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Land, Sea and Society
Reflections on values during a pandemic

I HOPE this piece reaches my neighbors, friends and family, in solidarity during a rather scary and uncertain time. I know my own world has been shaken, transformed for now and for the foreseeable future.

So many stories streaming past my eyes. Some are facts, some sensationalism, some conspiracies, extremism, and more.

So many of these stories focused on politicizing a pandemic and pitting us against each other based on abstract notions of the “economy.”

The fallout I’ve experienced includes losing friends to philosophical fights, having friends who have fallen drastically sick to COVID-19, and having friends and colleagues who have lost family to this virus.

And we know little about what is yet to come.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect, and one thing that keeps grabbing my attention is the absence of people talking about how we will reconsider our relationships to nature and wildlife in a post-pandemic world.

We haven’t discussed much about our exploitation of nature and wildlife or how it got us to this point.

Traditional epidemiological studies trace the origin of COVID-19 to markets that sell exotic wildlife for market. This theory has been disputed, so some of the details are still out to jury.

However, most leading public health institutions agree this new strand spread from non-human animals to humans. This is what’s called a zoonotic disease, and it is an entire area of public health concern.

In fact, the CDC has long held a transdisciplinary approach to public health which recognizes the interconnections between people, animals, plants, and our shared environments. This is called “One Health.”

Since we’ve been forced to slow down, have you considered your own relationship with the nature and wildlife we explore?

Your version of connecting with nature may be as simple as sitting on the beach or growing a garden.

For others it might be paddling, surfing, hiking, fishing, meditation and ceremony, or a multitude of other ways to explore and commune with nature.

Living in Coastal Georgia during COVID-19 has solidified, to me, how important the ocean, marshes, and coastal nature is to our well-being, our spirit, and to our happiness.

Having worked in environmental research and advocacy, I am familiar with the economic and ecological value of a healthy coast and chain of barrier islands.

But other connections to wellbeing and quality of life remain harder to quantify. This begs the question, what is the value in happiness and natural spaces. Further what is ‘value’ to us?

Over the last weeks, as we settled into Shelter in Place, I started to notice something incredible. Across my social media network and in casual conversations with friends and family, one of the most important things people turned to for some semblance of balance—in nature.

People longing to get to the ocean, beaches, rivers, for fishing and paddling and more. The partisan economy rhetoric that monopolizes media and pits fights against strangers on social media seems to fade into the background.

When given the chance a lot of people want to get back to nature. It’s been astounding to me.

This observation has offered me a sense of hope that more people will begin to protect our natural world since they get so much benefit from it.

These are the values that matter to me and are often left out of our politically divisive narrative of “what’s best for America.”

Of course, it’s important to still acknowledge jobs and business are equally important to any other issue we are facing.

I too face financial vulnerability because of this global pandemic. But life and living seems to be the most ethical priority.

The nature and biodiversity that we coexist with offers us stability for our health as a species, as well as an escape from the pressures of the world. We are seeing this boldly in a time of great loss and uncertainty.

That’s why we need to talk more about our connection to nature and wildlife and consider our coexistence within these realms. Based on science, we know the current pandemic is linked to human exploitation of wildlife.

We need to acknowledge that this exploitation of wildlife is not linked to a specific nation; it is driven by a network of people across the world demanding access and consumption of the most exotic of species.

This is a human condition and it’s one that we can change.

Our other cursor for self-destruction is our exploitation of oceans and land. This behavior of exploiting and extracting limits us to less and less access—to the very places and natural settings we are all trying to get back to when commanded to Shelter in Place.

What will be left of these places that soothe our hearts and minds in the toughest of times if we continue down this same path? Where will we head during the next pandemic?

After this public health crisis is behind us, we will need healthy oceans and nature and should do our part to protect it for all.