Feb 28, 2014

Life At The Tideline Proposal: Can We Save Maritime Communities From Climate Change?

So here's why I've been AWOL for most of 2014. Including from critical events. Like bathing. I threw my hat in the ring for the new National Geographic–Fulbright Digital Storytelling Fellowship.

The Abstract: Stop polluting now, warned a UN Report, or technology may not be able to save us from climate change. I want to inspire action by sharing the characters – and challenges – of three vulnerable coastal communities. Greece’s Aegean, already parched by Bronze-Age desertification, now wrestles with shifting weather patterns. Canada's Haida Gwaii defied international geoengineering bans to boost salmon stocks. And Kiribati faces hard decisions as the ocean rises towards the country’s highest ground at 6.5 feet. Will its people be able to afford floating cities or will they move en masse to solid ground? Or could a diaspora dissolve this 5,000-year-old culture, scattering refugees like grains of sand borne away by the sea?

The Heartfelt Appeal: I grew up beside the ocean: running through rainbows on a Santa Cruz beach, out-shrieking the seagulls over Cape Cod Bay and hopping along white-weathered surf logs in the Pacific Northwest. My hippy parents banned TV, after I experimented with pouring root beer down our rabbit-eared set (result: plumes of foam). But what did I care? I always had the sea.

No matter how far I have traveled, the scent of saltwater and cedars signals home as surely as any channel buoy.

Today the work I love, photography and travel writing, takes me places even Dr. Seuss couldn’t have imagined. And I remain grateful for every morning I wake up and go play out in the world: exploring, sharing, inspiring. Even the scratchy moments have their own louche charm, like changing a tire with a spoon or second-degree acid burns from a damaged dive light. These are, after all, reasonably nice problems to have, compared to what much of the world faces.
Kids play on the mooring lines of the Aranui 3. Image copyright www.amandacastleman.com
Those stories – the ones that don’t shrug off and fade into cocktail chatter – kept sticking with me, though. Failing crops. More viscous cyclones. Water shortages so severe that newborns go unwashed. The source: the emissions we keep spewing out, risking catastrophic disruption, unless future generations manage to vacuum the greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Climate change just plain scares me. It makes me want to ostrich: to bury my head and squawk about simple stuff like airline surcharges and crooked tour operators. Fear drives me to be a smaller, pettier person.

Let me be large, instead. Let me loose into the beauty and the terror. And let me follow my lifelong passion for the ocean into stories that make others brave too.
Landfall in French Polynesia. Image copyright www.amandacastleman.com

It Takes A Village
: My "big brother" Edward dismantled my rough draft, and wrote a reference to boot, along with my editor Patti and Writers.com compatriot Mark. Big hugs to Charyn, Chelsea, ChristyJustine and 
Marie for edits, and Candace for standing on-deck during the finale, just in case. Yay to AndriaIreneJoanna and Litsa for working the Greek angles! And also to GilesJad, Jenny, and Terry and her dynamite dad Bud for the brainstorming, along with my fellow-sufferer Kristen for the all-nighter pep talks.

Special thanks to Professors Maite Maldonado and Theodora Petanidou, along with the Cultural Association of Tholaria, for taking a chance on me. I hope we'll get to work together soon in some capacity, even if this particular fellowship doesn't move forward.

And Doug. Always Doug.

It's corny, but I'm gonna say it anyway: No matter what happens with the grant, I've already won by having so many stand-up people in my life! Thanks, y'all!


  1. We need you! Pullin' for you, girl.

    1. Thanks, Stephanie: it means so much to have someone with your big heart and social-issue savvy rooting for me!

  2. Anonymous10:25 PM

    This is fantastic, Amanda! Well thought out and with such passion, to boot! I love your proposal and know you'll do a great job making it come to fruition! Best of luck! ~Kristen

    1. Here's to a Seattle sweep, Kristen. Can't wait to catch up over a bevvie and hear about your project!


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