Only 2.52% potable water. Water is the most crucial element for life on Earth. Although 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, only 2.53% of the planet’s water potable, and only 0.3% of that drinking water is found on the planet’s surface. This makes water a valuable substance in many parts of the planet; for instance, 844 million people have no access to clean drinking water, and 2.3 billion people live without sanitary facilities such as toilets. Every 90 seconds, a child dies due to lack of access to water or to water pollution and related illnesses.
“The most inspiring aspect of writing this book was to see how my ideas were spread around the world,” Nichols tells OOOM, and “witnessing how people and organization started to think about the issues at hand.”
Adelita. Nichols also broke new ground in his research. One of his ideas was to attach a transmitter to a sea turtle to track its route through the ocean so that he could share this data online in real time. He explains, “I have been fascinated with marine animals, and especially sea turtles, ever since I was a little child. I always wanted to find out where they come from and where they’re going.” He put the transmitter on Adelita, a turtle who had previously been held in an aquarium for many years; Adelita crossed the entire Pacific Ocean, from California to Japan—a distance of 12,000 kilometers—in only 386 days. Thousands of people watched Adelita’s journey on the internet. Nichols added, “We gathered important data about not just the behavior of sea turtles, but also their social nature. This persistence, this inspiration—it’s just incredible.”
Activism against plastic. In 1996, Nichols began conducting research on plastic pollution in the oceans and other bodies of water: “There was absolutely no awareness of the issue at that point. That has changed. The challenge now is to convert consciousness into action. If we give the oceans a chance to recover, it will. But we will have to change our way of life. If we would have understood and accepted from the outset how important water is for our bodies and souls, the idea to dump trash into the oceans, rivers, and lakes of the world would have seemed utterly absurd.”
The U.S. drinking-water crisis. In Nichols’ home country of the United States, the availability of excellent drinking water can no longer be taken for granted—as is also the case in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland: “In New York City, the water quality is good. In Michigan, it is not. The water available in households there is of such poor quality, that people can only use it to wash their dishes or to bath. All drinking water is bottled.”
The blue marble. Nichols likes to work with symbols. The idea to use a blue marble as a symbol for the Blue Mind movement came to him about ten years ago, during a reading in Boston. He realized that his presentation consisted almost entirely of negative information, and he wanted to be more than a bearer of bad news. Thus, he made up his mind to buy a set of blue marbles, and he handed one of them to each person in the audience. At the end of his speech, he said, “I would like you to take your blue marble and hand it to someone you’d like to thank. Tell that person the story of our blue planet, and ask them to do the same.” Over the years, Nichols has handed out more than a million marbles.
Spirituality. Although he is a marine biologist by trade, Nichols knows that “Water is at the heart of every spiritual tradition in our shared history. Water is the element that connects and enlightens us.” Nichols spends his every free minute in the water: diving, swimming, surfing, and snorkeling. The only activity that is more important to him is spending time with his two daughters.
Modern patchwork: his two mothers get along extremely well.
Two mothers. Nichols’ parents gave him up for adoption when he was an infant, and he grew up with foster parents. His stepfather, whom he always considered his real father, taught him that a good life means doing your best and dying happy; he adds, “This empathy and compassion still influence me to this day.” As a grown-up, he decided to find out who his biological parents were. After obtaining the blessing of his adoptive mother, Nichols embarked on a quest to find his birth parents, and he succeeded: “When I first met my biological mother, all I felt was gratitude. She could have made a different choice back then. I am glad to be alive.” Now, J. has two mothers. “Both of them are called Sheila, and they get along extremely well.” Nichols also has strong bonds with all ten of his siblings.
Mission. Nichols is on a mission to instill in people an awareness that water can be a lifelong source of happiness, relaxation, and creativity. He explains, “It opens a space for you in which you can overcome difficulties. Whatever point you’re at in your life, you are connected to water. It has the potential to be the key for everything.”