Humans by nature like to see things in extremes. We polarize things in order to better understand our place; to understand what is right and wrong, good and bad, and where everything belongs. We like to box things up so that we can better comprehend them. Light and dark. Good and evil. White and black. Happy and sad. Although this might help us better cope with the things we see and experience, it is also a slippery slope into misunderstandings and prejudice. We take a look at a situation and a split second later we’ve made up our minds, and good luck trying to get us to change it. We see a person on the street and without ever even saying a word to them we form an opinion. We decide if they’re our “type of person”, if it’s someone we’d rather avoid. We see a child throwing a tantrum in the store and we shake our heads judging the parents from a distance. It’s these gut reactions that allow us to deal with the sheer quantity of stimuli we encounter every day. It’s what allows us to decide who we wish to get to know better and who we won’t waste our time with. And although this makes our lives more convenient I think sometimes we need to pause and think about what our subconscious brain has decided, because often the world is not how we see it. Sometimes there’s a hidden story, an alternative history we’ve overlooked.
It’s all too easy to watch the news and despair. It seems every headline that hits our inbox is nothing but doomsday predictions. Another 100 species lost yesterday, pH levels up again, scientists predicting the collapse of fish stocks and entire ecosystems. And so we look at these scary figures and incomprehensible scientific jargon and we label it as “hopeless”. We are presented with these seemingly insurmountable environmental barriers, and so we are left to think there is nothing that can be done. We throw our hands up in the air, and feel a little sad, but ultimately we soothe our own consciences by telling ourselves the issues facing our oceans are far too large for us to tackle- if anyone can do anything it’s the scientists and the politicians. And so we try not to think about it, we tell ourselves it’s better that way. Because we’ve labelled these issues as “other”, as “bad”, as someone else’s problem. And even if we might stumble upon an article with some good news, with a new ocean reserve, or an endangered species saved, we barely register it. Because we’ve already made up our minds. It’s a lost cause. There’s nothing to be done. It’s too late.
But it’s not too late. And Fabienne McLellan, Co-Director of International Relations at OceanCare, agrees, “This is simply not true. Yes, there is scientific evidence that much of our oceans are in serious jeopardy, and the task at hand may seem daunting- but we need to step up to the plate and it will take every single one of us to turn the tide. The time of inaction has passed.” For too long, the general public has been allowed to remain complacent, but the time in the shadows is gone, for as McLellan said, only when we are united under a common goal can we hope to truly make a difference. And although radical change still needs to continue, and more passionate people need to be recruited to join the cause, we are already reaping the rewards from the good work of the first pioneers. Pioneers like the team at OceanCare, that instead of giving in to despair, decided to take a leap of faith, to do all that they can to save what is left before it really is too late.
Despite what the media might have you believe, there are those out there applying their heart, soul and mind for our planet, and at the front line is OceanCare. And although much still needs to be done, I think it is important to realize and find comfort in the strides that have already been made- because we have things to be joyful for. When a group of like-minded people come together to fight for something they believe in, they can accomplish the unimaginable. Through the teams’ unwavering vision and love for the oceans they are trying to save, they’ve been able to add triumph after triumph to their ever-growing list of achievements. In 2017 a marine ocean reserve is secured between the Baleares and Spanish mainland; 2015 petroleum companies are prevented from conducting seismic surveys off the Balearic Islands and Cairn Energy retracted four oil exploratory petitions for the Gulf of Valencia; 2012 Switzerland adopts OceanCare’s recommendation and backs an embargo on whale and dolphin importation, and the list goes ever on. But what McLellan is most proud of is, “The standing and the reputation that OceanCare has been able to foster across different fora and the highest level of the decision making process. This has been achieved through a visionary, prescient, brave and committed approach by our president, Sigrid Lüber, who has built up such reputation, recognition and valuable relationships over the last 30 years.”
It is through the cultivation of these relationships and the fortification of their reputation, that all these changes can be made. And this did not happen in one day, a week, or even a year. Like all things, it started from nothing- a single idea, which then grew into something much more than that; because it was allowed to grow, it was nurtured and cared for, and the seeds of its fruit were shared with others who too, wanted that idea to be spread. And when enough people get behind something it can be that first tide that brings on a powerful wave. For McLellan one of those moments happened in 2011 when their hard-work and commitment resulted in the “Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC),” a significant achievement within the UN sphere.
What sets OceanCare apart from so many other organizations of its kind, is their approach, as McLellan puts it, “Our goal is to tackle the environmental, as well as animal and species conservation problem from its root causes. We do not simply wish to address the symptoms, but the actual cause which requires an understanding of complex issues and a long breath.” Instead of trying to box the issues into one thing or another, calling it “science” or “politics” or whatever else fits our fancy, they look at it from the multidisciplinary approach it so clearly needs. Without the science it is mere hysterics, but without the humanity and the economics it is merely figures. We need both sides of the coin to truly invoke change, and that is something that OceanCare so clearly understands. But OceanCare does not stop there, McLellan also emphasized the importance of altering the perceptions of people, of addressing our values. They want to be able to provide the general public with the data that they need to make informed decisions- as the saying goes, the truth will set you free, but first someone needs to put it out there. How can we expect people to change if they don’t have the full story?
When it comes down to it McLellan aptly puts, “Our ultimate goal is to achieve healthy living oceans.” And that is to say, a healthy planet. For without healthy oceans there is no such thing as a healthy planet, because, as the illustrious song goes, It’s a circle of life. Everything is connected, and so even if the ocean is not something you are passionate about, or you don’t eat fish, it is still a part of you. And you owe it to the future to do what you can to save it. McLellan wrote a rather comforting thought, “Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that when just 10% of the population holds an unshakeable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society, the so-called tipping point.” This makes the task seem a little less daunting does it not? If just one in ten people are committed to saving the oceans, we might just have a chance. So the next time you use a reusable cup instead of a one-use plastic, tell the person behind you in the queue why. Tell your family why you won’t be eating fish this year, or why you’re using old newspapers for wrapping paper, because every single person counts. Every single voice that joins the call will strengthen the chorus, until the chants of battle can no longer be ignored.
Sophie is currently a student at the University of Edinburgh studying environmental chemistry. She plans to specialise in marine chemistry, with a tentative focus in how ocean acidification affects marine megafauna during her graduate work. Sophie has been supporting OceanCare for many years – thanks a lot!