We are Tied to the Ocean
By WorldTeach Micronesia volunteer Monica Krebs, 2015
When I signed up to be a WorldTeach volunteer on the tiny island of Weno in Chuuk, Micronesia, I knew I was going to be spending ten months living and teaching in a very isolated region of the globe. But it wasn’t until I watched the small green islands materialize out of the endless blue we’d been flying through for hours that I began to realize just what it meant to be moving to a place that, when zoomed out in Google Maps, appears to be just ocean.
Home to the international airport, the state hospital, and two dive resorts, Weno is Chuuk’s most developed island. Even so, life there is much quieter and slower than what I was used to at home. For most of my life, fun has been something readily available to me. In Boston, where I was living before joining WorldTeach, there were yoga classes, boxing classes, ski trips, wine and paint nights, restaurants, concerts, movies…there was something for everyone all the time. But on Weno, there was pretty much just the ocean.
And to me and my fellow volunteers, the ocean became everything. On beach field trips, it was our classroom. When we couldn’t stand the heat anymore, it was our solace. When we were bored to tears, it was something fun to do. When we were extra lucky, it was a fireworks show; its bioluminescent algae lighting up the night like little fireflies and leaving us awestruck. Dazzlingly blue, and crystal clear, it was the backdrop to those ten months of our lives, the gentle lapping of waves on the shore the soundtrack. There wasn’t an aspect of our lives in Chuuk that the ocean didn’t touch.
For Chuuk’s residents, the same is true. The slow, steady rhythms of life in the islands mimic the ebb and flow of the tides. The first sound to break the silence in the morning and the last sound that can be heard before Chuuk turns in for the night is the hum of boat engines as fishermen and water taxis make their way around the lagoon. The ocean is the great provider, giving fish for food and trade, and also drawing in an international community of tourists; most of whom are scuba divers, drawn to Chuuk for its infamous wreck diving. Some of the best jobs on Weno are with the dive resorts, hotels, boats, and airlines those tourists use. For the people of Chuuk, the ocean is life.
What is happening to our oceans right now worries me. I worry how a lifestyle so closely tied to the sea will be affected by destructive fishing practices, ocean dumping, rampant plastic consumption, mass extinctions, and climate change. But I know that the most powerful tool we have for change is education, and it’s my hope that we continue to learn and talk more about how to protect our oceans so that for years to come, those tiny green islands in the middle of the vast blue Pacific stay the magical, beautiful place I know them to be.