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Global Adventurer Bowermaster Explores World's Coasts by Sea Kayak


View photo slideshow of Bowermaster's travels (Best viewed in Internet Explorer)

This is American Profiles, VOA's weekly spotlight on living Americans who are making a positive difference in the world. Today VOA's Rosanne Skirble features Jon Bowermaster, a writer and adventurer whose many books and films explore the health of the world's oceans and the lives of the millions of people who live on or near the coast.

Born in 1954, John Bowermaster grew up in the American Midwest in what he describes as a family of nonadventuring, nontraveling people.

"I think that is probably what spurred my desire to adventure and to travel," he says.

Bowermaster loved to read. His tastes ran from tales of teen detectives to classics of the American wilderness, which he says included everything "from the Hardy Boys to Jack London, all the kind of meaty, juicy stuff that kids read in the 1950s and 1960s."

Bowermaster always wanted to be a writer. In college, he worked as a sports reporter for The Des Moines Register, Iowa's widely read daily newspaper.

He got bored, turned to adventure and began writing for outdoor publications. That led to an assignment with National Geographic, a magazine dedicated to the exploration of places and peoples around the world. He says that first expedition - dogsledding across Antarctica - put him into contact with an international crowd of adventurers.

"And all of a sudden, I was traveling around the world covering and participating in round-the-world sailing races, across-the-Atlantic sailing races [and] first ascents - by kayak and raft - of rivers in China and Chile," he says.

Bowermaster worked on these expeditions for about 10 years before he began to organize his own. Sponsored in part by the National Geographic Expeditions Council, in 1998 Bowermaster set out to explore the coastlines of the world by sea kayak.

"Oceans 8" took his teams to the Aleutian Islands near Alaska, to North Vietnam and to French Polynesia in the South Pacific. The kayakers even put their boats on rubber wheels and dragged them up 4,000 meters to the high mountain lakes in the Altiplano of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. He says he saw evidence of marine fossils everywhere they went.

"The big lakes [were] all surrounded by salt left over from when the sea used to be there," he says. "It all dissipated tens of thousands of years ago, but it gave us the opportunity to have this great adventure and talk about how the planet continues to evolve and change."

The adventurers paddled in the Adriatic Sea between Croatia and Italy and even spent several months in Antarctica, near the South Pole. Bowermaster says in nearly every place, they faced the same trio of environmental problems.

"Overfishing, climate change, which can be both sea levels rising, but also more strong and more frequent storms and pollution, particularly plastic pollution," he says.

Bowermaster says the Australian island of Tasmania - with its policy of limiting fishing licenses - stands out as a model for sustainable fisheries.

"Often that happens only after it is too late after a species is fished out or nearly fished out," he says. "A government will step in and say, 'No more fishing in this region until the fish come back.' Tasmania has taken the forward step of limiting licenses as a way to prevent that from happening."

But Bowermaster says laws are only good if they are enforced. The crew learned this firsthand during their circumnavigation of Luango National Park, in the West African nation of Gabon, when they saw illegal trawlers fishing close to shore.

"We called officials in Libreville, the capital of Gabon, and they asked us the name of the boat," he says. "They [told us] we should probably ignore it because [it was] owned by the wife of the president."

"Oceans 8" has produced newspaper and magazine articles, books and films. Bowermaster hopes that they engage the imagination and help to promote actions to protect the planet. He says he is cautiously optimistic that humankind is up to the task.

"I worry about these growing environmental issues that we saw, whether or not governments will be foresighted enough to try to implement things that might be able to change these coming problems before they arrive. But as far as the spirit of the people, we constantly are looking at that next generation, which I have great faith."

Bowermaster says his expeditions have taught him that there is still much of the world left to explore. He plans to continue doing just that - and telling all of us about the things he finds.

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