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Serendipity means a “fortunate happenstance” or “pleasant surprise”. The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines serendipity as the occurrence and development of events by chance in a satisfactory or beneficial way, understanding the chance as any event that takes place in the absence of any obvious project.

This was exactly how I came to connect with Ocean Crest Alliance who the Marine Foundation are  forming a new partnership with. I was asked by the TerraMar project  to be a guest  host for the Daily Catch on Global  Ocean TV. As with any request I receive, I researched the organisation and saw the great work they are doing. I would recommend you help this cause and that of our seas and get yourself an ocean passport.

I wanted to better understand what they would expect from me  as a guest presenter, so I watched a number of  previous episodes and was fortunate enough to discover one featuring Joseph Ierna, the founder of Ocean Crest Alliance. OCA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation, registered in the United States and the Bahamas and was established  to create awareness, to inspire, and to educate others about our Earth and Oceans and to illustrate the real issues we all face today. Joseph like myself has fallen in love with our Oceans and Seas and as I watched their Global TV episode I had that tingling feeling I get when I know something serendipitous is brewing.

I rode the wave, as they say, and looked up their website to learn their goal is ‘to Honor, Protect, and Restore the Health of the Worlds Oceans and the life of the Earth’s Systems through Conservation, Research, Education, Science and Technology programs’. These objectives share much in common with those of the Marine Foundation’s work and are very much in alignment with my own dreams. They were just lacking the key word that is the essence of our unique approach, creativity, and I knew I wanted to connect with them.

As I read on, I was very happy to learn they have worked closely with the community and government in establishing  the 215,000 acre Marine Protected Area called Long Island Marine Management Area, or LIMMA for short. LIMMA from the onset has engaged the locals and are looking at some very innovative ways to establish long term economic based solutions. This innovative approach immediately struck me.

By unfortunate chance it has been discovered that the traditional approach to funding and implementing an MPA is fraught with problems, often implemented through a top down approach. There is insufficient socialisation and people resent the laws and restrictions that they feel are implemented by outsiders, taking away their livelihoods. “ A careful consideration of the receptivity of the fishing communities to MPAs is fundamental for their long term success.” (Agardy et al. 2003).

Even a seemingly windfall success of large amounts of funding has its downfalls, with initial investments going into complex infrastructures that cannot be sustained  longterm, either economically or by an untrained local community. In the long term, leaving these MPA areas underfunded with no way to implement the  laws and a local community who are not invested. I saw this first hand at Bunaken where we installed ‘the love mermaids” last November. This MPA was once considered such a success but I saw first hand evidence that dynamite fishing was still occurring; the reefs were suffering a decline in health and even though large funding had paid for boats and staff to enforce fishing restrictions, they were too scared to go out and defend their seas.

In a conversation I later had with Joseph (once I had asked Robert Foos of the Terra Project to connect us), we discussed that with people so desperate and so much money able to  be made in illegal fishing, It is very complicated to enforce fishing restrictions…  and dangerous.

An MPA’s best asset is a vested local community; if they feel empowered and positioned to benefit from its success, there is an inherent and genuine love for their heritage that is hard to buy! I hate being told what to do so I can only imagine what it must feel like for a fisherman who’s family has fished for generations that now they must now stop.

The Economist William Russell Easterly who specialises  in economic development wrote an interesting book called The White Man’s Burden (the title refers to Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem of the same name). Controversially, Easterly suggests that ’messianic do-good missions are ultimately modern reincarnations of the infamous colonial conceit.’ I have seen many so called experts imposing theories thought out in institutions far away from the sea!

I am not suggesting that grants should be extinguished. We certainly rely on them, but valuing the local community and their wisdom and love for their sea is essential. A fisherman understands when their livelihood is under threat and like any father wishing to feed his family, I think learning how to take control and feel like a decider in the fortune of their own destiny is something that when not permitted brings tears to my eyes.

I love the OCA’s Lionfish Fisheries Program which has been developed to bring direct and immediate economic opportunity for large numbers of the local community. The program shows that removal of lionfish is an effective management tool to protect and preserve the biodiversity of the Bahamas’ native fish life, and a much welcome and needed addition to the local economy! These are an invasive species that have come into the Caribbean from The Indo Pacific in the hull of ships in their Ballast water. Ballast water is water carried in ships’ ballast tanks to improve stability and balance. The water is taken into the hull or discharged when cargo is unloaded or loaded to maintain weight or when a ship needs extra stability in foul weather. When ships take on the ballast water, plants and animals that live in the ocean are also picked up. The cargo  travels around the Globe and the same animals are then released into foreign seas. The Lionfish look stunning but are predators, and destroy the eco-system’s delicate balance in their new marine home. They  are challenging to catch  as they have toxic spines but they are actually incredibly good to eat. On my recent trip to Belize I came across a jewellery artist who was cleverly making stunning earrings and other items from the tails and fins.

OCA is  also establishing a Coral Nursery Restoration Program, and this is where The Marine Foundation comes in. We bring a uniquely creative approach; Our Living sculpture in the Sea program  has proven highly effective as an aspect to a successful marine management strategy. I feel it was by a seemingly unfortunate events that I was even able to  conceive the Living Sculpture in the sea Program. During my research it was divers love of wreck diving that seeded the concept. Ships that have come to an untimely end and sunk to the bottom of our seas only to become thriving marine eco-systems.

‘The notion of serendipity is a common occurrence throughout the history of scientific innovation such as Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of penicillin in 1928. Innovations presented as examples of serendipity have an important characteristic: they were made by individuals able to “see bridges where others saw holes” and connect events creatively, based on the perception of a significant link.’

