Sharks have been swimming in our oceans for more than 400 million years; they were here before the dinosaurs. Being the first vertebrate predators, they succeeded in refining their aptitude and power over millions of years of evolution, allowing them to hunt as top predators and keeping ecosystems in balance. Today their populations are declining and pose a serious threat to the health of our ocean.
I’d love to share my story with you of my work with an organization called Worldrise fighting to protect our beautiful ocean.
I’m currently living in Golfo Aranci along the northeastern coast of Sardegna while working at the Centro Immersioni Figarolo (C.I.F.) dive shop.
This past December 2015, the 21st United Nations Climate Conference (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took place in Paris, France. The COP meets each year to make decisions that further the implementation of the Convention and to combat climate change.
Many people complain to me that these climate conferences are useless because of how painfully slow and drawn out the process of coming to an agreement is. Although I do agree that climate negotiations should move and come to decisions much quicker, I don’t agree that these global meetings are useless.
The decisions at these climate conferences have to be made by consensus, which unfortunately weakens and slows climate governance. On the other hand, governance is in every way a multiparty procedure. States deal with cities, NGOs, activists, and stakeholders. This is where I think it’s extremely important to know who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about if you dream of any sort of actions passed to protect our environment. During COP21, there was a Climate Generations Area where other forums were held simultaneously to the negotiations. This space was open to the public and provided more than 88,000 visitors the opportunity to share information and attend talks and debates.
My classmate Pamela Millan and I were given the opportunity to attend and participate in these public forum events working for the Sylvia Earle Alliance with Charlotte Vick and underwater photographer and filmmaker Jon Slayer. Our goal for the week was to maintain crucial conversations on the importance of our ocean through interviews for Oceans Inc., social media, and attending talks and events. One such event we particularly enjoyed was We Are the Frontline: for the Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change (CANCC). Where President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, explained the reality, his nation and other low lying islands, are facing today with rising sea levels consuming their very homes.
Pam and I were also able to attend talks at Tara Expéditions, a 36-meter research vessel based on the banks of the Seine under the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. This schooner has traveled across the oceans dedicated to collecting data on climate change impacts on our oceans.
Despite our ocean’s crucial role in our very existence, the lungs of our planet have been somewhat absent in climate change conferences in the past. Organizations such as the Sylvia Earle Alliance, Oceans Inc., Ocean & Climate, and Tara Expéditions are working to change that. One fundamental achievement of the conference was the recognition of the ocean within the Preamble and in the Agreement itself. This is the first time the word ocean is reintroduced in the text.
As underwater photographer, Thomas Peschak has mentioned, “to thrive and survive in this field you have to be a hopeless optimist.” Regardless of the circumstances around me, I still don’t think it’s too late for our ocean. I’ll continue to seek all opportunities. The ocean needs people but we also need the ocean. Unfortunately, the consequences of the negotiations will still be too warm for the ocean but at least the conversation has been revitalized. We need to continue the conversation, move our actions forward, and work together to push for even stronger agreements for future climate conferences.
After almost a month interning at Worldrise, I'm happy to share what this organization does to protect our precious marine ecosystems. For now, I've been working from home in France helping with translations, social media, and strengthening international collaborations. At the end of May, I'll be moving to Italy to work full-time out in the field helping with various projects Worldrise is involved in.
Worldrise is a non-profit organization created by Italian Environmental Scientist and Marine Conservationist, Mariasole Bianco in 2013. Mariasole is an expert in Marine Conservation and management of Marine Protected Areas. She is also a member and point of reference for marine conservation for the International Union for Conservation of Nature's World Commission on Protected Areas (IUCN's WCPA).
Worldrise aims at promoting marine conservation projects with university students and recent graduates. Students from around the world have the opportunity to get engaged in these projects as emerging marine conservation leaders. Although Wordrise is based in Italy, it is managed by young professionals from all over the world and from different professional backgrounds providing a more diverse and cultural outlook. Worldrise works in collaboration with other international organizations strengthening relationships with those who also develop programs to improve and protect our marine ecosystems.
