As is the case with many career paths, my journey toward joining Ocean Conservancy as President and CEO is a long and circuitous one, and it begins with a childhood spent playing along the Rhine River in Cologne, Germany. Inspired by the post-war environmental awakening in industrial northern Germany, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to conservation.
When I graduated from high school, my father gave me 3,000 Deutsche Marks and told me to leave out of the front door of the house and return at the back door, taking the long way around. As naïve as it sounds, I started my “walkabout” in the United States by sticking my thumb in the air outside the arrivals terminal of New York City’s JFK airport and eventually hitchhiked my way across the country.
At a given time, our air is filled with thousands of planes intersecting each other’s flight paths in a coordinated fashion. The same is true for our ocean and its industries – and a new map shows just that. The New England Ocean Action Network (NEOAN), a group of organizations supportive of ocean planning, created the map to illustrate just how many different activities occur in the ocean – ferry routes, shipping lanes, sanctuary boundaries, fishing grounds, whale habitat and proposed wind energy areas, to name a few. Imagine trying to coordinate these uses so that they don’t all end up on top of each other or harm to the ecosystem on which they depend.
This coordination is one of the goals of the National Ocean Policy. Each of nine regions around the country will establish a Regional Planning Body (RPB), comprised of representatives from state and federal agencies, tribal members and the regional fishery management council. These regional groups will be guided by local stakeholders and the public and will work to create a plan to guide the various uses of the oceans for its member states. The New England RPB will be holding its first meeting next week – the first official meeting of any around the country – to begin the creation of a plan for its coasts and oceans.
With a few taps and a swipe of the screen, the iPhone never ceases to amaze me. From forecasting the weather and tracking the arrival of the next bus, to choosing sustainable seafood and forming eco-conscious habits (Ocean Conservancy’s newly launched app Rippl is a must-have!), the amount of accessible and accurate information provided by the small hand-held device seems endless. However, we land-dwellers aren’t the only ones benefiting from hand-held technology – even the North Atlantic Right Whale can reap the benefits from this era of insta-information.
Sparked by an increasing concern over the number of whale deaths within Boston Harbor’s shipping lanes, port authorities, scientists, the shipping industry, and federal agencies have come together over the past five years seeking solutions that support both commerce and marine wildlife. A suite of tools resulted from this collaboration, designed to help mariners protect North Atlantic Right Whales easily. Simple solutions derived from scientific observation and data collection, including the rerouting of shipping lanes to avoid prime feeding grounds and the recent development of the WhaleAlert app, have caused incredible improvement in whale mortality rates within the harbor.
Founded in the midst of the nascent environmental movement in 1972, Ocean Conservancy began as a small organization focused on securing grants for environmental educators. Now we are recognized as a leader in empowering citizens to take action on behalf of the ocean.
For 40 years, Ocean Conservancy has found success by relying upon science to inform our work and partnering with unexpected allies ranging from fishing communities to major businesses to a global network of volunteers. However, there is still much work to be done.