Sometimes, the sound of dolphin cries wakes me in the night. That sound haunts me, and I have no doubt that it will remain with me until my dying day. But remaining with it is the knowledge that I diplomatically worked with, and lived amongst, local villagers in a foreign land to educate and potentially stop those dolphin cries.
I don’t remember the first time I saw the Academy Award winning documentary, The Cove, or the first time I heard of the annual dolphin slaughter that happens in that natural finger of water along the Japanese coastline. It seems to have simply always been known to me; to have always been a part of my soul. But I never thought that I would go there; never thought I would witness the slaughter with my own eyes or hear the dolphin cries with my own ears. Yet in November 2010, I found myself standing on the rocky shore of the Cove in Taiji, Japan, gazing out over the water of that small bay, watching dolphins thrash in utter panic and then float still as their blood colored the Cove red.
My Call-to-Action came when the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society asked me to serve as their Cove Guardian Campaign Leader on the ground at the Cove in Taiji, Japan. My initial response was to turn down this offer because I was set in my life in Seattle, Washington State. I didn’t think it was a possibility for me to leave my full-time photography career, my husband, our animals and our life in general in order to spend four months in Asia. But I longed to accept this offer, to board a plane to Japan, to stand up for my beliefs, to live my passion for active marine conservation. It broke my heart to turn my back on my dream when it was finally being presented to me.
Life continued on as usual and each time I punched the time clock like a drone, the light in my soul was extinguished a bit more. It finally took some words of wisdom from a friend and co-worker to make me fully comprehend what I had just turned down. It’s not often, it’s extremely rare actually, that we get the chance to become what we have always dreamed of becoming. This was my chance. I accepted Sea Shepherd’s offer and found myself jobless, husbandless and on a plane destined for a country I had never thought twice about until that very moment. I was going to live in Japan for four months. I was going to work at the infamous Cove where I would actively participate in marine conservation. I had been chasing this dream since I was a tiny child and announced to my second grade teacher that I was going to save every dolphin and whale in the ocean, and here I was flying toward that dream. I suppose I should have been terrified, and while I was nervous and apprehensive, never once was I scared because I knew that this was what I was born for. I had no doubt then, and no doubt now, that I made the right decision when I left my ‘American Dream’ behind and ran, with my flags unfurled, toward my destiny.
Arriving in Japan was surreal and being at the Cove was something that words can never define. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by like-minded individuals who completely understood, admired and respected my decision to radically change my life in order to come watch dolphins die. But it was so much more than that; each and every one of us was standing, conscious and present, bearing witness to the tragedy that takes place in that beautiful corner of the earth, so that we could serve as the voice of the voiceless; a conduit so the world could hear the dolphin’s cry. We were the only hope those sentient beings had for raising awareness towards the heartbreaking slaughter. Every September through March, volunteers flock to the Cove in the hopes of spreading the word and making a difference.
Since my departure from Japan in early 2011, I’ve joined Ric O’Barry and his organization, Save Japan Dolphins, and have founded my own group, Blue Ocean Foundation. Both of these groups put heavy stock into the education aspect of conservation and take a diplomatic approach to their presence at the Cove. Working with the local people, including the men who hunt the dolphins, is a major focus of time spent in Japan. In addition, speaking to schools in the Seattle area and hosting education-awareness events has become a way for me to spread the word during my time at home.
The Cove forever changed me. I sacrificed a great deal in order to pursue my passions, but I gained so much more and never once have I regretted the choice I made to stand on that beach. The slaughter is harrowing, haunting, disturbing, disgraceful and horribly, horribly tragic, but I, and the vast majority of people who have stood vigil at the Cove as well, feel that it would be even more tragic for those dolphins to die alone, with no one to remember them and no one to spread the word about their deaths.
Life is too precious to live the way someone else says you should. Never, ever be afraid to follow your dreams, to stand up for what you believe in and to be your true self.
Spread the word. Raise awareness. Speak out.
For more information about the Cove, watch the Academy Award winning documentary of the same title. You can also visit the websites for Save Japan Dolphins and Blue Ocean Foundation.
