New York City — Jet-lagged and not hearing the alarm, I missed the van that was to take my colleagues and I to the Gala Dinner honoring actor, ocean activist Ted Danson and Kelly Hallman, philanthropist and Living Peace Foundation founder.
Determined not to miss the event, I took a cab to bring me to the venue — the famous Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in alluring Pocantico Hills at Westchester county. Ranked no. 11 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, it is housed in a converted barn surrounded by the extensive meadow which provides most of the food for its highly satisfied guests. Its chef and co-owner, Dan Barber, is named one of the world’s most influential people in Time Magazine’s annual Time 100 in 2009.
My decision to be at the event led me to experience one of the most unforgettable moments ever, and there had been countless ones that I am so grateful for. It felt so good knowing that we were among the global champions and influential movers for the protection of our oceans, our people and our planet.
Susan and her husband, David Rockefeller, Violaine and John Bernbach and Loic Gouzer hosted the annual New York Gala dinner with the award-winning Sam Waterston as the master of ceremonies.
Oceana’s Chief Executive Officer, Andy Sharpless, who visited our country and met our key decision-makers in February this year, emphasized the need to protect our vastly threatened oceans. He mentioned the return of the whales in New York City as the waters now provide the environment for the fish population to thrive. He said that the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act has tremendously helped restore the health of many fisheries.
He introduced the very special guest as the writer of the Foreword of his illuminating book, “The Perfect Protein” to the gasp and wild applause of everyone, including the honorees, who were as happily surprised. President Bill Clinton was that person.
Indescribable indeed was the feeling, a Yolo and totally unforgettable moment. President Clinton easily counts as one of the most charismatic and effective speakers with his words — simple yet profound — just flowing effortlessly.
He presented the honorees with the Lifetime Achievement Award and specifically honoring Ted, for the three decades of ocean advocacy.
President Clinton stressed the need to protect ocean ecosystems from the various assaults they face including climate change, and how healthy, sustainable fisheries can help feed the world.
Unforgettable was his realistic assessment that “there are no permanent victories, nor permanent defeat.” The words resonated to the core of my being as a reminder that whatever dark moments we experience and the good ones, for that matter, are not meant to linger forever. The ones that do are the lessons that should carry us through and make us stronger.
I thought of the challenges, mostly self-inflicted, that humanity faces. Many result from ignorance, apathy and from an insatiable and voracious appetite for gain and temporal glory, even at the expense of destroying that which supports us, our life-giving natural systems — land, air, water and our ocean. We forget that by doing so, we are as well depriving our own heirs and their children the indispensable source of sustenance and the legacy of sustainability that they and their generations deserve.
That our own consuming lifestyle and ethos are in direct collision course to the already imbalanced natural world is plain to see. We have never experienced the extremes of temperature, poverty, inequity and yes, the propensity for violence and deep hatred, as what we are witnessing now.
But that should not stop us from continuing the work to protect human rights, including the inalienable and sacred rights to honor, dignity, life, livelihood and a healthful and balanced ecology and our natural heritage. Champions abound and are growing in numbers here and worldwide.
This month’s many ocean-related activities are proof of such healthy collaboration. As part of promoting the Philippines as a Maritime and Archipelagic Nation (Mana), the National Coast Watch Council (NCWC) Secretariat and Oceana organized a photo exhibit and film screening on the Philippine (formerly Benham) Rise from September 4–6, 2017 at the Mabini Hall, Malacañang Grounds. Executive Secretary Salvador “Bingbong” Medialdea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and NCWC Executive Director and Undersecretary Jose Luis Alano graced the launch. In December 2016, 196 State parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted the Philippine Rise as an ecologically and biologically significant marine area and one of the only known spawning sites of the commercially valuable Pacific Bluefin Tuna.
Executive Secretary and National Coast Watch Council Chairperson Medialdea emphasized the important partnerships among marine and maritime stakeholders to advocate for awareness of our distinctly sea-based heritage. He shared to the staff of the Office of the President that “The word Mana means heritage. Our waters form the lifeblood of our national heritage which we draw on to protect our people and preserve our way of life.”
Our fisheries need to be protected. Indeed, as one of the world’s foremost fisheries scientists and Oceana board member Daniel Pauly says, “If we don’t manage this resource, we will be left with a diet of jellyfish and plankton stew.”
Let’s continue the much-needed collaboration to fight for a vibrant and life-giving ocean.