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Marine Life & Conservation

Oceans Campaign Director – Greenpeace USA

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jh-blogJohn Hocevar is a trained marine biologist and an accomplished campaigner, explorer, and diver. John has helped win several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace’s oceans campaign in 2004.

Prior to joining Greenpeace, John was involved in several environmental projects including the Sea Turtle Nesting Project in Florida, Coral Cay Conservation in Belize, and as an environmental educator for Marine Science Under Sails in Florida. He is a graduate of the Green Corps organizing fellowship, a program dedicated to training the next generation of environmental leaders and previously worked at Corporate Accountability International. He is a co-founder and former executive director of Students for a Free Tibet.

I asked John if he remembered the defining moment when he knew conservation would play such a large part of his life.

 

John:

When I was about 11, I found copies of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and “The Sea Around Us” on a visit to my grandparents in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I’m not sure what made me pick them up, but those books changed my life. As for the ocean, it was love at first sight. I grew up in eastern Connecticut, so my first trip to the beach was Rocky Neck State Park.

Jeff:

What do you feel are the most important issues facing our oceans today?

John:

Unsustainable fishing, global warming, and ocean acidification are at the top of the list. We have come a long way in addressing pollution, but there are more plastic bags, bottles, and other throw away disposable items washing into the ocean than ever before.

Jeff:

For the past 40 years of my career as a wildlife filmmaker I have watched the oceans around me being polluted and over fished. Coral reefs have disappeared and other marine habitats ploughed up under the heavy weight of trawl nets. What realistic future do you see for our marine world?

John:

To some extent, it is still up to us, but our window of opportunity is closing quickly. The scientific predictions are extremely grim: one of the largest waves of species extinctions in the history of our planet, the end of coral reefs as functional ecosystems by the end of the century, the total disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic in the summer, collapse of most commercial fisheries, and what Dr. Jeremy Jackson has referred to as “the rise of slime” – surges in populations of jellyfish, algae, and bacteria.

Some of these changes are going to be extremely hard to prevent at this stage, but these forecasts all assume that current trends continue. The sooner we act to reduce carbon emissions, end overfishing, and create large scale parks which can help increase the resilience of marine populations, the more hopeful our future will be.

Jeff:

I personally find that the majority of people I meet have little or no comprehension of the depleted state of our seas. It’s difficult for the majority to become involved while at the same time struggling to make a living, raise a family and pay the bills. What do you feel is the best way of addressing this?

John:

We need to do a better job with showing people how the health of the oceans is connected to the fate of humanity. We live on a water planet; the oxygen in every second breath we take comes from phytoplankton in the ocean. Healthy fish populations feed a billion people and provide hundreds of thousands of jobs. Healthy mangrove forests and coral reefs help protect coastal communities from hurricanes and tsunamis. Tourism – beach vacations, diving, whale watching, and recreational fishing – is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Personal experience can be very powerful. The changes taking place in the ocean are invisible to people who don’t have a chance to look below the surface, so divers have a special responsibility to serve as ambassadors and share what we have seen – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Jeff:

Greenpeace is a household name and I remember in my teenage years Greenpeace always being in the world news fighting for the protection of the great whales. There was a passion there we could get behind and support. I rarely hear any news these days unless of course I look for it. Having done that, it is obvious that Greenpeace is still a great force for world conservation. Do you think people know enough about what Greenpeace are doing now?

John:

Greenpeace is doing much more work than when we started back in the early seventies; we now have three ships operating year round and offices in 40 countries. On any given day, we are issuing press releases, providing technical advice to policy makers, supporting scientific research, exposing illegal activities, challenging governments, and confronting destructive corporations.

That said, we rarely reach the level of media saturation we did in our early years. The biggest change is in the media environment itself. Instead of just three channels in the US, for example, cable and satellite TV provides people with hundreds of options. News is tailored to niche audiences, so people tend to seek out what they want to hear. Newspapers are in serious decline, with many closing their doors and nearly all of them laying off their environmental and investigative reporters. We still regularly get covered by major news outlets, but the effect is not the same as it once was.

