Why We Are Drawn to the Ocean
Millions of people worldwide target the beach for their vacations, real estate near the ocean sells for a premium, and spending as much time on the water as possible is a priority for the rest of us. Clearly, it’s a common phenomenon—so what is it that draws us to the ocean?
An easy answer is “That’s where the surf is!” and that’s true for a lot of us, but there’s much more to it than that.
Survival Value of the Sea
One thought is that we evolved by the sea, so it is familiar to our ancestral selves. Another version of that idea is that water equates to survival, and in our more primitive, pre-plumbing states, we had to live near water so we intuitively recognize large bodies of water as good.
There have been experiments done where participants were asked to look at landscape pictures and choose the ones they liked best. Researchers found that when a body of water was added, people rated the image much more highly.
The beach can also represent a semi-safe-zone. Most things in the water stay there, so if you are encamped on the beach, you aren’t likely to get attacked from the water (except by other humans—and you can see them coming.)
Like Attracts Like
Since the human body is composed of about 60% water, it’s possible that we feel a sense of kinship with the ocean on a cellular level. The brain and heart are 73% water, so either one could be influenced if that is the cause.
The Electromagnetic Connection
Have you noticed that those Himalayan pink salt lamps are all the rage this year? They’ve been around for decades, but something got them back on trend this summer. The reason big chunks of salt are made into lamps is that they give off negative ions.
For those who haven’t had a chemistry class in a while, think back to the model of the atom that you learned, where the protons and neutrons form a ball in the center, and the electrons orbit around them. Protons have a tiny positive electrical charge and electrons have a negative charge. When the positive and negative are equal, the atom (or molecule) is stable, and when they are not in balance, it becomes an ion. If the atom/molecule picks up an extra electron, it becomes a negative ion.
Why do we care about negative ions? WebMD.com cuts right to the chase in its description: “Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in certain environments. Think mountains, waterfalls, and beaches. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and boost our daytime energy.”
Ocean waves generate a lot of negative ions. Out in the country and around the ocean and waterfalls, the fresh air has between 2,000 and 4,000 per cubic centimeter, whereas, in polluted city air, that number can be as low as 100. So just breathing the air at the beach has a positive effect on your mood and energy level.
By the way—the Himalayan pink salt lamps don’t give off a whole lot of negative ions, but they do help remove allergens from the air, so if you are thinking about buying one, be sure to look into the actual effects, so you don’t end up disappointed. (And if you decide not to get one, you can always head to the beach for your dose of negative ions!)
The Great Wide Open
Ions explain the attraction on a super-micro level, but we’re also clearly drawn by the expansive openness of the ocean. There’s a feeling of freedom that comes with being on the water. Or in the water.
When we talk about survival requirements, the big three are what? Food, water, and shelter. We just take air for granted, unless you are in the water. Maybe it’s that awareness that keeps us in the moment. Even if you are relaxing on the surface, you tend to stay in the here and now. In the water, Monday’s deadline or last week’s criticism’s take a back seat to the world around you.
For me, the power of the waves is almost mystical. Every wave shoves so much energy onto the shore, yet it’s followed by another and another. And out in the depths, where there is no shore, waves rise and fall ceaselessly with the pull of the moon and whatever other forces are at play. I used to wonder why we couldn’t find a way to harness that energy. Now I know there are scientists working on that and I wish them well—I’m sure not going to ever figure it out.
But I think we feel that power very deeply, and playing on the water lets us be a part of it.
Mystery and Connection
Another appeal of the ocean is the mystery of it. We normally only see the surface, but we know that under there is another whole world. Scuba diving lets you see what’s there, but also move in a different way and experience being part of that environment. In the Deep shared some amazing video footage showing an octopus camouflage itself to look like a coral or funky undersea plant. If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, jump ahead to 0:50 to 1:30. You’ll want to watch more than once.
There seems be to a growing awareness that we are all connected, and the oceans literally connect us in several ways. First, there’s the idea discussed earlier, that we are largely made of water, but then on a planetary scale, the oceans separate—and connect—all the different populations. The first aspect of environmental science kids learn is the hydrologic cycle: water evaporates, falls as rain, waters the plants that keep us alive….
Whether you see the grander connection on a spiritual or simply physical level, water plays a big part in who we are and how we live on earth.
Not everyone is a water person, but I bet you are to some degree. Tell us what you think it is that draws you to the ocean.