Project Ocean Assateague Island – By Land, Air and Sea

By Land

Project Ocean took me and Rod, director of photography, to Maryland’s Eastern Shore for a few days during a somewhat toasty early July. 

Our filming mission was with nonprofit Assateague Coastal Trust, an organization that was launched to safeguard Assateague Island from development, ultimately leading to its protective designations as a state and national park. 

Our first morning, we crossed the bridge to this island paradise and headed out in our bare feet to capture the pristine ocean landscape. More on that in a moment, but before we made it to the sea’s edge, we were greeted by some of Assateague’s famed wild horses. 

They were majestic, gleaming red/brown and wholly unfussed by our paparazzi response to their presence. They crossed the road, grazed in the sandy grass and scratched their itches on a post just off the main parking lot. 

All visitors are under strict instruction not to touch or bother the animals. This was not a difficult rule to abide by, as it was more than fulfilling just to bask in their regal glory for a few minutes. 

Once we got beachside, we were overwhelmed by the sun’s unbridled glare off the glassy ocean. It was just the right amount of wave activity to remind you this is the ocean not a lake, but not too much as to make you want to keep your distance from the water’s edge. It’s the ocean’s prerogative to go either way, but on this day the crashing water was musical, not angry. 

There were some folks milling about on the shore, but as this is a somewhat isolated area, people are generally drawn here for the rare privacy it offers. So the population was sparse, adding to the gentle embrace of the scene. It felt like a window back in time to what these kinds of places must have looked like to the first people who saw them. 

We didn’t stay too long, as one of us (and I will never say who) forgot our luggage back in Virginia in the midst of loading all the camera gear. Therefore, one of us had no hat to protect from the increasingly intense sun…

By Air

Later that afternoon, we had the unique privilege to see and film from a bird’s eye view in a four-seater plane. As someone who grew up on the North Carolina coast, much of the landscape on the ground looks similar to what I’m used to. But looking down from above was like seeing an old friend in a new way. 

The flight framed a stark contrast between the wild and scenic Assateague Island, which was purely brown and green with largely untouched sand and foliage, and the bustling neighborhoods, high rises and tourist life that was much of Delaware and Ocean City. 

It’s a dance I certainly understand. In my opinion, there are about as many reasons to want to be near the beach as there are drops in the sea. A house on the beach feels like you’ve made it. But as we discussed several blogs ago during our Environmental Center of San Diego visit, there has to be a balance. We must aspire to be stewards, not consumers. 

This aerial juxtaposition made us thankful for the work of Assateague Coastal Trust, as their team uses science and political advocacy to keep certain coastal areas completely natural and make sure the more populated areas are safe for public usage. 

By Sea

Once back on the ground, we took a seafood dinner break and headed out at golden hour on Assateague Coastal Trust’s boat. (Hard life, I know.) 

This was our chance to see some of their protective work in action. After I had my hat blown off during the boat ride like a rookie, we continued on to several of their water quality testing sites to film the sample collection process. 

After we got the footage we needed, I settled in the back of the boat for the 20ish-minute ride back to the dock. I had put my hat back on my head after we fished it out of the water, so I had saltwater dripping down my face basically the whole time. It burned my eyes, obviously, but the feeling of the ocean against my face was entirely worth it. Seagulls called overhead as if to escort us to our final destination, the setting sun danced in and out of the split pink clouds, the boat engine and radio tunes gave off the hum of a water adventure. 

I sat back and took it all in, full of gratefulness for my senses that allow me to perceive and appreciate the beauty abounding around me. The mere fact that beauty exists and we’ve been given tools to realize that is such a gift. 

In that moment, on that boat, it made me even more deeply grateful for organizations like Assateague Coastal Trust who not only recognize and appreciate that beauty, but also spring into action to keep it beautiful. 

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