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If Mermaids Could Speak: Susan Rockefeller on Protecting Our Oceans, Her New Jewelry Line and How it's All Connected

Jun. 16th, 2014 | Comments 0 | Make a Comment   
Susan Rockefeller
Photos Courtesy of Susan Rockefeller

Save the planet: a phrase so incredibly common that the words have been nearly bastardized into simply being the motto of hippies and Earth Month every year. It is easy to forget all of the things that are happening around us and how the things we do as a part of our everyday lives affect the world we live in.  

There are many causes looking for champions and foot soldiers; people who do a lot or a little, but all towards the same goal of improving circumstances or making a change on a larger scale. Perhaps one of the most important ones, our vast oceans are demanding our love and attention and Susan Rockefeller is making it her mission to deliver through general activism, documentary film-making, raising awareness and her latest endeavor: her new "Dive Deep" fine jewelry collection

It is easy to see the why in all of this. The impact the oceans have on our wellbeing and surroundings is staggering and perhaps the most important thing that it gives us is not food (although that does come in at the top of the list) according to Susan, it is "the air we breathe. Fifty percent of our oxygen comes from our oceans – that’s every other breath we take." It seems silly to think that there would be individuals out there that may not care about something so important as the air we breathe, but in case that isn’t enough, "the oceans also regulate our climate, feed over a billion people, hold potential breakthroughs in medicine, provide employment to millions of people, and are home to a diversity of marine life that mystify and delight." 

While some people think of space as the "final frontier," (you just heard William Shatner’s voice just now, didn’t you?) many forget that we have barely scraped the surface of what lies almost impenetrable beneath the waves. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports "for all of our reliance on the ocean, 95 percent of this realm remains unexplored, unseen by human eyes." Yet 70 percent of the Earth is in fact ocean. Anyone who watches NatGeo has undoubtedly already heard those statistics and they probably caught your attention for a second or so, but take a moment to really absorb what that means. 

What if we are literally destroying the answers to some of the greatest mysteries, diseases or economic issues of our time? Or of our children’s time? Last year The Atlantic highlighted a few fun facts courtesy of oceanographer David G. Gallo, one of which included that 297 new species were once discovered in a single column of volcanic rock in the depths of the ocean. "It's strange talking to people who study the deep sea," author Conor Friedersdorf wrote, "because of the sudden realization that one knows very little about it — to have explored the moon before the sea floor seems counterintuitive." People are certainly interested in ocean exploration; otherwise the Discovery Channel would simply eliminate it from their programming. But let’s face it, when NASA launches anything into space it makes headlines. But when NOAA launches a submersible or new ocean exploration platform? Crickets. Public interest is just not where it needs to be in order to fuel more rapid change.

Susan Rockefeller

"As I continue to learn about the natural world," Susan Rockefeller says, "I am constantly reminded that we alone have the power to protect it and all of its wonders – especially after realizing how the health of our planet directly effects our own personal health, and the health of those we love." The filmmaker, jewelry designer and mother tells me that "recently, I read Elizabeth Kolbert’s work on ocean acidification, which inspired me to make two films on ocean issues and start my sR brand to reawaken what I call the 'Modern Mermaid.' The need for all of us to rest— each of us, the land and the ocean— to rebound and rejuvenate, allowing us to operate from a more balanced place." 

The acidification that Rockefeller is referring to has been on the rise since the start of the industrial revolution, according to a 2009 Scientific Committee on Oceanic Resources report and as printed by USA Today, "the world's oceans have grown nearly 30 percent more acidic [due to] climate change, where heat-trapping carbon dioxide emitted into the air by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels ends up as excess carbonic acid absorbed into the ocean." 

But reading reports is only one way to learn about ocean issues and the multitalented woman has some serious hands-on environmental experience backing her up as well. "I spent three years working in the Alaskan arctic on agricultural and fishery issues. There, I experienced the beauty and harmony of a subsistence culture from the local Inuits, who obtain 80 percent of their food from the land: from fish and caribou and moose and berries. The Inuit had an innate connection to the land, and I saw first hand the symbiotic relationship between human health and the health of the land and the overall ecosystem.

Ocean
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

In 1979 I went on to take a one-year certificate program in Ecological Horticulture through the UCSC Farm and Garden Project.  Throughout my certification, I was immersed in the intricacies of organic farming and learned through daily observation and experience about the health of our soil, and how it is a key indicator of the health of the plants from which it grows. This knowledge opened my eyes, and lead me to further question the impact these plants would have on the health of the people and animals that consume them."

Everything is tied together. The breath you just drew, the state of your health and as a result your ability to do your job, earn income, pay your mortgage or even raise your kids. "As a mother I have learned of the fierce desire to protect our children. We want to know if the food we give them is safe to eat and that they grow up healthy. We want to know about toxins and air quality and why more children have asthma now than ever before." Susan explains, "Environmental health and human health are intricately linked, and with the need to protect my children, I feel the same need to protect the earth."

There are things everyone can do on all different levels to help earth’s oceans to rest, as Susan puts it. According to the activist some of the easiest things to do are to simply "support a local nonprofit, or global one like Oceana. Refrain from single use plastic, eat lower on the food chain, and use sustainable seafood resources to make informed choices." She points out that Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great iPhone app to help you make helpful decisions; you can download it here.

Susan Rockefeller

For a bigger step she encourages individuals to "lessen their carbon footprint and to vote with their fork and choose sustainable options. Use mass transit, walk or bike.  Engage in virtual meetings instead of airplane travel. Plant a garden. Make time to rest so you have energy to give to the things you love. Ask yourself what is precious to you and support and live from those convictions." 

Of course you can bet that Susan does as much as she can as an activist for the ocean, in fact she sits on several boards for different causes as well, but the busy woman takes her own advice and often takes time to just breathe and have what she likes to call a "mermaid moment," resting and rejuvenating between all of the activity in her life. That said, doing is something she cares deeply about and she says that her "motivation is the passion for the work, the people and the vision. I believe happiness is the by-product of action. And that action often speaks louder than words." If that is the case Rockefeller’s actions are singing at the top of their lungs, and their latest song? Susan has a few irons in the fire including another documentary about the food we eat, but the launch of her jewelry line sR is her latest enterprise. 

Susan Rockefeller

"Embracing the tagline 'Protect What is Precious,' the sR brand promotes the concepts of (s)Rest, (s)Rejuvenation and (s)Reimagination; highlighting the need for balance in both our natural world and our personal lives," Rockefeller explains. When asked about her creative process, Rockefeller tells me that she draws "inspiration from nature, her shapes and patterns and colors; the way light moves. Various forms of artistic expression also influence me, by what moves my heart." The objective of the new line is to provide a means to "continue the global conversation about ocean protection and conservation," and the pieces clearly reflect the woman's love of the sea. Pearls are featured throughout many of the designs, as well as sea urchins, starfish and of course mermaids. The line is very pretty and done in a very elegant, tasteful way. None of the pieces reflect the "typical beach house" look. 

Susan Rockefeller

The Dive Deep collection will be available on SusanRockefeller.com, as well as London Jewelers and Bernie Robbins should you like to pick up your own; five percent of the sales will go toward Oceana. A passion project for Susan, she tells us that "'the Dive Deep' collection serves as a both a reminder and a call to action to protect what it is that we hold dear." So the next time someone compliments your new sea urchin ring or Honora Ming iridescent pearl droplet earrings, make sure you tell them why the line exists in the first place.

Susan Rockefeller
Susan Rockefeller
Susan Rockefeller
Susan Rockefeller
Susan Rockefeller
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