From Miami to Maine, spreading the word about the oceans

Margo Pellegrino canoed 2,000 miles to publicize the plight of the oceans.

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There's no better way to beat summer heat than by making a beeline for the nearest body of water. Maybe you've canoed on a lake at camp or spent family vacation time at the beach this season.

But can you imagine spending every day on the water for more than two months? That's what Margo Pellegrino of Medford Lakes, N.J., did. Beginning in May, she paddled her 20-foot outrigger canoe nearly 2,000 miles – all the way from Miami to Camden, Maine!

Ms. Pellegrino didn't row her boat just for fun, though. She made many stops along her journey to tell people about the state of the world's oceans. Overfishing, too much coastal development, and water pollution are just some of the problems that she highlighted.

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Ms. Pellegrino had already known the sea was in trouble. But she got a wake-up call in late 2005 when she read about what happened to Easter Island long ago. This tiny island in the South Pacific was almost completely deforested by the 18th century. It is thought that inhabitants used up so much timber that their forest ecosystem collapsed. With few resources left, islanders found it hard to survive, and their numbers dwindled.

She didn't want the same thing to happen to our ocean ecosystems or to the people who depend on them for food and income. So she started to think of a long canoe trip as a way to publicize the plight of the oceans.

Through her voyage, she wanted to inspire everyone to take better care of the sea that all people share in common. "It's really possible to do anything that you set your mind to do, with the [right] amount of planning and determination," she said by cellphone while waiting for fog to clear in Hull, Mass.

A big part of protecting the oceans, says Ms. Pellegrino, is just visiting them. "Once you're out there, you can really appreciate what you need to protect. That's an important part of conservation. My own feeling is that we don't get outside enough to really enjoy what we have."

Everything about the ocean needs protecting – from water quality to fish to coastal areas. People in the recreation industry depend on clean water and clean beaches to bring them customers who want to surf, snorkel, or lie in the sun. Fisherman depend on thriving fish populations for their livelihoods. And if you eat fish or like to visit the beach, then healthy seas are probably important to you, too.

What if you don't live near the ocean? You can help take care of it by learning about local bodies of water and being careful about what you do on the land where you live.

"Kids [who] don't live near a coastline still do live in part of a watershed that goes to a stream somewhere that goes to a river somewhere that goes out to the ocean," Ms. Pellegrino points out. A watershed is a region that drains into a particular body of water. And most lakes, rivers, and streams eventually drain into the sea. Think of it this way, she suggests: The earth's land is like a filter for the oceans. That means that when chemicals such as pesticides are put on the land, they seep down into the ground, and ultimately may travel out to sea.

One way to keep harmful substances from draining into your watershed is to pick up after your pets outside, she notes. If left on the ground, pet droppings can contaminate storm-water runoff that drains into lakes, rivers, or bays.

Another way to aid the oceans is by not using pesticides on the lawn. Your family's purchase of organic or locally grown food can help, too, she adds. Organic farmers don't use chemical pesticides or fertilizers. And since many products are often shipped in from far away, buying local goods means less vehicle exhaust in the air. (Most air pollution falls back to land or sea in precipitation. It may also contribute to rising sea temperatures through global warming.)

These aren't the only ways to help, however. To learn more, she recommends reading the book, "50 ways to Save the Ocean," by David Helvarg. It's a guide to simple things anyone can do to make a difference for the ocean. For example, use less plastic (which often ends up in the ocean and endangers sea animals). And leave driftwood and seaweed where they are. (They provide food and habitat for some organisms.)

Even though she's finished her canoe trip, Ms. Pellegrino says she plans to keep helping people learn that each individual can be involved in solving the problem of polluted oceans. Read all about her trip at www.miami2maine.com.

You can help the oceans, too

If you want to get involved with other people who are passionate about protecting the oceans, here are some websites to check out:

• The Blue Ocean Institute aims to inspire people – through science, art, and literature – to take better care of the world's oceans.

At the institute's website, you can read the Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood. Margo Pellegrino likes this color-coded list of many types of fish that people eat. The colors tell whether certain fish come from abundant populations (OK to eat) or whether they have been overfished (better to avoid).

You can also read poems and stories about the ocean by people who love the sea. (If you'd like to submit a poem or essay, read the guidelines under Sea Stories). Web address: www.blueocean.org.

• The Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif., is right on the ocean. It has lots of exhibits to explore and special programs to teach kids about oceans. If you don't live in California, there are online activities you can do in the Kid's Corner of the website. Web address: www.montereybayaquarium.org.

•Dive and Discover is a website all about scientists' expeditions to the seafloor. You can read about and see pictures of these journeys and learn about ocean currents, ships and technology, and more. Test your sea knowledge through interactive lessons and even fun quizzes. Web address: www.divediscover.whoi.edu.

• WaterWatch International was founded to monitor the quality of waterways around the world. Its WaterWatch Sea School is a week-long class in New Jersey meant to get kids outside to see and appreciate the aquatic life around them. Web address: www.waterwatchinternational.org.

• The Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to protecting oceans through research, conservation, activism, and education. Online, you can find out about its "Respect the Beach" program. Surfrider members bring this program into the classroom where students learn about beaches, erosion, watersheds, and pollution. There are local Surfrider chapters on the East and West Coasts and in Texas and Hawaii. If there's a chapter nearby, you may want to ask your family or teacher about bringing "Respect the Beach" to your school. Web address: www.surfrider.org.

You can also use a Web search engine to find local ocean, river, or water conservation groups in your area. They often need volunteers or have activities such as trash pickups along a lakeshore or riverbank.

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