7 May 2021
During tourist season on the Cape, beaches are often loaded with people but also their trash. From straws to plastic bottles, very seldom do these end up in the recycling bin. Instead, it’s common resting ground is either the sand dunes or the bellies of washed-up sea creatures. Unfortunately, these instances are both becoming a regular occurrence and often unsurprising. Many people do not stop and think about what their one-second decision can cause a lifetime of harm for creatures we can see and those whom we cannot. Also, while we live on land, the health of the oceans affects our daily lives more than we realize. Even though these situations are becoming more frequent, there are activists of organizations who are diligently fighting for the health of the oceans and their inhabitants. These activists and organizations range from teaching the next generations while also being in the ocean themselves. Current activists making a wave in the fight against ocean abuse include: Sylvia Earle, Kristal Ambrose, and Asha De Vos. Working alongside these three are organizations such as: Oceana and Sea Shepherd. All of these entities are some of countless ocean warriors who dedicate their lives to protecting more than seventy-percent of the Earth.
“It should concern you that we have eaten more than ninety percent of the big fish in the sea, why you should care that the coral reefs have disappeared, why a mysterious depletion of oxygen in large areas of the Pacific should concern not only the creatures who are dying, but it really should concern you” (Earle, 2009).
Sylvia Earle continues to be a force to be reckoned with. As one of many key figures in the fight for protecting the oceans – Earle has made her mark during her last six and a half decades.While Earle has been an activist for over six decades, she continues to go out on dives and nautical missions because of one thing: her love for the ocean. In fact, Sylvia Earle is an essential figure because her incredible knowledge about the past and advice for the future is vital for fixing our symbiotic relationship with our seas. Earle is one of the most critical figures in recognizing that “without the ocean, there is no us” (Earle, 2009).
Originally a Jersey Girl, Earle and her family moved south to Florida, where Earle’s admiration for the deep blue began to manifest. When women were practically obsolete from science and careers, Earle’s love and determination overcame the obstacle. Her passion for marine biology enabled her to hold a Master’s in marine botany in 1956. At this point, her momentum could not be stopped by any physical or societal barrier.
A brief overview is essential to understanding Earle and her contributions. First, Sylvia Earle is recognizable as holding the title of “first female chief” until 1992 within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA. Her title is an example that women can perceive in a male-dominated industry such as oceanography and climatology.
Important to mention relates to her most recent accomplishment: “Mission Blue”. “Mission Blue” focuses on studying and exploring the deep depths of the ocean because, even though light may not reach it, there is life on all levels of the sea. Earle has contributed to countless advancements in marine research, and her passion has brought attention to how we treat the ocean and its inhabitants.
Diving deeper, Dr. Earle’s “Mission Blue” focuses on inspiring the action to “explore and protect the ocean” and is recognized on a global scale. Earle’s “Mission Blue” continues to make efforts to expose individuals to oceanography through media and texts that strive to inform us all of how important the Earth’s oceans are, the impact of humanity, and how we can revive and balance our relationship with the deep blue. Also, the organization continues to advocate for “Hope Spots,” which are meant to be oceanic conservation spots where the area is protected to make sure biodiversity continues to thrive and combat destruction. Recently, “In August 2019, most of Florida’s Gulf Coast — from Apalachicola Bay on the northwest coast to Ten Thousand Islands on the southwest — became a Hope Spot” — further showing that change is happening, but it will take all of us to “Hope Spot” the rest of the Earth (Cox).
In all, Earle desires to help expose us all to resources and media to understand why our oceans are important, how they are changing, and what could be the cataclysmic disaster if we “take a back seat” to change. Over her career, Earle has exposed the harmful effects of overfishing. She is encouraging us to take responsibility for “clogging the ocean,” but if we take actions – promptly – we may save our seas … as well as our species. Whether we want to believe it or not, we are all a part of one.
“This is paradise, until you look closely. Then you see the plastic pollution that washes in with the Sargasso Sea.” (Ambrose, 2020)
Following in the footsteps of Earle, Kristal Ambrose takes action teaching the next generation of ocean activists in her community. From education to action Kristal Ambrose, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize winner, first started her work as a marine biologist when she had to take plastic out of a sea turtle after it swallowed it. From that day forward, Ambrose vowed to protect the oceans and never drop a piece of waste on the ground again. At the young age of twenty-two, she was invited to go on an expedition to study the Pacific Ocean, and the mainsail was through the western garbage patch. Shortly after witnessing the mass of garbage and waste in the Pacific Ocean, Ambrose started the now familiar campaign, the “Bahamas Plastic Movement” (BPM). The adventurous activist now teaches children through her campaign. She teaches them the importance of protecting our oceans from harmful waste. Teaching the children around her encouraged her to start and help organize the Junior Plastic Warriors. The program consists of music, dance, and art projects that allow the children to learn about the ocean and the waste that harms it.
In November 2020, Kristal Ambrose created a law that would help solve the issue of plastic waste within the Bahamas ocean. The law states that there is to be no use of plastic bags throughout the Bahamas. Laws such as this are vital because it would mean that there are fewer plastic bags throughout the Bahamas. While, to us, the Bahamas seem far off, it shows American activists how they can create laws that help the oceans and to make sure that people are protecting the deep blue at all costs. Oceans are at an all-time high for help; day to day, they become crowded with plastic. If we are not doing our part to teach the next generation to help, the situation might get to the point where there is no ocean.
We Forget that nature does not need us. We need nature (National Geographic, Asha De Vos).
