So, instead of plunging or skimming for fish, they prefer to harass Boobies for their food. Somebody has to bring home the fish.

Another punch of the stereo, and we join Bob Marley in Jamaica. The restaurant’s specialty is wraps, like my breakfast burrito wrap. For lunch and dinner, popular choices are the ahi nori and chicken (or tofu) satay wraps. The chef wraps my veggies, tofu and scrambled eggs with brown rice and black beans in a 12-inch tortilla, while a couple other kitchen workers fill a box with dozens of other wraps.

“Is that one order,” I ask.

The young woman who took my order nods her head and says, “It’s for the crew of the Pirates of the Caribbean.” For the past couple weeks, there have been Johnny Depp sightings around the island. He’s here filming the fourth installment of the popular movie. This past weekend, a friend texted me to say Johnny Depp was staying at a house around the corner from me.

Kauai has a long background when it comes to movies. Elvis. Harrison Ford. Ben Stiller. George Clooney. Jennifer Anniston. Adam Sandler. And now Johnny Depp. Movies help boost the economy.

The kitchen crew continues stacking wraps in the box. One of the things I greatly appreciate about this restaurant is its use of locally grown and caught food. And everything is made fresh right in front of your eyes.

In addition to what comes in, the restaurant is particular about what goes out. For dine-in orders, entrees are served on actual plates, instead of disposable ones, reducing waste. House specialty hibiscus tea is served in compostable cups. Wraps are wrapped in tinfoil, no plastic. Considering that I am supposed to be writing about World Oceans Day, this is a big plus. In Mermaids Café, we find an environmentally-conscious restaurateur.

I can’t go to  Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge  for my Friday afternoon docent duty without thinking about the oil-soaked birds in the Gulf. Who hasn’t seen the pictures? Who isn’t horrified? I signed up to help clean the pelicans; however, they’re only taking volunteers from nearby states right now. The chance of my name surfacing to the top of the list is slight. That means plenty of others are stepping forward to help. Good.

And visitors bring up the BP oil spill. They ask me if there have ever been any oil spills in Hawaii. In 1998, a hose separated from a ship at Tesoro's mooring off Barber's Point on O'ahu and leaked 117 barrels of oil. A drop in the bucket compared to the BP spill and yet tar balls turned up on Kauai’s beaches and 11 seabirds washed ashore dead. Two similar, smaller spills have occurred since then.

The point of World Oceans Day is to impress upon people everywhere—even landlocked Missouri and Kansas where I lived the first half of my adult life—that we are all connected to the ocean. And because the BP oil spill is happening in America’s backyard, I hope the good that comes out of this disaster is a lot more awareness of all of our dependence on the ocean. No matter where we live.

For World Oceans Day, the Nature Conservancy launched an  interactive web page to prove that point. Did you know that oceans absorb nearly one-third of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions? That ocean plants produce half the world’s oxygen? That compounds from coral reef plants and animal help treat cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, hearth disease, viruses and other diseases?

As I sit at Mermaids Café and tap on the keys of my laptop, I realize I’ve managed to write about World Oceans Day, after all.

The chef opens the screen window and hands me my wrap. It’s so big that I can’t wrap my mouth around it, so I resort to a knife and fork, and I am heartened to see that they are made from corn and are compostable. 






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