We are all ocean conservationists

Dr Heather Koldewey, Head of Marine and Freshwater at ZSL, blogs on World Ocean Day and explains why she's an ocean optimist. 

In my ocean bubble, every day is World Ocean Day, but this year has been unprecedented in terms of more and more people paying attention to the ocean: The opening episode of Blue Planet II was the most watched programme on TV in the UK in 2017, with 14.01 million viewers. The global bleaching event and its devastating impact on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia was widely covered in the news. And the rise and rise of plastic in the ocean has been one of the biggest ocean stories across all media. Refill, refuse the straw, ditch plastic bags, and of course, our #OneLess campaign are all providing simple mechanisms for people to be a part of ocean conservation.

For me, World Oceans Day is one to take stock of the last year and look forward to the next. I know from first-hand experience that ocean conservation is really really hard and making a difference is a tough thing to do. Behind the attention-grabbing headlines, there are people who have been working to address these issues for many years and are committed for as long as it takes. But, I am an ocean optimist and this year has been a particularly exciting one.

Blue oceans surrounding the chagos islands

Take our work in the Chagos Archipelago, the British Indian Ocean Territory. As part of the Chagos Environment Network, we played a role in the government’s declaration of this UK Overseas Territory as a 640,000 km2 marine protected area, closed to all fishing and other damaging activities on 1st April 2010. It would have been easy to enjoy that success and to move on. However, ensuring this enormous, remote ocean wilderness area truly protects and conserves species and habitats, from the tiniest shrimp to huge mantas to seabirds, is a much longer commitment. This year, we were able to bring together a unique collaboration of 14 research institutions, across disciplines, to deliver great science that supports great management – The Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science. In the context of climate change, where nowhere is immune, we need to understand the resilience provided by these large protected areas. There is momentum in government commitments to new large marine protected areas, most recently in Mexico, the importance of a robust scientific understanding is becoming ever more critical. Through a series of challenging expeditions and some of the best marine scientists in the world, we are starting to reveal the ocean’s secrets and making new discoveries that really matter.

Our May 2018 reef expedition team

The Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science is all about the team, working collaboratively across disciplines. This is the future of ocean conservation. I look at my own team at ZSL and see a wonderful diversity of passionate individuals from a full range of backgrounds. There are those who are dedicated to particular species, those who love being underwater or on boats, those who thrive in communities, those who love to educate, those who are happiest playing with data, and (thank goodness) those who find joy in a perfect spreadsheet and budget. I look at my collaborators and partners – some of the world’s best scientists, communicators, entrepreneurs, business people, economists, lawyers, community members, and children from all backgrounds, cultures and experience – and see amazing ocean champions across the world. On World Oceans Day, everyone has the opportunity to be an ocean conservationist.

Follow @ZSLMarine for updates on all the work done by the Marine and Freshwater Conservation team at ZSL

Follow @BIOTscience for updates on the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science

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