Our times are calling to each and every one of us to be creative and innovative. We desperately need to realise we have some major challenges to face in our beautiful world both above and below and I am thrilled to announce The Marine Foundation’s new partnership with Ocean Crest Alliance.

“I have noticed that even those who assert that everything is predestined and that we can change nothing about it still look both ways before they cross the street.”  – Stephen Hawking

Celia Gregory has dedicated the last decade to bringing creativity and positivity into the marine conservation agenda, founding the Marine Foundation in 2009. An eco art organisation which pioneered the international Living Sculptures in the Sea program, creating underwater art that restores coral reefs and supports the local communities who depend on them. Her kids education program, Zaza the mermaid, engages children in storytelling and art whereby learning about her friends, the animals in the sea, and the threats they face. Celia also enjoys writing, releasing a monthly blog and writing and illustrating Zaza the mermaid.

Marine Life & Conservation

Review: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet



Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netlix documentary: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

David Attenborough’s latest and arguably most important documentary to date is now showing on Netflix.  It is, in his own words, his “witness statement” of a unique life exploring and documenting the wonders of the natural world.

Attenborough looks back and realizes that the previously gradual changes he witnessed (animal species becoming harder to find and fewer wild spaces) have now become vastly more widespread and noticeable. As the human population increased, so has the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while the amount of wilderness has decreased.  His conclusion: human activity and man-made climate change have accelerated the pace of biodiversity loss.  This not only imperils the majority of natural habitats and creatures on Earth, but also the very future of humankind.

From images of lush green landscapes we journey with him over time to revisit these places, now wastelands. One of the most haunting is the contrast between early footage of orangutans swinging through the rainforest, to recent images of an orangutan clinging onto a lone tree devoid of all but one branch in the wreckage of a deforested site. Attenborough then makes a statement that has stuck with me since watching “A Life On This Planet”: that though we undoubtably have an obligation to care for the natural world, it’s not just about saving other species.  It is about saving ourselves.  His drive and determination to advocate and spread this message as much as possible at the age of 94 is both impressive and humbling, yet Attenborough manages to make this serious subject an unexpectedly positive learning experience.

In the final chapter of the movie Attenborough turns from the bleak reality of the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity, and offers a lifeline of hope and positivity. We can, he tells us, reverse the damage we have caused, we can save our species and the wonders of the natural world, and it can be done with just a few conceptually simple actions.  It’s enough to enthuse even the most jaded and pessimistic of conservationists!  Attenborough has an amazing ability to awaken our love of the natural world and now he shows us our future is in our hands. It’s time to act.  But we must start now and it must be a united effort.

You don’t have to be a scuba diver to be impressed with the eloquence of David Attenborough’s words, or his powerful yet simple message. We are self-confessed Attenborough super fans, but I don’t think anyone could contest that this is a stunning 1 hour and 20 minutes of hard hitting brilliance. The film closes with the comment, “Who else needs to see it?” The answer is all of us.  We highly recommend this documentary to everyone. Put simply if you watch no other documentary this year, watch this one.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Review: My Octopus Teacher



Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netflix documentary: My Octopus Teacher

My Octopus Teacher is the story of how filmmaker Craig Foster befriends a common octopus in the kelp forests off of the Cape Town coast.  Mike and I love to watch all things underwater and nature-based and so eagerly sat down to this documentary film, a new September arrival on Netflix.

Watch the trailer here:

After burning out at work Foster finds fascination and a deep connection with nature when spending time freediving at his favourite local spot.  In a sequence familiar to those who watched the “Green Seas” episode of Blue Planet 2, he comes across an octopus camouflaging itself with shells.  With his curiosity piqued, he begins to seek out the octopus on all of his dives, finding delight in its seemingly strange behaviours, learning what he can from the scientific literature and slowing working to gain the mollusc’s trust on his daily visits to her world.

My Octopus Teacher portrays a very anthropomorphised view of our subject and Foster’s relationship with her.  His conclusions tend to be more emotional than scientific and his eagerness to find similarities between himself and the octopus shows a great sentimentality.  However, you cannot help but be captivated by the incredible mutual curiosity and bond developing before you.  This relationship, and the stunning scenes of the kelp forest with its diverse inhabitants make for a deeply absorbing viewing experience.  There is some fantastic cephalopod behaviour, from the octopus adapting her hunting tactics for different prey, to strategies for outwitting predators and incredible colour and shape morphology.  Foster is also keen to point out how little we know about octopuses and that there is a great opportunity to learn something with every dive.

One of my favourite observations made by Foster at the end of the film is that by going into the water for liberation from daily life’s concerns and dramas, he realised how precious these wild places are.  As he starts to care about all the animals there, even the most minuscule, he comes to find that each one is both important and vulnerable.  Foster finds that his relationship with the octopus changes him and he feels a part of the kelp forest rather than just a visitor, an experience he then shares with his son.  To me Foster’s insight that we must connect with an environment in order to be truly motivated to protect it resonated very strongly.  For those fortunate enough to fall in love with our wilder environments and connect with them, seeing it mirrored in this documentary is quite moving.

Overall we very much enjoyed the film, especially the weird and wonderful behaviours caught on screen and the story as it unfolds.  Though our first reaction was one of pure jealousy (that Foster has such a stunning local dive spot and coastal property!) we soon moved past the envy and found My Octopus Teacher to be a very relaxing and enjoyable evening’s entertainment, which we highly recommend.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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