Twenty years ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I gave an hour talk in London at St. James Church Piccadilly as a part of their Alternatives Lecture Series. An overflow crowd of more than 400 people filled the seats, most coming as a result of the recent release of my first book “Feng Shui Made Easy“ and to hear me speak on the subject. But I had a different agenda, one I felt was more important to address than the placement of a desk or what color to paint your front door. I chose this occasion to share my concern for a kind of feng shui problem on the planet — the plight of marine mammals and other creatures of our oceans whose lives were being threatened by the cacophony of noise in the oceans. On that day in November 1995, I introduced my idea for The Silent Oceans Project to build awareness about the damage that low-frequency sonar, oil drilling and other deafening sounds in the ocean was causing to creatures who live in the sea. Many in the audience that evening demanded their money back since I hadn’t met their expectations; others rose to their feet in a long standing ovation, supporting my efforts and immediately joining the cause.
When my father passed away less than two years later, I took the small inheritance he left and established The Silent Oceans Trust, an educational foundation to further the mission. We intended to be an international focal point to celebrate the oceans as the source of life on the planet, committed to exploring efforts to understand, safeguard and preserve marine biodiversity, especially the potentially damaging effects of man-made underwater noise pollution and bioacoustics.
We decided to create “Silent Oceans Day” which would become to the oceans what Earth Day was to the land - - a joyful celebration of stewardship occurring annually on September 19th with 9 minutes of underwater silence at Noon local time throughout the world. Our five-year plan began by hiring an Executive Director who we sent to the National Oceans Conference in Monterey, California chaired by Vice President Al Gore. In attendance was Secretary of State Madeline Albright who expressed interest in our work. The Trust’s Executive Director met with Jean-Michel Cousteau and Sylvia Earle, arguably the two most knowledgeable marine researchers alive. What emerged from that conference was a report the Vice President issued. Our information packet soon made its way into the hands ofsinger-songwriter James Taylor who loved the ocean and wanted to help. Actor Sam Waterston and Paul Winter, a friend and lifelong, passionate environmentalist who joined our Board of Advisors, helped us launch a fundraiser with a short video on the importance of addressing noise pollution in the ocean.
Over the next few years, armed with news reports about exploding eardrums of dolphins as well as the unexplained deaths of hundreds of whales who’d lost their ability to echolocate using their own inbred sonar, I promoted what I envisioned would be a day of silence in the world’s oceans. I chose September 19, 1999 - 9/19/1999 (or if you lived in Europe, 19/9/1999) - to be Silent Oceans Day.
For the years after my London talk, I visited federal officials, marine biologists, shipping company executives, oil exploration firms and environmental groups all over the world. There was already a general consensus about the problem of ocean pollution - plastics and trash were being regularly dumped in the sea - but little was being said about noise pollution. I personally handed our information packet to George Soros as he boarded the Concorde at JFK, to Pierce Brosnanwhen I spotted him in a restaurant in San Francisco, to Sting in a hotel lobby, to Gwyneth Paltrow outside a store in L.A. and to many other lesser known individuals I thought could bring attention to the issue. I made sure our information got into the hands of the Secretary of the Navy (who was sued twice to stop their use of low-frequency sonar) and to the U.K.’s Deputy Prime Minister John Prescottwho swam the Thames in a wet suit to protest the government’s dumping of nuclear waste in the river. I traveled to Stockholm where I attended the lastSweden Water Festival and discussed my concerns with biochemist and cell biologist Rupert Sheldrake in London who helped me understand more about shipping lines.
Our goal was simple: within five years, this topic should be as common place a topic of discussion in environmental circles as recycling. In the summer of 1999, CNN ran a three-part series about the issue. Within two years, Cousteau, Brosnan, and Taylor called for a nationwide protest, urging people to sign a petition and passing the baton to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Legal scholarMichael Jasny wrote extensively on the subject for the NRDC becoming its Director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project, Land & Wildlife Program.
As we celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8th, it’s not hard to imagine my disbelief after reading the widely circulated news report this week about ocean noise. This exact same story could have been written (and essentially was) when I promoted the cause in London more than twenty years ago. It’s as if everyone went to sleep, pretending that the issue never existed. And now, as the article outlines, a new “ten year strategy“ to study the problem. Meanwhile, dolphins die, whales lose their ability to navigate the waters using their own sonar and the deafening noise remains unabated.
Our utter disregard for the delicate life in the ocean emerges out of our short term addiction to constant economic growth and senseless military defense. I cannot understand why this issue continues to be ignored; really, do we need to protect our shores from Russian submarines like some scene out of The Russians Are Coming?
Like the planet, our bodies are made up mostly of 70-75% water. Human blood transports more than meets the eye, carrying with it emotional energy and memories of the past. The main concern I have about the disappointing delayed response since we first addressed the issue of the ocean’s noise pollution is that for the past decade, I have broadened my focus to include my concern about the inner landscape of consciousness and the relationship between the environment and mental health. We have come to recognize the importance of body-centered approaches to post-traumatic stress as a preventive measure in the immediate aftermath of a trauma. Children impacted by natural and man-made disasters are especially at risk. Second Response has created effective, innovative approaches that belong as part of the protocols of front-line disaster response agencies.
Second Response operates on the conviction that as psychologically relevant as trauma is, the neurobiological shifts that occur to adapt to trauma must also be addressed in any effective intervention. This means that we need not just counseling and talk therapies but also somatic approaches to alleviate stress that is housed in our tissues. Unless the physical energies accompanying deeply repressed emotions are relieved, a burden of complex psychosomatic issues can result. Second Response’s body-centered therapies are transcultural — appropriate as developmentally universal methods to help children around the world cope with trauma.
Since 2004, Second Response has diminished the debilitating impact of post-traumatic stress in an estimated 250,000 worldwide. Our PLAYshop methodology has been successfully employed in the wake of numerous natural disasters, including most recently Superstorm Sandy in New York in 2012, Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines in 2014, and the earthquakes in Nepal last year. In response to the growing need for disaster preparedness, Second Response is now implementing an aggressive growth strategy to proactively train disaster relief agencies, first responders, NGOs and government health agencies in PLAYshop protocol in advance of the next disaster. It is our goal to expand the Second Response methodology as a significant component in disaster response capacity.
Second Response has already conducted pre-emptive training for Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Medical Reserve Corps members, educators, and caregivers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, and New York. Federal and regional representatives from FEMA and Homeland Security have assisted in recruiting volunteers and securing training locations for the training programs. At the present time, mental health, children, trauma and resilience are topics in the news, but what remains to be seen is whether we will have to wait another twenty years to see these kinds of methodologies put into practice.
Even as we continue to look years later with concern for marine mammals as noise pollution worsens, I wonder if we will drag our feet before realizing how powerfully our children’s future is being damaged by the constant traumas they face in society.
By William Spear