Just a few short months ago on World Oceans Day, Sir Richard Branson challenged me to swim 3.3km in open water across the Strait of Messina to raise awareness for the health of our ocean.
Though I am an avid scuba diver, before World Ocean Day I had never swam long distances in open water and was unsure of my ability to complete this public challenge. But on behalf of the Lonely Whale Foundation and our ocean, I accepted.
My journey to train for the swim took me to oceans, lakes, and streams across the globe, exposing me to the dire ocean health issues that are in our hands to solve. From Biloxi Mississippi, one of the world's largest dead zones, to the Port of Singapore, the world's second largest, I've experienced first hand how the lack of connection to our oceans has impeded our ability to care for them. So this morning when I arrived at the Strait of Messina, mythicized in the Odyssey for its treacherous waters, I was inspired not only by my own transformation and ability to complete this challenge, but also by our ability as humans to work towards a collective goal.
As a society we teach our children to clean their room but what we've largely forgotten is that our earth, our ocean, is also ours. It is our shared room. Falling victim to the tragedy of the commons, our collective action is needed to make positive change for ocean health, for our health.
How do we as a collective culture begin to shift our perception? Reconsider the value of our surroundings and look beyond our four walls?
What's often misunderstood is the critical role our ocean plays in our environment and in climate change. The ocean covers 70% of our earth and absorbs a quarter of all CO2. Scientists have claimed that fully protected marine areas are six times more resilient to climate change than unprotected areas -- making them critical in safeguarding our ocean against the threat of climate change.
It is my hope that once we understand the value of our ocean, we will begin to look beyond border and profit and care for our waterways.
Two weeks ago President Obama made history by announcing the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument - the first marine national monument in the U.S. Atlantic. Nearly 5,000 square miles of protected ocean just off the coast of New York City. My backyard. Unfortunately, most New Yorkers aren't yet talking about it and some are even disputing its establishment.
President Obama has protected more ocean than any US President in US history, from the Pacific Remote Islands, Papahanaumokuakea and canyons and seamounts off the coast of New England, helping to ensure climate resilience and providing leadership worldwide. Who we elect in the coming election will determine how strong of a leadership position the United States, a critical international player in the ocean health arena, will take. Our leadership will determine the actions of other key nations.
I decided to complete my swim this birthday balloon I found in the ocean tied around my neck as a symbol representing the careless plastic pollution humans create that is choking our ocean and marine wildlife - from birds to turtles and even whales.
The ocean is our second breath, we need to treat it as such.
Like so many other parts of the ocean, as I crossed the Strait of Messina this morning I witnessed the effects of climate change, pollution, and overfishing. Even though this waterway is known as a biodiversity hotspot, I saw no fish during what ended up being a nearly 5.2km swim. The waters around Sicily have long been rich fishing grounds and are prime examples of illicit activity. While there are small pockets of protected ocean, local fishermen are known to ignore laws that would protect the waters. Bluefin Tuna and Sharks, once plentiful in the region, are now scarce.
Leaving the water today I was more inspired than ever to keep swimming, to #makeasplash for our ocean and our future.
I hope you'll join me.
Watch my swim across the Strait of Messina.
Also on HuffPost: