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The New Sea Stories

As I plumped myself down to watch Greenfire Productions’ new documentary, Ocean Frontiers, I was ready for a fight. Not to actually be in a fight, mind you, I just wanted to watch one from the comfort of the plush seats at the New England Aquarium’s IMAX theater. Ocean Frontiers starts with a familiar setup; ecosystems stretched to breaking, rickety regulations that are hardly adequate, and everyone wanting a bigger piece of the pie, or at least to keep what they have. I anticipated such well-worn narratives as right vs wrong, perceptive vs blind, spiritual vs benighted -- the usual. But that’s not what I got. Ocean Frontiers shows four coastal communities who sidestepped the gridlock of their eco-struggles and found solutions that worked for everyone, and for the ocean. (Conflict of interest alert: I’m on Greenfire’s board.)

Ocean Frontiers shows environmental disputes that range as widely as the American coastline itself. Oregon fishermen poaching one another’s territory as the fish populations crash. Whale biologists trying to keep freighters and fishing nets from killing endangered Right Whales in the regulatory mosh-pit of Massachusetts Bay. Gritty Louisiana fishermen blaming midwestern farmers for causing a 3,300 square mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. But, after years of hostility, crashing ecosystems, and deadlock people were ready for a new approach.

This new approach began with environmental leaders reaching across the kind of social barriers that plague American life today. Gulf of Mexico fishermen invited a group of Iowa farmers on a fishing trip. A whale researcher met with fishermen in bars around Boston. And despite such affable gestures as an effigy burning, lifelong enemies in the Florida Keys worked hard to actually talk with one another.

But Ocean Frontiers goes beyond a Kumbaya love-fest when it shows the non-environmentalists beginning to see themselves as part of their resident ecosystem. Iowa farmers assert themselves as active players in the Gulf of Mexico’s ecology. Oregon fishermen realize their livelihood depends on halting logging in forests where salmon spawn. And who would have imagined a natural gas shipping company laying down good money to save the whales? A public relations campaign would’ve definitely been cheaper.

Ocean Frontiers shows that collaborating on environmental solutions can strengthen communities and enrich people’s lives. And, while there are still plenty of internecine eco-brawls around, it’s great to watch people working together to repair their resident ecosystem -- once they’re done fighting.

The Ocean Frontiers documentary is part of a national organizing effort. Please see http://ocean-frontiers.org/ to get involved.