Dave Oakes, co-founder of the Center for Ecological Living and Learning, returned to Rockport Harbor on June 20. His return to Maine marked the completion of an educational round-trip sailing voyage to Miami, which he embarked on last October.

Sailing down and back up the Atlantic Seaboard, Oakes anchored in ports off the coast of Maine, Washington D.C., New York and The Carolinas , in addition to Miami, as part of an educational tour which sought to bring environmental awareness to students and adults.

The courses offered by CELL, like the talks that Oakes gave on his trip, are referred to as Climate Action Now (CAN) programs. Oakes said that the goal of these programs is to "find proactive solutions, commonsense solutions that focus on sustainability and find a common ground among people."

The boat that doubled as his home on this voyage was an Island Pocket 350 cutter rig with two foresails, that can sleep up to six people, and is moored by Oakes in Rockport Harbor. Tusen Takk, whose name means "one thousand thanks" in Norwegian, is equipped with solar and wind power, and even a composting toilet, making it an appropriate vessel for spreading Oakes' eco-friendly message.

Oakes logged a total of 6,000 nautical miles on his trip. He was accompanied by a crew which included his wife, Sue, and a handful of family and friends for 4,000 of these, and the remaining 2,000 miles he sailed alone.

While traversing the Eastern Seaboard he was treated to beautiful vistas: the skyline of Manhattan at dusk and the turquoise blue waters of the Exumas islands in the Bahamas. But the trip was not without its challenges; sailing south in November he rounded Cape Hatteras in North Carolina to find 35 knot winds and 11 foot following waves which surged the boat forward at 14 knots (twice the boat's hull speed.)

CELL's website features a blog where Oakes wrote about each leg of his journey. He witnessed firsthand the damage caused by Hurricane Irma, photographing hundreds of boats which had been swept onto shore by winds gusting over 100 mph. Another photograph illustrated vividly the plastic pollution in the ocean: the skeleton of a bird on shore, it's rib cage overflowing with colorful plastic bottle tips which it had consumed and eventually killed the bird.

Over the course of his voyage Oakes was able to connect with approximately 2,000 middle school, high school, and college students as well as many adults who participated in CELL's Climate Action Now and ocean conservation programs.

"Feeling their despair about the state of our planet and their frustration about the inaction of politicians to save their future was sobering," said Oakes on June 21. "But they also possess a keen desire to live in a healthy planet and are receptive to a message that they can take action to help restore the health of our planet. They are truly hungering to make a difference. That work was extremely rewarding."

The seafaring jaunt proved a perfect backdrop for one of the main focuses of Oakes' work.  He said that as the Earth's temperature continues to rise, 92 percent of this excess heat is being stored in the oceans, which results in ocean acidification, coral bleaching and a significant loss of vital marine habitat.

While in Miami, Oakes was able to speak with the city's Mayor, Francis Suarez, and discuss with Suarez the city's proactive stance on sea level rise. Oakes said that he found the trip personally rewarding for the travel experience it provided, as well as the educational platform he was afforded.

"Educationally, maintaining optimism and a sense of hope given the callous ways we are using our oceans and atmosphere as waste dumps for our garbage (e.g. from carbon pollution we are dumping in the air and ocean to ubiquitous plastic choking our oceans) was hard to witness up close and personal… [The highlight] was working with school kids who are so eager to get involved and help protect the natural world they love," said Oakes.

Thirteen years ago, Oakes and his wife, Sue, founded CELL, which is a nonprofit organization, after returning from Botswana. They had spent three years in the African country; David was overseeing the environmental education department at the University of Botswana, while Sue raised their children.

“There was a lack of environmental education at the time, and I saw firsthand some of the environmental problems. I worked to infuse environmental education into the curriculum, and highlight the relationship between the environment and the economy. If you want people to visit a place, you need to have a healthy environment,” Oakes said Sept. 27.

CELL offers a series of study-abroad programs in locations ranging from South America to Scotland and Iceland, where adults are immersed in sustainable lifestyle practices. Living in sustainable communities, Oakes says students return from the programs reinvigorated and prepared to take a leadership role to “make this planet a better place to live.” College credits for the programs are offered by CELL's academic partner, Northland College in Wisconsin.

Through his experience sharing environmental concerns with the public, Oakes said one of the common themes he has heard when asking people how they feel about the changing earth is a sense of overwhelmed hopelessness; a sense that the problems associated with global warming and climate change are too great for any one person to effect a change upon them:

"This is an issue that has been framed to be political, but once I speak with people and start 'unpacking' their feelings about climate change, I want to give them a sense of hope — hope that change for the good is possible. Without that sense of hope, people aren't going to take action."

In the coming months, ​CELL will be offering a program on Hurricane Island in partnership with two other non-profits: the Hurricane Island Foundation and Whole Heart from Vermont. The program is designed to ​inspire participants to reconnect their lives to self, others and the natural world. For more information about Oakes' journey, Climate Action Now programs and CELL, visit cellonline.org