When Margo Pellegrino launched her 21-foot outrigger canoe into the waters of Puget Sound, near Seattle, in early July, she wasn’t sure she’d ever make it self-propelled to San Diego, her destination. She wondered about how she’d handle the notorious surf of the Washington coast and the fickle river mouth sandbars of Oregon. But equally concerning were her fears of the changes humans are causing to the world’s oceans-pollution from plastics, fertilizers and sewage, chemical changes from a warming climate and the loss of biological diversity due to overfishing. More than two months and over 1,500 miles later, the 43-year-old stay-at-home mom from Medford Lakes, New Jersey, is a day away from finishing her expedition along the west coast of the United States-the latest in her campaign to raise awareness for the plight of the world’s oceans. And if her experience has taught her one thing, it’s that there’s hope for her cause.
Pellegrino and her shore support crew, June Barnard, a friend from San Francisco, are paddling on behalf of the Blue Frontier Campaign, a nongovernmental movement to raise awareness and propose solutions to ocean-related environmental issues. In 2007, Pellegrino was inspired by Blue Frontier president David Helvarg’s book 50 Ways to Save the Ocean and embarked on a 2,000-mile trip by outrigger canoe by from Miami to Maine. “At first I thought it would be neat to do a physical challenge,” says Pellegrino, who began outrigger canoeing in 2005. “But then I realized that I needed a greater cause. It made sense that if I were to paddle on the ocean, the ocean would be my cause. That trip gave me a lifelong cause.”
She followed it up with a shorter east coast expedition in 2008 and a longer journey last summer from Miami to New Orleans. She expected the more exposed west coast to be a greater challenge; but with Barnard’s assistance, she endeavored to attempt it to cast her message to a wider audience. “When I started I honestly didn’t know whether I’d be able to do it at all,” she says. “I knew there would be holed-up days and I had a time limit.” As expected, the Washington and Oregon coasts proved to be particularly “gnarly.” Pellegrino and Barnard waited out a week of heavy surf in Newport, Ore., and were shorebound another four days in Bandon, Ore. All the while, they’ve endured one of the coolest and foggiest west coast summers in years.
But Barnard says the people they’ve met along the way have energized their experience. “We’ve come across all walks of life,” says Barnard. “Across the board, everyone has been incredibly gracious and helpful. At a time when we think we’re so divided as a nation this has been inspiring.”
Ecologically rich areas like California’s Monterey Bay have also inspired hope in their cause, and places like Dana Point, Calif., where Pellegrino notes that the harbor has done a good job of capturing nutrient-laced runoff to prevent the algae blooms that are consuming many near-urban marine areas. Still, Pellegrino and Barnard were shocked to see the increased siltation caused by inland logging at Oregon river mouths, which is adversely impacting salmon and navigation-emphasizing an awareness of how development and the lifestyle choices of people in both coastal and inland areas affects the ocean. “No matter how far inland you are, the ocean is important to supporting your life,” Pellegrino insists. “There’s a real need for people to realize what we’re doing to it while we still have a chance to act.”
If nothing else, Barnard believes that Pellegrino’s journey, which wraps up this weekend at San Diego’s Ocean Beach, speaks to an individual’s ability to influence change. “It’s hard to argue with a stay at home mom who’s paddling the coast,” she says. “She’s got cajones to do what she’s doing.” -Conor Mihell
To read Barnard and Pellegrino’s blog, visit www.seattle2sandiego.com