Eyes can change the world.


Ever looked a manta ray in the eye? I never thought I’d get to either.

Their eyeballs are bigger than you might expect. If you’ve had a pet, you’ll most likely understand where I’m going with this and if not, well call me crazy.

We had a moment.

Through my scuba mask, between about a foot of sea water, our eyes met and our mutual curiosity in one another collided. The only difference was, he snuck up on me. That means he had a motive.

When it’s not a matter of who is lower on the food chain, I love it when roles reverse like that. He was bigger than I was by quite a margin. Even if I had the time to be frightened or see a teensy bit of my life flash before me, I wouldn’t have been. His eyes said it all. He was just plain curious about me. Humans are a bit out of their element underwater, so I guess it’s not all that strange that he wanted a closer look.

And I mean close! I’m less sure what our exchange meant to him, but it changed my life. I’m also fairly certain my guide hasn’t forgotten either. He was the one to motion for me to turn around, his expression read, “somebody wants to say hi.” Bubbles of laughter followed and he later said that my expression, particularly my eyes, grew so much in my mask that I more closely resembled a cartoon.

These are the things I think about on a regular basis. Just like dogs that have looked up at me for a belly rub, hand out, or just a return look of adoration. A lot is communicated through eyes. It can stop you in your tracks. That experience and others have shaped who I am and what I do for work. I can’t ignore those few seconds where an entirely different species met my glance and held it.

That’s their only chance to speak up. It makes you want to do something.

That something might be as simple as being tuned in to what’s happening in our oceans. Being tuned in might lead to conversations. When people talk, that’s when the action happens. EPA’s two year photo project, State of the Environment, isn’t just about photos. It’s about experiencing our incredible planet and finding the inspiration to take more action every day thereafter.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.

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