Humpback Whale Tonga by Craig Lambert

Praise Song for Oceania: A Film-Poem

The Chilean writer Pable Neruda once said, "I need the ocean because it teaches me". For Dr Craig Perez, poet and professor from Guam, it was no different. His devotion to raising awareness about our interaction with the ocean and all that the ocean can teach us led him to compose a poem for World Oceans Day titled "Praise Song for Oceania".

The poem inspired Hawaiian filmmaker Justyn Ah Chong to produce a short film adaptation, which has been screened at film festivals in Australia, Barbados, Germany, United Kingdom (London) and across the United States.

Dr Perez answers below some questions about his work, his attachment to World Oceans Day and how he has drawn inspiration from the ocean to promote ocean literacy within Pacific communities. What is the inspiration for the poem? Any particular circumstances linked to it?

Dr Craig Perez: The inspiration for "Praise Song for Oceania" was my deep respect for the "blue continent". In my native Pacific Islander culture, we consider the ocean sacred because the ocean is our origin, our source, our ancestor. I also wrote the poem because as an environmentalist I am deeply concerned about the current crises facing the ocean. Why is World Oceans Day important to you?

C.P.: World Oceans Day is important to me because it is an opportunity to learn about the ocean and how people from different places relate to the ocean and deal with the problems we are facing. It feels empowering to be connected to a global community who are all praising the oceans as well as fighting to protect the oceans. What do you hope to accomplish by linking poetry and the ocean?

C.P.: Poetry is a powerful form of art through which to express our emotions about the ocean and our connection to the environment. I hope that my poetry can poignantly capture the ecology, history, culture, politics and even economics of the ocean. I also believe that poetry is a creative way to raise awareness and increase literacy about environmental issues.

In recent years, I have performed my "eco-poetry" at events like the Hawaii Climate March, the IUCN World Conservation Congress, and the Hawaiʻi Conservation Alliance Conference. It is clear that poetry creates a space for people to engage with environmentalism on a emotional level.

Craig santos perez As a poet and professor, what do you think we need to do as countries and as individuals to instill in the new generations the love and concern with the protection and sustainable use of the ocean?

C.P.: Countries need to support and fund environmental literacy initiatives, which could include media, arts and educational programs. As individuals, we need to continue to educate ourselves about our local environments and our connections to global ecologies--and we need to pass on this knowledge to the next generations. One project I am involved in is the "My Hawaiʻi Story Project", which is an environmental writing contest for middle school students here in Hawaiʻi. The students learn about their environment, express their thoughts and emotions in creative writing and are honored with publication and prizes. Instilling the love and passion for nature at a young age is so important.  

Additionally, I teach a course at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa, called "Eco-Poetry" and in the years I have taught it I have found that students are very open to learning and writing about the natural world around us. What specific problems related to the ocean worry you the most? (pollution, acidification, etc.)

C.P.: I am worried about plastic and other nuclear and waste pollution, rising temperatures and acidification, coral bleaching and the massive die-off of marine species. In the Pacific, I am also very concerned about military testing and training in our waters, as well as plans for deep-sea mining. I am thankful for all the organizations and grassroots movements that are fighting to protect and defend our blue planet.

Have you done or will you be doing something special to celebrate World Oceans Day? We want to share your story! Write to us: is the portal for all those who wish to raise awareness about ocean issues, at any level and in any subject, in the context of the World Oceans Day (8 June).

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