Blue Ocean Foundation: http://blueoceanfoundation.blogspot.com/
Save Japan Dolphins: http://www.savejapandolphins.org/
Jeff chats to… Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust about the Big Shark Pledge (Watch Video)
The Big Shark Pledge aims to build one of the biggest campaigning communities in the history of shark conservation. To put pressure on governments and fisheries. And make the positive changes required to safeguard awesome sharks and rays.
Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.
Marine Conservation Society to take legal action over ocean sewage spills
The Marine Conservation Society is announcing joining as co-claimant in a legal case against the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to protect English seas from sewage dumping.
The legal case seeks to compel the Government to rewrite its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan 2022, impose tighter deadlines on water companies and redevelop the Plan to effectively apply to coastal waters which are, currently, almost entirely excluded.
Sandy Luk, Marine Conservation Society CEO: “Untreated sewage is being pumped into our seas for hundreds of thousands of hours each year; putting people, planet and wildlife at risk.
We’ve tried tirelessly to influence the UK Government on what needs to be done, but their Plan to address this deluge of pollution entering our seas is still unacceptable. We owe it to our members, supporters and coastal communities to act, which is why we’ve joined as co-claimants on this case. We’re out of options. Our seas deserve better.”
Launched and funded by the Good Law Project, the Marine Conservation Society will stand as co-claimants on the case with Richard Haward’s Oysters, and surfer and activist, Hugo Tagholm.
Before reaching this point, the charity responded to a government consultation in March 2022 and met with DEFRA to express concern. In August 2022, the charity wrote an open letter to DEFRA outlining the ways in which the proposed Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan fails to protect the environment and public health from dumping raw sewage into the sea. However, the Plan hasn’t been amended and still fails to adequately address water companies’ excessive reliance on storm overflows and the harm their heavy use causes to our ocean.
The plan virtually excludes most coastal waters (except for bathing waters) either directly or indirectly, with some types of Marine Protected Areas and shellfish waters totally excluded. 600 storm overflows are not covered at all by the Plan and will continue to – completely legally – be able to dump uncontrolled amounts of sewage directly into English seas and beaches. What’s more, the Plan lacks all urgency – with long-term targets set for 2050, and the earliest, most urgent targets not to be met until 2035.
Meanwhile, Marine Conservation Society analysis finds that raw sewage is pouring into the ocean at an alarming rate. In total, there are at least 1,651 storm overflows within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in England. These overflows spilt untreated sewage 41,068 times in 2021. Of these, almost half the overflows spilt more than 10 times in 2021, with an average of 48 spills for each of those overflows. Overall, in 2021, sewage poured into Marine Protected Areas for a total of 263,654 hours.
According to DEFRA’s own latest assessments, only 19% of estuaries and and 45% of coastal waters are at ‘good ecological status’, with none meeting ‘good chemical status’, and three quarters (75%) of shellfish waters failing to meet water quality standards.
Rachel Wyatt, Policy & Advocacy Manager for Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society: “Untreated sewage contains a cocktail of bacteria, viruses, harmful chemicals, and microplastics. It’s nearly impossible to remove microplastics and ‘forever chemicals’ once in the environment. Due to their persistence, with every discharge, these pollutants will continue to increase, meaning eventually they will pass – or may have already passed – a threshold of harm.”
In addition, it’s not just invisible toxins that are causing problems. In September this year at the charity’s annual Great British Beach Clean, sewage related pollution, such as wet wipes and sanitary products, were found on 73% of the beaches surveyed across England.
A new DEFRA report, Ocean Literacy in England and Wales, shows that 85% of people say marine protection is personally important to them. Yet this is being ignored.
Emma Dearnaley, Legal Director at the Good Law Project, said: “The Marine Conservation Society is at the forefront of tackling the ocean emergency and standing up for coastal communities impacted by climate change and pollution. We are delighted to have them on board as a co-claimant.
“Good Law Project will work closely with the claimants, including the Marine Conservation Society, to put forward the case for more ambitious and urgent measures to reduce sewage discharges by water companies. These sewage spills are threatening human health, biodiverse marine life and the fishing industry. We believe that taking legal action now is vital to help safeguard our coastal waters for generations to come”.
If the case is won, the Marine Conservation Society hopes to see the UK Government amend its Plan so that it meets the DEFRA Secretary of State’s legal obligations to protect the ocean and its inhabitants from raw sewage spills.
For more visit the Marine Conservation Society website.
Header image credit: Natasha Ewins
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