Vikki Spruill P’12, president and CEO of the Ocean Conservancy, wrote an essay for USA Today stressing the need for “a new awakening of ocean environmentalism in America.”
Writing at the one-month mark of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, Spruill wrote, “We cannot let out-of-sight, out-of-mind shape public consciousness. We must stop polluting. We must stop exploiting. We must understand that, while the Gulf is under direct assault, the ocean’s broader demise threatens every one of us.”
This past February, Spruill discussed the connections between the ocean, climate change and the policy change necessary to preserve our oceans during a President’s Forum Series lecture on campus.
“First, I’d like you to consider a few things,” said Spruill, addressing the standing-room-only crowd in the Geneva Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library just two months before the explosion that caused the spill. “The oceans provide much of the food, much of the protein that feeds the world, the rain that feeds our lakes and rivers. The oceans are responsible for half of the oxygen in the next breath you take.”
Spruill began serving as head of the Ocean Conservancy in 2006. Prior to her appointment at the Ocean Conservancy, she was president and founder of SeaWeb, a non-profit organization that uses strategic communications techniques to advance ocean conservation.
Prior to SeaWeb, Spruill spent 15 years in public relations, including five years as a senior vice president at Ruder Finn, one of the largest independently-held public relations firms in the world, where she was responsible for client management and new business development. Spruill is a member of the board of directors for Sky Truth and sits on the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program Steering Committee. She is currently a director of COMPASS, the Communications Partnership for Science and the Sea. Spruill serves on the Advisory Committee for the Ocean Hall of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum and the Conservation Committee of the SeaChange Investment Fund. She is also a newly appointed member of the Pew Fellows Advisory Committee. Most recently, Spruill founded FoundationWorks, a nonprofit organization helps foundations utilize strategic communications.
Spruill graduated cum laude from Loyola University in New Orleans with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in religious studies. She received her master’s degree, also in communications, from the University of West Florida.
The complete essay as it appeared in USA Today follows.
In wake of BP spill, will we save our oceans?
Vikki N. Spruill • Guest Essayist • May 24, 2010
Just over a month ago, the ocean burned. The images of BP Deepwater Horizon in flames have led us to question both ocean industrialization and the anemic state of conservation. Not long ago, however, Americans were swept up in a wave of environmentalism spurred in part by two very different events.
First, in 1956, Jacques Cousteau released his film, The Silent World, upon an unsuspecting and soon awestruck public. Though hard to fathom now, few humans had ever glimpsed the beauty, grace and mystery just a few feet below the ocean’s surface. The second, in 1969, came when Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire. The image of a polluted river in flames was seared into the national consciousness. The United States would go on to pass the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and other important protections.
The ocean has inspired millions, but our understanding of it is as shallow and shrouded as ever. Only the most intrepid divers descend below 150 feet or so. By 330 feet, sunlight fades. From there down, past the gushing BP well at 5,000 feet, the ocean is cast in darkness, but life exists to the very bottom.
A month of anguish
Many people think the ocean is unknowable – out-of-sight is out-of-mind. Communicating against such complacency is the greatest challenge of ocean conservation. As BP Deepwater Horizon shows, in images as grotesque as Cousteau’s were gorgeous, we cannot let the ocean’s mystery lull us into inaction.
Oil has been jetting into the Gulf of Mexico for more than a month now. One month of fear for coastal communities. One month of anguish for a nation. The quantity of oil will be left to the scientists and lawyers, but if new estimates are right, it could be as much as an Exxon Valdez every four days.
Unlike the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, however, the oil from BP Deepwater is coursing into mile-deep, near-freezing waters that may be changing the spill’s character. Only recently did scientists discover a 10-mile plume below the surface. Such plumes could soak up oxygen needed for sea life to survive and deal a crippling blow to fisheries, wildlife and the economy.
Oceans sustain us
The presence of submerged oil might explain why what we see falls short of expectations of what an oil disaster looks like. Then again, much of what lies beneath the ocean’s surface defies expectation. In those unseen depths is the source that sustains us with the food, oxygen and the climate we need to survive.
Now, more than ever, we need a new awakening of ocean environmentalism in America. We cannot let out-of-sight, out-of-mind shape public consciousness. We must stop polluting. We must stop exploiting. We must understand that, while the Gulf is under direct assault, the ocean’s broader demise threatens every one of us.
Just over a month ago, the ocean burned. Will these images inspire a new generation of ocean activism? Or will America stand silent as the silent world crumbles?
How we answer these burning questions could be key to the very future of life on planet Earth.
Vikki Spruill is president and CEO of Ocean Conservancy, advocates for the ocean since 1972, (www.oceanconservancy.org).