The turquoise color of the water. It was the same as the glacier-fed lakes of Montana, but I was 2,500 miles south off the Riviera Maya coast in Mexico. The swaying of the boat made me feel like my breakfast was on its way out, but I focused on the coastline to remain steady. I was just about to head down underwater with my self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, or SCUBA gear. Life slows down underwater, for safety reasons of keeping the pressure in your ears the same as the outside water, and to pay attention to your surroundings, but I was happy to take my time. I put my regulator in my mouth and took some deep breaths. My fins flapped as I descended down into the wild blue. As we were reaching the bottom, popping my ears as I went, I glanced up and saw a giant stingray glide through the water above me. Its flat body rippling through the water, light, free, and flowing. I was a stranger in this environment next to creatures who thrive here.
As I started kicking my legs and holding my body just above the ocean floor, I felt like I was in a museum. There was no talking, just observing and using hand gestures to indicate when we spotted a lobster or barracuda or lionfish. I kept my body at a distance from the coral and turned my head side to side to see all the reef had to offer. The sea fans and christmas tree coral ebbed in the current. With the sun glistening through the water, it was light enough to see the bright colors, even 40 feet underwater.
I looked down at my wrist and saw the wristband we had to buy because we were in the Puerto Morelos National Reef Park. Here, underwater off the coast of Mexico, I was touring a national park. My mind suddenly went back to the image of hiking through Glacier National Park a few months prior. There, I was traversing up and down thousands of feet of mountains through the dirt, wildflowers, and sun. My knees feeling the pressure from my pack and the constant downward spiral of planting foot after foot as we descended from the Continental Divide. Up there, I felt the pressure of gravity on my joints, yet here I felt weightless.
What struck me in both locations, one where I was breathing the clean mountain air, and the other through a tank on my back, was the enormous beauty the earth offers us. Both terrains ignited the same feeling in me – gratitude and pure awe. The diversity of our planet, from the mountains to the coral in the ocean, is awe inspiring. And the fact that we as humans are here on this earth and have the chance to enjoy places like this makes it ever more important to do what we can to protect it. The bears I spotted playing in the water one morning in Montana, and the school of fish that swam by in a line as far forward and back as I could see in Mexico, rely on the earth as much as we do, yet have no role in causing climate change. Nevertheless, they are susceptible to the impacts we as humans have created by burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
It doesn’t necessarily take seeing these things firsthand to ignite the passion for change, but it sure does provide the fuel I need to keep working to preserve a climate and earth that is sustainable to the myriad wonderful life forms around us. We must never stop believing that we have the power to change the course we are on and turn to clean, renewable energy that will allow for the life of the mountains and the oceans to continue thriving. They will thank us by being here for us to explore and share with each other for years and years to come.