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Life Lessons of Sustainability From Two Hurricanes

Photo Credit: Unsplash Hurricanes are among the most destructive forces on earth. With powerful winds and surging tides, they can literally wipe an entire city off the map. Respectively, humans are the most adaptable and resilient species on earth. Thanks to our creative ability to build or manufacture tools, we can live just about anywhere. We can also recover from just about anything, including hurricanes. We have researchers who live for months, even years, in the sub-freezing temperatures and gale force winds of Antarctica. We had people living in the vacuum of space aboard the International Space Station. And, we’re even exploring ways to live on Mars.

However, this adaptability is only possible when scientists factor in sustainability. They have to build structures to sustain life — breathable air, tolerable climate, and rations of sustenance. They know that sustainability is the difference between survival or extinction. It’s also makes the difference between recovering with a thriving economy verses a stagnant depression.

I recently spent the last eight months living on a sailboat with my family in the coastal bend area of Texas. We were fixing our vessel and had plans to sail her across the Gulf of Mexico and around the Caribbean. Unfortunately, we had a few issues that prevented us from sailing forward with our plans. Hurricane Ida destroyed Grand Isle and one of the locks in Louisiana. I didn’t feel comfortable sailing across one of roughest bodies of water without a layover spot to restock on provisions. So, we considered staying in Texas and just sailing up and down the coast until either my sailing skills and confidence improved or until the lock in Louisiana was repaired. But our stay in Rockport and Port Aransas helped us to gain some perspective of the importance of sustainability to our economy.

For the first four months, we lived in Rockport. Our boat was tied to a rickety wooden dock that swayed and bounced as you walked on it. Rockport is a quaint little town whose entire economy relies on the fishing industry. Many of the local fishermen have been doing the same thing for generations. The problem is that it is hard to survive by doing the same thing in a changing world. In 2021, fishermen were bringing their boats in later and later, because it was getting harder to catch their daily quota. A quota which isn’t even enough to meet the demands of the market. In fact, Texas Parks and Wildlife even cut oyster season short because there were not enough oysters ready for harvest. That is a hard financial blow, especially for the fishermen who just spent thousands of dollars to repair their boats to get them ready for one of the most vital harvests of Rockport.

When it was time to put our boat to the test to see if she was seaworthy, we moved to Port Aransas. Although Port A is only twelve nautical miles south of Rockport, it was like traveling to a different country. Port Aransas also has fishing boats, yet their economy is based on something more sustainable. Many of their fishing boats and ferries were converted to accommodate tourists. They have dolphin tours, pirate cruises, ferries to take people to the jetties and ferries to take campers to San Jose Island. The marina in Port A was bigger and the Harbor Master made his rounds everyday on the concrete floating docks. It was busier at the marina with people even asking if they could take pictures near our boat, yet we felt safer there. There were no gates or locks on the docks or public restrooms, but everything was maintained better.

Rockport vs Port Aransas
Pictures and Collage by Keoni Kephart.

The similar histories with contrasting economies were amazing. Both Rockport (left) and Port Aransas (right) were hit hard by a category four hurricane in late August of 2017. The devastation by Hurricane Harvey left them without roads or much infrastructure. However, the differences of how they chose to recover was the pivoting moment for them. In Port A, the mayor himself jumped on a front end loader to clear the roads. They made better use of their Disaster Funds to adapt rather than just repair. It took some research to collect the stories about Port Aransas. Why? Because, instead of hanging on to their past, they chose to move forward. They embrace their environment and choose to share it with people.

Rockport has fertile soil and calmer waters to practice sailing, but they chose to put tighter restrictions on sailboats in hopes of drawing in power boats of the richer weekend fishermen. The Harbor Master prefers to have empty boats with credit cards on file for slip rent. Rockport also has dolphins and historic ports that they could use for dolphin and pirate tours, but that requires more maintenance and dealings with people. As a result, the town has become more xenophobic and the crime rate has increased since Harvey. Rockport is very proud of their history. Believe me! I heard about their history a lot. Unfortunately, there is only one result of living in the past. If they don’t adapt soon, they will become history.

I was glad to have seen the contrast of the two little towns. It taught me and my family a powerful lesson. We have dreams of sailing around the world, and one day we will. However, Plastic Free Sea is devoted to encouraging people to practice better stewardship. The climate issues are caused by people. We can’t say that we want to make a difference, while sailing the oceans far away from people. We must embrace people as much as we embrace our environment. Unfortunately, as plant-based environmentalists, it’s hard for us to thrive in an area that relies on fossil fuels and cattle for their economy. And, it just feels wrong paying bills and knowing that the money is feeding into a stagnant and toxic economy.

Currently, ten percent of every purchase from Plastic Free Sea goes to to Ocean Conservation efforts. However, since eating and paying bills is a necessary expense, the majority of our funds bleeds into a economy that does more harm than good to our planet. If we have to pay bills, I’d rather our expenses feed into an economy that embraces sustainability. And thanks to my grandmother, I know of a place where the people have a strong connection to their land and the sea around them. So, we’ve decided to sell our sailboat and move someplace where the funds from Plastic Free Sea can go to better use. So long, Texas! Aloha Hawaii!

We had plans to sail around the Caribbean and eventually the world. But two hurricanes helped my family to see things from a different perspective. This world has been hit by climate change and a pandemic that brought the global economy to its knees. This leaves us with a choice. We can sit in depression about failed plans or we can adapt and move forward. We can cling to our past like fourth generation fishermen, or we can embrace change and the environment around us. What will you do?


Do you have a story that illustrates the benefits of better stewardship? Do you have some tips to help others adopt more sustainable habits into their daily lives? Sign up as a member and contact me to share your story. Together, we can make changes for a better future.

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