A good speech is defined not only by its content but also by the way it is delivered, including gesticulations and rhythm. Most important of all are the pauses—the moments of silence when a captive audience anticipates the closure of a sentence. Dr. Wallace J. Nichols (his friends call him only “J.”) is a master of this art. As J. stood on stage in Trieste Stazione Marittima, the historic harbor station—converted into a congress center—in the Adria metropolis, the silence is profound. The Water for Unity congress, which was organized by the author Francesca Tuzzi, had just begun that morning. Behind J., a gigantic image of Earth from space was projected onto a screen. He produced a blue marble from his jacket pocket and held it in front of his eyes. Finally, he uttered the sentence that broke the silence: “This is what our planet looks like, viewed from space”—another pause—“This is the image we have to preserve, and we all have to do our part.”
The globetrotter. Water is the element of Wallace J. Nichols. Since publishing Blue Mind, a 2014 New York Times bestseller that was translated into several languages, Nichols has traveled around the globe as part of his mission to convince people that they are better off being in, on, under, or close to water. His message sounds deceptively simple, but it touches a nerve in this era, and Nichols is a gifted ambassador for his cause.
In an earlier life, he was signed to the same modeling agency as Naomi Campbell. In his second life he became a marine biologist and conducts research into the positive effects of water on our lives.
From model to biologist. In an earlier life, he was signed to Elite Models, the legendary agency run by John Casablancas, the man whom everyone called simply “the starmaker.” There, J. joined Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tyra Banks, and Heidi Klum. During his speech in Italy, he showed how he could use his appearance and confident poses to impressively win over a crowd. Nichols clearly learned his craft from being in front of the camera and on the runway.
After modeling, J. decided to study biology and ecology so as to become a marine biologist. He explains, “I realized quickly that there was not enough research about another, essential subject: our emotional connection to nature and water.” He decided to focus on sea turtles, and specifically on the emotional bonds that these animals develop with other members of their species. Eventually, J. expanded this line of research to focus on humans. He tried to convince the British neurologist and author Oliver Sacks to write a book about certain aspects of water, but Sacks politely declined, telling J.: “You need to write this book.”
“When we talk about the value of water, be it in a river or in the ocean, the discussion usually revolves around the ‘blue economy’: jobs, fish, seafood, oxygen, and new pharmaceuticals,” criticizes the marine biologist. “What tends to be left out of the discussion are the cognitive, emotional, psychological, and social advantages of water. We have all experienced them at one point or other, and we don’t need science for that.”
Water increases creativity. Nichols is the author of more than 20 scientific studies and a father of two; he lives in coastal California with his children and his wife, Dana. After diving into the research on water, Nichols started linking the research from various fields. What he found surprised even him. For example, he found that water significantly boosts creativity. Because stress is seen as the cause of up to 60% of illnesses, water’s stress-reduction capability takes on a whole new level of importance. Swimming, bathing, and even lying next to a waterfront all significantly reduce the factors that cause stress.
A global movement. Spurred by what he found, Nichols started an initiative that would grow into a global movement. He called the movement Blue Mind; this also served as the title of his book. He is on a mission to spread the word that water is the key to a better, happier, and healthier life. He is convinced that everyone should experience its incredible effects.