Marine conservation is a wide ranging field in which people all over the world, from various cultural, professional and religious backgrounds take part. Why? It’s because they have a great passion for conserving the Ocean. Regardless of the passion, the field is huge and it can be difficult to find a way that you can “fit in” to the field to make a significant impact in the area you specialize let along in the marine conservation field in general. I still struggle with finding the way I can have a positive influence and build a legacy for my daughters and their generation to continue to build on it and live for a better Ocean. With that said, I feel as though I am close to following that path (after 15 years of searching!) after attending the International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC4).
— Andrew R. Lewin (@arlewin) August 11, 2016
— Andrew R. Lewin (@arlewin) August 11, 2016
I was excited to attend the IMMC4 conference because I attended IMCC2 four years ago and met some wonderful people. Two and a half years ago, I attended another conference called the Oceans Online Conference, which focused on communication Marine Science and Conservation to the public. Many of the people at IMCC2 where at Oceans Online and I formed some great business relationships and friendships. The people are the main reason I go to Marine Conservation Conferences. It therefore made sense to me to go to IMCC4 where Oceans Online was going to be held in the same place by IMCC4. This was going to be fun. Working as a Marine Conservationist and Scientist in Ontario gets a bit lonely at times, so I jump on any opportunity to meet with friends and colleagues and I look forward to meeting new people to forge new relationships…and I met some amazing people.
The people that I met were so amazing that I decided to record a podcast and this accompanying blog post about meeting them and how the people inspired me to venture down a path where I can really have a positive influence in the Marine Conservation field. Here are 4 women who helped further inspire me to follow my passion. I must note that all 4 people are women and 3 of the 4 women were plenary speakers (I also think the other woman could have easily been a plenary speaker!).
Dr. Asha de Vos, Marine Mammologist with a Focus on Blue Whale Distribution and Human Impacts
I had the chance to hang out with Asha during the conference even though I missed her plenary talk as I arrived the night she spoke (she spoke earlier in the evening). I was told by colleagues that very night and throughout the conference that here plenary was “life changing” (so were the other plenary talks). Asha is from Sri Lanka and has her PhD in Marine Biology. It’s not fair to rewrite her entire journey when you can find it on her website; however, I will say that this woman is awesome! Her passion for understanding the distribution and health of a large blue whale population brought her to deal with the Sri Lankan government to reroute shipping lanes in order to avoid ship strikes on whales. The ships were sailing in and out of one of the largest ports in the world and Asha was ready to work with them to protect the environment and promote tourism opportunities to view blue whales (the largest animal on the planet!). Working with government and trying to reroute shipping lanes took her down a challenging path including death threats because people thought she was trying to shut the port down (which was not true); discrimination; and, sexism. Regardless of the challenges, Asha says she continues to work to understand and protect the iconic blue whale species because we have to protect them, there is no other way around it!
Nikita Sheil-Rolle, Marine Biologist working with students to educate them on the Ocean and solving social problems in the meantime
Nikita sat down with me for an interview on the podcast (the interview will be posted within the next couple of weeks) to discuss how she has transformed the lives of Bahamian school children through a marine education program. Nikita made me aware that the current graduation rate of Bahamian school children was 50%; therefore, she decided to incorporate parts of the school children’s curriculum into her program to get them excited about learning about the Ocean and the subjects in school. The program is for 2 hours 3 days a week after school and 4 hours of Saturday. Since the programs start, crime in the local area has decreased significantly. In fact, Nikita recently won an award for Youth Development in the Bahamas for her tremendous work with school children. As you can see, Nikita has transformed the lives of children in a positive way creating a generation of marine stewards to take care of the ocean.
Dr. Easkey Britton, Former Pro Surfer, Social Entrepreneur, and Marine Scientist building social change and marine awareness and protection through surfing
Easkey was a plenary speaker at the end of the conference highlighting her accomplishments that she and her teams have accomplished over the past number of years. I also sat down with Easkey to talk about her most famous project that took place in Iran. Easkey and a fellow surfer traveled to Iran in search for surfing…and they fund more than just surfing. Easkey’s friend documented Easkey’s experience surfing in Iran covered head to toe in her wetsuit to respect the traditional garb). The video went on You Tube and went viral within Iran. The large contingent of women who enjoyed outdoor sports immediately fell in love with the idea of surfing and soon Easkey found herself travelling back to Iran to teach women how to surf and bring together the people through surfing. The local village soon realized that they had to protect the water to which they were now connected by organizing beach clean ups to improve water quality. Easkey continues to witness a social and environmental change within the local village that has been historically oppressed. She hopes that the Iranians will come to integrate with the local village as more and more people turn to surfing as their recreational past time. Until then, she will continue to work with beginner surfers and arrange surfing equipment to be delivered to the area to get more people into the sport.
Dr. Michelle LaRue, Conservation Biologist at the University of Minnesota specializing on conservation of iconic species such as emperor penguins, seals, cougar, and polar bears using satellite imagery
Michelle was also one of the plenary speakers who talked about her research and her passion to integrate new technology with conservation biology. She is leading the way in understanding Antarctic and Arctic species distribution and population dynamics from afar. Why is this important? Well, have you ever traveled to the pole? It’s insanely expensive. Using satellite imagery along with field surveys proves to be more cost effective (in a field where constrained funding is strong!) and provides a good representation of where animals are going and why. Michelle uses her research to communicate science to public groups who are excited to learn more about the conservation of iconic species. Effective communication is important for research and conservation to gain a good hold in the public forum as that will move policy and make changes for a better environment (just look at what happened with Sea World after Blackfish came out!).
Each one of these women has created change through their passion to better understand the Ocean and create social change to protect the Ocean and the environment. It is truly difficult to NOT be inspired by the stories of these women and I look forward to watching them make more changes in the future.
They have already created a sense of change in my life and leading me down a path that I look forward to following in the future and implement the plans. I will let you know once I figured it out.
Links Mentioned in this Episode: