Marine Conservation Got You Discouraged? Me too.

By July 10, 2013 October 5th, 2013 Ocean Solutions

discouraged with ocean conservation

First off, I am sorry for my long absence in posting. Like most field biologists the gear up and kick-off of the 2013 field season demanded most of my attention. And admittedly, the nice weather had me outside playing in streams on my weekends instead of being here to inform you about the cute, weird and interesting bits of marine and freshwater science that I love.

For this first blog back I am not going to write about sea turtles, shark finning, or freshwater mussels (stay tuned for that next week!). Right now, I’d like to ask for your help. I’m discouraged and need a pick me up.

Do Scientists Ever Get Discouraged With Conservation

Maybe you’ve wondered if those of us who are active in conservation ever tire of hearing the news of yet another oil spill; over-population; climate change; famine; de-forestation; shark species at risk of extinction; plastic particles choking our Great Lakes and oceans…rest assured – we do.

Recently, I read Dan Brown’s latest fiction, Inferno, and while I won’t spoil the plot for you, the main issue involves human over-population. Inferno reminded me of a non-fiction book Ten Billion by Stephen Emmott. In it he discusses the implications of over-population and labels it the greatest threat to Earth and humanity. The book, based on a lecture series, paints a pretty bleak future. The Guardian published an exert of Mr. Emmott’s work here. There is some debate regarding the statistics used for the projections, so it might be worth looking into them yourself. But regardless of the details, the overall message of Emmott’s book  left me feeling  discouraged about my meager efforts to save our aquatic environments.


How can I pat myself on the back for buying Sea Food Watch approved sustainable (MSC labelled) shrimp when the plastic package they arrived in will never really break down and may end up choking marine life or yellow perch in the Great Lakes? Maybe I need to buy a hybrid car, or choose not to have children? Heck, I could live off the grid, right?! Probably not. The drastic changes that are needed by each and every one of us are by their very nature – hard. I want to drive to North Carolina to complete in a triathlon in August. That will consume gas, emit CO2, and will utilize water. Who knows how much water it cost to make my bike, or even my running shoes that I replace annually.

I Don’t Want To Live In Hypocrisy

How can I, a freshwater biologist, encourage my friends, family, coworkers, and you, to practice every feasible act of sustainability to protect our headwaters, streams, lakes and oceans when my daily choices also threaten those things I am trying to protect?

The sad answer is, I don’t know. I can hope our governments will push for tougher legislation that ensures all packaging must contain at least some amount of bio-degradable plastic, eliminate disposable water bottles, only allow fuel efficient cars, etc. I can participate in lobbying our government to do these things and I can keep working and writing blogs that I hope will inspire others to do the same. Our small actions, we’re taught, will amount to global change. Some scientists now say that isn’t true; it’s not enough. I say that small actions will continue be a vital part of the bigger picture. At this point the options to do more are very hard and go against the society we have built, love, and cherish. But, we can do better. We can remember that being discouraged motivates us to re-think what we’re doing and identify where we can improve.

As a fisheries biologist I am often discouraged about how we over-exploit our global fisheries resources. I know I must use my discouragement as motivation to keep working towards sustainable options – or more likely – to keep reaching out to those much more capable than I to take up the cause, because maybe they, or you, have the innovative answers we need!

Believe There Is Hope

Overall, we need faith that our actions will cause and foster change. So, if you are like me and feeling a little low, a bit discouraged even; don’t worry. We’ve all been there. The only thing we can do for sure is refuse to accept that there is no hope, because accepting defeat will ensure we do end up in a world without freshwater, without sharks/rays/tuna, without mussels (plug for next week!), without so many things that I can’t possibly name them all, but basically everything we hold dear. We can be discouraged, but we can’t give up.

So the next time you feel low and discouraged don’t skip over that article about the destructive oil sands or climate change, read on. Read and be motivated.

Let me know in the comments below how pick yourself up on low days. I could use the advice!!!

Check Out These Similar Posts

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • John Harper says:

    Hey Andrew,

    I thought I’d write here as well 🙂

    A really great piece of writing. You’re completely right – especially for conservationists there will be a frequent number of times when the odds will get you down. But, just like when you’re trying to get into an exercise – every single thing you do towards a more positive, constructive, and sustainable future will be one more step taken than if you hadn’t.

    I’m also writing a blog, not only about BlueSkies collaboration, but my other projects, and learning a lot about staying motivated and achieving the difficult things. Feel free to take a look 🙂 –

  • Rob Horwich says:

    I have been working with communities to involve them in conservation for the past 29 years. Working with villagers who are considered by most people to be the problem of environmental degradation and the loss of biodiversity are a source of hope for me. When I am in the field working with communities I am energized because these people with not much formal education or wealth are the strongest most consistent conservationists. What they do humbles me and gives me a great deal of hope for the future. But for some reason few people in conservation or the academic world. know this. Mainly, I work with communities on forest conservation but there are many projects of communities saving the ocean as well in Belize and Madagascar for examples. One example, will show you what I mean. In about 10 years working with communities in Assam, India, forests are regenerating and the population of our focal species, the golden langur has gone from 1500 to over 5600 golden langurs. Elephant and tiger populations in the Manas Biopsphere Reserve are doing well and UNESCO has de-listed Manas as “in danger”. Communities are good partners in ocean conservation as well but since that is not my specialty I don’t have too much first hand knowledge. However, my first project was the Community Baboon Sanctuary in Belize which was initiated in 1985 to protect the black howler monkey. That project influenced the small country of Belize so there are now about 20 communities co-managing land and sea protected areas. If anyone is interested in working with local commuitoes, check out our website ( or email me (

  • Rebecca Dolson says:

    Thank you Andrew and Rob for your uplifting comments and for all you do in your respective areas of conservation.

    I greatly enjoyed hearing about both of your work and thank you for sharing your experiences. I hope our readers check out the resources you’ve provided.

  • I’m amazed, I must say. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s equally educative and engaging, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is something that not enough people are speaking intelligently about.
    I am very happy that I came across this during my hunt for something concerning this.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.