Wednesday, August 5, 2020




When I wear my jelly fish mask I am protecting not only myself, and others, but I am also protecting the ocean.

How does wearing a mask protect the ocean?  Ed Ricketts would know – that’s his statue near the water in Monterey.  Even though he has been dead for 70 years, he’s protecting the oceantoo by wearing his mask.


Ed Ricketts revolutionized the study of marine biology in the 1930s and 40s by spending countless hours knee deep in Pacific Grove’s rocky tidepools, exploring and cataloguing what he called “the habits and habitats” of marine animals and plants.   His fabulous book “Between Pacific Tides” is Stanford University Press’s bestselling book, and it has never gone out of print.

Ricketts organized the book not by individual species, as all previous books had been, but by habitat, where they live.  “Thus, crabs are not all treated in one single chapter; crabs of the rocky shore, high in the intertidal, are in a separate section from crabs of lower intertidal zones or sandy beaches.”  It was the students and grand-students of Ricketts who created the Monterey 

Bay Aquarium, which is likewise 

organized not by separate species, like old aquariums, but by habitats – Kelp Forest, Deep Reef, Sandy Seafloor, OpenOcean etc, neighborhoods.  Even the “Splash Zone” is not a cute name for the kids’ area, but a term from Ricketts, the high intertidal, where the waves splash.


Ok, but what about the masks and the ocean?  Back in April I wrote in this weekly blog that Covid-19 does not live at sea (other viruses do), but I did propose a theology of viruses – check it out at


Masks are a paradox because they both separate us and connect us.  They separate and protect me from the dangerous sneezes of others, and my sneezes from them.  But masks also connect us – they prove dramatically, lethally, that one people can sicken others, or worse.  When one suffers, all suffer.  We’re in this together. No person is an island, or lives on an island.  Or dies alone on an island. We’re all connected.


Rickets didn’t call his book “The Study of Ocean Animals and Plants” or even “The Study of Marine Habitats.”  He used the word “Between.”  He talked all the time about “inter-“ I think he coined the term “intertidal.”  Oceans are in-between places, in between land masses.  And oceans, like masks,  both connect and separate.  The Pacific separates us from Asia, and at the same time it connects us.  That blue is so vast that Thailand monsoons don’t wreck our shores, but we do feel the effects of earthquakes and tsunamis even this far away, and ocean currents run shore to shore.


So wearing a mask doesn’t literally save a fish’s life, but it does remind us how deeply connected we are, how we are a “between” people, in our towns, our nations, our world.  Our so-called freedom to do whatever we want stops right at the deadly cough, the in-between that is between you and me.  Our intertidal.


And masks remind us that this invisible thing called air, that we blithely march through and breathe through every second of the day, air carries life and it carries death.  And where does that air come from?  – the ocean.    75% of all oxygen we breathe comes from ocean plants, and all weather comes from the ocean.  As we live and breathe, or as we breathe and die, it is the ocean, connector and protector, we have to thank. 


Stay safe out there.


I post these ocean devotions every Wednesday here and on Facebook.  I got my mask from another fab aquarium, the Aquarium of the Bay, at Pier 39 in SF.  They sell many different cute mask animals.  Buying their masks also supports their work, which is another way to protect the ocean. Check out a cool video about Ricketts,

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