This has made social media much more important, with conservationists and ocean lovers playing a key role in sharing our news with friends and family.

Jeff:

Can you recall your most successful campaign and tell us why it worked?

John:

Some of my favourite victories took place before I started with Greenpeace: an end to incineration at sea, dumping nuclear waste, raw sewage, and industrial waste, and a ban on high seas drift nets, which killed tens of millions of birds, marine mammals, sharks, and other marine life each year. As with our work today, we achieved these victories by putting people at the scene of the crime and risking their lives to bring back stories and images that helped change the world.

In 2008, we put out our first report on the sustainability of the seafood sold at US supermarkets. All twenty we surveyed failed. In our latest edition, eighteen of those twenty retailers have now achieved passing marks. The most important part was just exposing the problem. Supermarkets competed with each other, either to get to the top of the ranking or at least to get off the bottom. Sometimes, as with Costco or Trader Joe’s, we made a more focused example out of the laggards, leading to improvements in those companies as well as in others who were watching nervously from the sidelines. And as is usually the case, it wasn’t just Greenpeace – other organizations were involved in this transition too, as were countless individuals who demanded change.

Jeff:

As commercial fisheries have nearly reached the end of profitability what and who do you feel is the biggest threat now?

John:

Our hope is that we can learn from past mistakes in time to prevent the collapse of commercial fisheries. Policy makers in many countries are getting better about managing fisheries, but they are much too slow in shifting to the precautionary, ecosystem-based approach we need. To make sure we not only stop the decline but rebuild fish populations, we need a network of fully protected marine reserves.

In the meantime, unsustainable fishing remains the biggest threat. We are suffering from a combination of overfishing, destructive fishing, and pirate fishing. We are making progress on overfishing and pirate fishing, but unfortunately a large portion of seafood is caught with gear that either damages the habitat which sustains the fish or kills large numbers of other creatures as bycatch.

Jeff:

Could you sum up for us why it is so important to preserve our oceans and tell us how to best support its conservation in our daily lives?

John:

As citizens of a water planet, we do not have the luxury of trashing our oceans without it coming back to haunt us. There is a very real cost – economic, cultural, and ecological – in going on with business as usual while we damage habitats, overfish stocks from the Arctic to the Southern Ocean, overheat the planet, acidify the ocean, and rely on unnecessary disposable plastic bags and water bottles.

Each of us can take small but important steps to help. Here are a few examples:

Switch to reusable shopping bags and water bottles, and energy efficient light bulbs and appliances.

If you drive, drive less – and make your next car a more fuel efficient model.

Seek out options to switch to renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Depending on where you are, it may be cost effective to install solar panels; you may also have the option to sign up with renewable energy providers.

At this stage, though, it is going to take more than the kind of changes we can make individually. We need to elect politicians who share our values, and hold them accountable, and we need to demand that corporations shift to more sustainable practices. We need new laws and regulations that reflect the scientific reality of our times.

That is no small feat, and getting there will require a little help from all of us. Join Greenpeace, or other environmental organizations that fit your values. Tell your elected officials what is important to you, and let your supermarkets and restaurants know that you want your seafood to be sustainable.

If you would like to know more about the work Greenpeace is doing, visit http://www.greenpeace.org

Jeff is a multiple award winning, freelance TV cameraman/film maker and author. Having made both terrestrial and marine films, it is the world's oceans and their conservation that hold his passion with over 10.000 dives in his career. Having filmed for international television companies around the world and author of two books on underwater filming, Jeff is Author/Programme Specialist for the 'Underwater Action Camera' course for the RAID training agency. Jeff has experienced the rapid advances in technology for diving as well as camera equipment and has also experienced much of our planet’s marine life, witnessing, first hand, many of the changes that have occurred to the wildlife and environment during that time. Jeff runs bespoke underwater video and editing workshops for the complete beginner up to the budding professional.

