Humans can still thrive on Earth if we collaborate
Humans can still thrive on Earth if we collaborate, listen, care for all beings, and work in harmony with natural systems. Milestones toward a brighter future will not be accomplished by individuals acting alone or working in silos.
Fronds of sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima), a species similar to kombu, that has fantastic benefits for human health. Inset: Skye seeding lines with sugar kelp sporophytes. Photo: Ashley Taylor
Orienting with the Heart
by Skye Steritz

moved to Ghana, West Africa, prior to my senior year of undergrad to participate in an education abroad program. I was leaving the comfort that I knew to live in a new culture for an entire year. I traveled farther than ever before to a continent I had never seen. I didn’t know any Ghanaian people, but when I arrived I was warmly welcomed. Ghanaian students and university staff made me feel at home, and I quickly moved into a space of trust and open-mindedness, ready to absorb, adapt, and learn.

Learning “I Am Because We Are”
After I settled in, I started exploring the capitol city of Accra. I quickly noticed the warmth of the people that radiated across the nation. A refreshing sense of togetherness was (and is) embedded deeply in Ghanaian culture. Collectivism above individualism. “We” over “I.” Ghanaian values were imparted to visiting students by Auntie Rose and Uncle Albie of the UC Education Abroad Program. One that stuck with me was the philosophy of Ubuntu: “I am because we are.” I only exist because of the community around me.

I witnessed people generously sharing and taking excellent care of each other even when they had very little in the way of material possessions. I saw neighboring shopkeepers seamlessly cooperating. When a mother had to step away to help her son, the vendor next to her would gracefully care for her shop and complete her sales without concern for competition. When the mother returned, all the money that had been earned was immediately handed over to her. Reciprocity was clearly their natural way of behaving.

An abundance of trust existed amongst the general public that I had not witnessed in the same profound way in the so-called “United” States. It was as if they were all family. For me, this was an important lesson in leadership.

Sekyiwa and Skye
Skye making new friends in Ghana
Lasting Connections
On the University of Ghana campus, I was making friends. There was a particular Ghanaian woman in my classes whom I quietly admired. She asked brilliant questions and was consistently engaged with the content of our Animal Biology and Conservation Science courses. Her name was Sekyiwa. One day at the end of class, she approached me and handed me a pair of beaded sandals. Prior to her giving me this gift, we had hardly spoken. It was a benevolent act to welcome me. She wanted me to know I was accepted among the cohort of Ghanaian students who had been together for the past three years.

Several months later, it was my first holiday season away from home. Sekyiwa invited me to celebrate Christmas with her family at their home in Accra. There, she taught me how to make one of my favorite Ghanaian dishes, waakye, a delicious mix of rice and beans. We also made sobolo, a traditional health drink made from hibiscus. Sekyiwa even took me to a nearby outdoor market and instructed me to pick out a piece of traditional fabric. Her mother then sewed me a dress, just like she does for her own daughters.

Throughout the course of 10 months, Sekyiwa and I nurtured our friendship, going for walks on campus, confiding in each other, studying together, going dancing, and hanging out on class field trips. This friendship was important for my personal development because it proved to me that I could become close with people from all different backgrounds, cultures, and walks of life. Even though we were raised in different environments, we could find common ground.

I was reminded by Ghanaians of a truth I always knew but didn’t always see expressed in the society around me. What is most important is love. The way we care for one another is the primary legacy of our lives. I felt such deep relief in my soul.

I cried hard the day I left Ghana. That year, I made some of the most authentic friendships of my life. Sekyiwa and I stayed in touch. Years later, she moved to the U.S. for grad school. I was able to reciprocate the hospitality she showed me when she came to spend the holidays with my mom and me.

In kelp, we find a sea green that nourishes our communities with high levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and Omega-3s. It purifies the blood, strengthens the immune system, and boosts the body’s energy levels.
From Ghana to Alaska
When I moved to Alaska for the first time in 2015, I saw these values of community care woven into the fabric of life here as well. People stopped on the highway to help strangers with their car issues, and neighbors gave away their prized sockeye salmon. My experience has been that the average Alaskan is generous with their knowledge, with their time, and with their resources—because Alaskans know we need each other to survive tough times. Nobody gets ahead by keeping it all to themselves.