Batti5 is a new project developed to educate children about the impacts of plastic pollution in our oceans. Wordrise members work with various schools in Cinque Terre and Sardegna, Italy. The goal is to create educational programs in which kids can learn about plastic impacts on the ocean, beach clean ups, how to take action against plastic pollution, and other creative outlets such as art projects with the collected plastic from the beach. This project aims at educating children on reducing plastic consumerism to combat the issue from the very beginning of it’s life cycle.
The Full Immersion Project in Cinque Terre promotes and stresses the value of marine protected areas (MPA). The IUCN defines a marine protected area as "Any area of the intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment." Marine protected areas are recognized as important ways to conserve life-sustaining ecosystems and specific habitats for marine animals. These areas are established to protect marine biodiversity for the benefit of future generations. Worldrise members work in partnership with diving centres to educate dive masters and diving instructor about the importance of biological diversity in marine protected areas and the benefits these MPAs can provide.. This project is led by university students studying environmental sciences or marine sciences in order to provide the best professional education possible.
Il Golfo dei Delfini is another project Worldrise launched in Sardegna. This project focuses on educating tourists and tour guides on the importance of eco-tourism using dolphin watching in the Golfo Aranci as a prime example. To carry this project out, Worldrise has put together a code of conduct based on international guidelines for migratory species which tour guides can use to participate in sustainable activities during their work. Tour guides have also taken a course on the ecology of dolphins in order to be well educated and share their knowledge during the dolphin watching tours.
Worldrise is an amazing example of an organization that inspires young professionals to educate future generations on the importance of acting together for the preservation of our ocean. We only have ONE, and it’s our lifeline. Join us in creating awareness for our big blue ocean!
I can vividly remember the first time I visited my aunt’s beach house on Playa Tivives, Costa Rica about five years ago. This almost untouched beach town nestled away on the Pacific Coast of the Puntarenas province is a surfer’s paradise with its strong currents, nice swell, and large waves. Playa Tivives is under the protection of the government, so it is largely underdeveloped making it a perfect getaway for a relaxing beach vacation. The beach joins with the Jesus Maria River, which then flows into the Pacific Ocean, making swimming and surfing quite risky due to the crocodiles that frequent the salty waters at the river mouth. Going for a run one morning with my sister, we spotted a large crocodile basking in the sun right where the water hits the sand. As we kept running trying not to think of the colossal reptile not too far from us, we eventually came upon the area where the river meets the ocean. To my surprise with such little development and tourism here, there was a mountain of garbage littered all along the coast. The scene appeared to me as a small landfill feeding right into the Pacific Ocean. If this can be seen in small less developed beach towns, it makes you think about how other popular touristic beaches might look like.
While taking the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Marine Litter through the Open University of the Netherlands and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) I was able to pick up a few key points on what we can do to curb the litter. First of all we need to cut it at the source and reduce the amount of marine litter we use in our everyday lives. When you order a drink ask the waiter to skip the straw, when you go to the grocery store bring your own reusable bags, and do yourself a favor and buy a reusable water bottle- it’s not only healthier for you AND the environment but will also save you a lot of money in the long run. We need to improve and enforce legislation on marine debris. Creating opportunities to develop collection teams to reuse and recover materials from the beach and use them to create energy is another brilliant way of diverting our waste. Improve education at schools, in the industries, stakeholders, the citizens, and education of the authorities is one of the most important tools we can use to solve our marine pollution. If we have thousands of people without the education on the importance of this issue, why should they care to change their habits?
Solving the problem of marine litter also requires the attention of governments. We need to get governments involved in facilitating local actions, introduce policies, laws such as plastic bag bans, improve waste management systems, encourage businesses to produce in more environmentally responsible ways, and more support for scientific research that improves our understanding of the problem and that aims at developing sustainable solutions.
Overall, one of the most important actions you can take as an individual is to make greener choices. We need to tackle the problem of marine litter at the source and aim at reduction and successful management of the problem if we want to start cleaning up our coastal areas.