A fascinating presentation by SeaWeb – “the ocean’s PR agency”

I attended a brilliant series of lectures last weekend, as part of Biosphere Expeditions’ 10th anniversary celebrations. Biosphere Expeditions is a conservation organisation which runs scientific research projects on which lay people can volunteer.

In the afternoon, we heard about big cat conservation Tessa McGregor, who heads up Biosphere’s snow leopard project in the stunning Altai Mountains of Central Asia. We also heard from Chris Gerrard of the Wildlife Trust who set up the Great Fen Project in Cambridgeshire (see my Greentraveller.co.uk blog on that one).

But the morning concentrated on marine conservation, starting with a lecture by Kristian Teleki, one of the vice presidents at SeaWeb, and not-for-profit communications organisation which educates and engages the public on the threats facing the ocean.

Some of the facts with which he began his presentation were a horrifying recap:

  • The area of the seafloor dredged each year is 150 times the area of forest cut down worldwide
  • 90% of all the ocean’s big fish are gone
  • Outside Europe and North America, 80% of sewage enters the coastal ocean untreated – and that includes the Caribbean

As well as the issues of over-fishing, pollution and warming of the ocean by climate change, Kristian also told us a lot about what he termed the ‘souring’ of the ocean. The increasing acidity of the ocean does not get as much coverage as the increasing temperature, and I certainly didn’t know much about it myself. The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but it forms a mild carbonic acid when it does so, making it harder for corals, shellfish, and anything else that forms calcium, to calcify. By 2100, 70% of our deep sea corals might be in acidic water. If the pH of the ocean drops to pH 7.3, half of all the mussels in the ocean will die. If it reaches pH 7, there will be 100% mortality of scallops.

But the most interesting thing I took away from Kristian’s presentation was his emphasis on needing to understand human behaviour in order to achieve anything in conservation.

One of SeaWeb’s key aims is to help get the right message out. He said the doom-and-gloom coverage that the mainstream media give to conservation issues is hugely counter-productive:

“Bad headlines make our job harder. The average person on the street thinks, why should I give my money?…Stories that the reefs will be dead by 2020, dead by 2040 – how are we possibly going to sell this to governments when they think we should be putting our money towards something else?”

Armageddon-style headlines about the future of our planet definitely make me sit up and take notice. Personally, they make me all the more determined to try to do my bit. But I can see how for others it could cement a notion that there’s no point trying.

I don’t think that Kristian means the media should be telling only ‘good news stories’ about conservation. Rather, we should be framing all the bad news with more positive messages about what has been and can be achieved when everyone works together.

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