In the Alaskan landscape, we find undeniable abundance, and that is reflected in the hearts of the people who live here. One of the people who exemplifies this is an Eyak elder named Dune Lankard from Eyak/Cordova. From the moment I met Dune, he acted like an uncle and took me under his wing. Dune taught me that what we have gains value when shared. He has shared so much with me, most importantly his wisdom and brilliant ideas for the future.

Dune’s knowledge and love of the sea led him to mariculture—the farming of seaweed and shellfish in the ocean. He saw how mariculture could be healing for people, the ocean, and the planet. When he invited my partner, Sean, and I to dive in, we felt it was an honor.

A Healing Force for Alaska
In speaking with Dune and doing our own research, we found that farming kelp can significantly benefit the marine environment, improve food security, provide people with a nutrient-dense superfood, and strengthen the resilience of rural, coastal communities.

Most people in rural Alaska face extremely high grocery prices and a scarcity of fresh vegetables that provide needed nutrition. This is further exacerbated in the winter.

In kelp, we find a sea green that nourishes our communities with high levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and Omega-3s. It purifies the blood, strengthens the immune system, and boosts the body’s energy levels.

The best part is that it’s healing for the ocean as well. As Alaska faces an acidifying ocean, warming waters, and ocean rise, kelp offers a solution. It sequesters carbon and chemically transforms the surrounding waters, creating oxygen-rich pockets. Kelp also provides vital habitat and food for many species of marine mammals, fish, crustaceans, and sea birds. By farming kelp, we create nurseries and refugia for juvenile salmon and Pacific herring, which have yet to recover from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Salmon smolts rely on the safety of kelp in their journeys from their natal rivers to the open ocean.

A Journey Just Begun
I am now a 28-year-old female entrepreneur in the budding regenerative mariculture sector. Even though I had no previous professional maritime experience, I have been able to start a meaningful career in kelp farming because of Dune, because of my partner, Sean, and because of helpful friends and supportive community members in Cordova. Dune laid out his vision and placed the stepping stones in front of us so we could succeed. It is not a solo act.

Noble Ocean Farms was born from a place of love—for the people in our lives and the ocean that sustains us. We have made it this far because our mentors lifted us up, our neighbors lent us a hand, and our families supported us. There is no success we can claim as ours alone. Our community carries our spirits when we lose strength, and our friendships motivate us to persevere in a new industry that contains a plethora of hurdles. Our hearts are in this because we want to give back and help people access all the nutrients they need to thrive and help the ocean.

Connected Leaders Come from Caring Communities
The lessons that Ghanaians and Alaskans taught me are crucial to my life path. Teachers along the way reinforced that we must place care for ourselves and each other at the top of our list, while embracing radical inclusivity and the power of place.

This means demonstrating that everyone belongs. We must show people that they are welcome—all people, no matter how different. When someone walks through the door, we greet them excitedly. When they leave, we walk them home out of respect. (This is the norm in Ghana.)

For those of us who grew up in the West, we must retrain our brains to prioritize the well-being of the collective. We must refrain from pressuring ourselves to succeed alone. Humans have evolved to be interdependent, not individualistic. We should celebrate when we have the community relationships we need to thrive and succeed.

No one is extra in our communities; no one is replaceable. Once we recommit our responsibilities to our fellow humans, the preciousness of life is reclarified.

The quality of our relationships determines our success. How much we are able to achieve hinges on how well we are able to collaborate in the face of adversity. To transition to a more positive phase on Earth, we need calm, connected leaders who orient with their hearts. Together, we must all step up and be those leaders during these Earth-changing times.

Humans can still thrive on Earth if we collaborate, listen, care for all beings, and work in harmony with natural systems. Milestones toward a brighter future will not be accomplished by individuals acting alone or working in silos. We need teams and communities cooperating, supporting, and inspiring each other. Then we can all be change-makers.

Skye Steritz
Skye Steritz is a Celtic descendant working on Eyak land in Alaska. She works as a regenerative kelp farmer and elementary school special education aide in Cordova. Steritz’ s top passions are social and environmental justice. She is a volunteer for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizen Advisory Council and sits on the Advisory Circle of the international RIVER Collective. She studied international water cooperation and diplomacy in graduate school, looking at ways countries collaborate to manage transboundary waterways.