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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.

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.

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"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.


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