Marine Life & Conservation

The Big Shark Pledge: Shark Trust’s new campaign kicks off with a call for support

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With the ink still drying on last week’s landmark listing of nearly 100 species of sharks on Appendix II of CITES, the Shark Trust insists that this is not the time for shark conservation to take a break. The UK-based NGO this week launches its biggest-ever concerted campaign to tackle the overfishing of oceanic sharks. They are calling on people across the world to join the call for stricter controls on high seas fisheries.

The Big Shark Pledge is at the heart of an ambitious set of campaign actions. Working to secure science-based catch limits on all sharks and rays affected by the international high seas fishing fleet. The pledge will build the largest campaigning community in shark and ray conservation history to support a raft of policy actions over the vital years ahead.

Many of our best known and much-loved sharks make their home on the high seas. In our shared ocean, these oceanic sharks and rays face a very real threat from a huge international fleet of industrial-scale fishing vessels. Research published in early 2021 confirmed that over three-quarters of oceanic sharks and rays are now at risk of extinction due to the destructive impact of overfishing. They have declined by 71% over the last 50 years.

The Shark Trust is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year and has a long history of securing positive changes for sharks, skates and rays. The Big Shark Pledge will build on the success of their NoLimits? campaign which underpinned landmark catch limits on Blue Sharks and Shortfin Mako in the North Atlantic.

While the listing of so many species on the CITES trade agreement is certainly a positive step, there remains a huge challenge in ensuring that sustainable practices are embedded in international fisheries.” says Shark Trust Director of conservation, Ali Hood. “Sharks on the high seas face extraordinary pressure from excessive fishing practices. This has to be addressed through international agreements such as those secured for Blues and makos.”

There is hope and a feeling of momentum in the shark conservation community. Just last week, in addition to the new CITES listings, the Shark Trust, working with partners in the Shark League, secured the first-ever international quota for South Atlantic Mako at ICCAT meeting in Portugal. The new campaign from the Shark Trust aims to push forwards from here, engaging a wave of support through the Big Shark Pledge to bolster policy action.

This will be a long-term international and collaborative effort. Forging a pathway to rebuild populations of high-seas sharks and rays. By putting science at the heart of shark conservation and fisheries management. And making the vital changes needed to set populations on the road to recovery.

Shark Trust CEO Paul Cox says of the Big Shark Pledge “It’s designed to give everyone who cares about the future of sharks the chance to add their voice to effective and proven conservation action. By adding their name to the Pledge, supporters will be given opportunities to apply pressure at key moments to influence change.

Click here to sign the Big Shark Pledge

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Gear News

Fourth Element X Sea Shepherd

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This year on Black Friday, fourth element announced their new partnership with Sea Shepherd, encouraging people to move away from mindless purchasing and to opt-in to supporting something powerful.

For 40 years Sea Shepherd, a leading non-profit organisation, has been patrolling the high seas with the sole mission to protect and conserve the world’s oceans and marine wildlife. They work to defend all marine wildlife, from whales and dolphins, to sharks and rays, to fish and krill, without exception.

Inspired by Sea Shepherd’s mission, fourth element have created a collection of fourth element X Sea Shepherd limited edition products for ocean lovers and protectors, with 15% of every sale going to the Sea Shepherd fund to help continue to drive conservation efforts globally.

“Working with Sea Shepherd gives fourth element the opportunity to join forces with one of the largest active conservation organisations in the world to try to catalyse change in people’s attitudes and behaviour. Fourth Element’s products are designed, developed and packaged with the intention of minimising our impact on the ocean environment, and with this partnership, we will be supporting the work of Sea Shepherd, in particular in their work on dealing with the twin threats of Ghost fishing nets and plastic pollution.”

Jim Standing fourth element co-founder

Read fourth element’s Sea Shepherd Opinion Piece HERE

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