Asha De Vos took a dream she had as a young girl and made it her reality. She is currently a marine biologist for National Geographic, a TED Talk Fellow, an ocean educator, and a pioneer in the fight against ocean abuse. In National Geographic’s profile on De Vos the writer tells how De Vos felt about the ocean, “As a child, she pored over issues of National Geographic and imagined the ocean as a magical kingdom. She was intrigued by its mysteries. She would lay under the blue whale skeleton in the National Museum of Sri Lanka, puzzled by the massive creature overhead” (National Geographic 2021). When that dream of seeing the ocean as a kingdom and sure that she treated it as such when she got older. As an adult, she took to the ocean to save the whales from becoming endangered. Asha is now the woman pioneer of the whale movement, something that only others can dream of. Her dream started unconventionally. Asha De Vos was invited to go on an expedition in Sri Lanka. While out on the boat, she noticed something peculiar for that area. In her interview with National Geographic, the writer states that, “that the moment that launched her career as a floating pile of whale excrement off the coast of Sri Lanka” (National Geographic). With this experience, her career launched into action. The young pioneer soon realized that whale excrement was beneficial to our oceans, and without them, the ocean might not survive. In a TED talk, Asha used the platform to educate many on the benefits that whales have to offer for the rest of the ocean living: “This whale pump, as it has called, actually brings essential limiting nutrients from the depths to the surface waters where they stimulate the growth of phytoplankton, which forms the base for all marine food chains. So, having more whales in the ocean pooping is beneficial to the entire ecosystem” (De Vos, 2014). With this realization, boats going and overfishing and killing these ecosystem starters endanger one species and possibly many others.
Asha De Vos is a pioneer in the whale world and a marine biologist, but an organization founder. Asha took her knowledge and developed knowledge and put together “Oceanswell,” a nonprofit dedicated to educating the next generation of the world and others on what they can do to help the whales. The nonprofit has everything from workshops and courses to fieldwork, offering a wide variety for everyone who wants to help. This foundation is working towards educating others on the benefits of whales and the harmful overfishing they face. Asha is making sure that others, especially children, see the dream she had when she was a child and see the ocean as a kingdom that needs human help.
While individual activists are important, so is the creation of activist organizations. Organizations such as “Oceana” are crucial to promoting and creating change. Oceana remains as one of the largest international advocacy organizations fighting to protect and restore the world’s oceans. Oceana, founded in 2001, made it their mission has primarily focused on carrying out target policy campaigns on damages to ocean life due to industrial fishing and ocean pollution, including oil, mercury, but, most importantly, plastic. There is an estimated 8 million tons of plastic dumped into our oceans every year. Even though they operate through campaigning, they have won numerous victories; “Oceana has achieved hundreds of concrete policy victories for marine life and habitats. From stopping bottom trawling in sensitive habitat areas to protecting sea turtles from commercial fishing gear, our victories represent a new hope for the world’s oceans,” as stated on Oceana’s website.
While many see Oceana’s efforts as positive, many others were outraged when the recent Netflix documentary Seaspiracy was recently released. Within the documentary, they discussed how commercialized fishing is severely impacting our oceans. At the end of the documentary, the film directors say the best way to help our oceans is to abstain from eating seafood. In response, Oceana released a statement shortly after the release stating:
We believe people have the right to choose what they eat, and we applaud those who make personal choices to improve the health of our planet. However, choosing to abstain from consuming seafood is not a realistic choice for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who depend on coastal fisheries. Many of whom are also facing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. (Giliver)
Oceana concludes their statement by saying: “Additionally, we strongly believe that we can be most effective by working together to win policy victories that help to save the oceans and feed the world. Rather than by influencing personal choice”. Although Seaspiracy was pushing for more people to eat plant-based diets and ignore seafood as a whole, Oceana is saying that if they could make progress fighting for policy changes and advocating, why don’t we continue doing that while still being able to eat seafood from a sustainable fishery.
I feel that we have a responsibility to try to do everything we can to protect species, and the best way to do that is to uphold international conservation law. This is not just a movement to protect whales and sharks, seals and fish, it is a movement to protect humanity and all other species on this planet (Paul Watson)
In addition to organizations such as Oceana, individuals such as Captain Paul Watson is acknowledged for establishing “Sea Shepherd Conservation”. In 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation manifested in Vancouver, Canada. Sea Shepherd is an international non profit marine conservation organization with the mission to protect and conserve all marine wildlife. Sea Shepherd decides to take action into their own hands. Unlike Oceana, who operates through campaigns, Sea Shepherd carries out operations that intervene with whaling and seal hunts. The organization also strives to enforce and develop better protective laws and policies for our oceans. Whaling is one of the biggest problems happening globally, especially in Japan. Since 1987, Japan has killed over 1,200 whales each year. On December 26, 2018, Japan announced that they were withdrawing their membership from the IWC (International Whaling Commission) because the IWC failed to develop alternative ways for there to be sustainable hunting. Sea Shepherd reportedly has rescued and saved over 6,000 whales since 2002. Sea Shepherd uses various aggressive but successful tactics to save marine wildlife, “Hurling stink bombs on Japanese whaling ships, covertly filming seal hunters in Canada and cutting illegal fishing lines in the Galapagos Islands,” as stated by their website. Founder and Captain of Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson, states, “I did not establish the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as a protest organization.” In addition to their physical efforts to put an end to whaling, the organization also holds a wide variety of conservation campaigns globally, trying to change current policies of the ocean.
While naming just a few important figures in this fight against ocean abuse, there are many unknown and unheard of activists and organizations that are also taking a stance in their own communities. It is not just up to these activists, but also up to each and everyone of us individuals to assist in this battle. As mentioned previously, the battle against oceanic abuse is not for only saving sea creatures, but humanity as well. Since the Earth is mostly covered by water, the way in which we interact with those bodies of water are essential in preserving future generations, both human and non-human. We rely on the ocean for food and recreation, but we should treat it with the kindest heart we have to give. Every piece of trash discarded into the ocean potentially leads to loss of a sea creature.
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