Throughout my journey in exploring and planning my future in the marine conservation field, I have always struggled with the question of “Is there any hope?”. I always tell my friends that I like animals more than humans and they think it’s a joke, but it’s true. Humans have so much power and they don’t know what to do with it. So… is there hope? I know it CAN happen, our oceans can grow and become healthy again with the help of humans, but will it happen? Will humans use their power to help save our oceans? This is a constant thought in my head everyday.
I always try to think back to what formed this love within me for sharks and I can never quite remember. When I was in high school, around the time where I began to be more interested in sharks and would frequently sit and watch documentaries about them, I recall that my perception of them started to change. Beginning to be the shark fan that I am, I loved to share all of the information that I was learning, but no one seemed to understand why I cared about them so much. My friends and family never seemed to realize the impact that they have on the world. When I applied to intern at The Ocean Foundation, it wasn’t just a place where I could gain experience to put on my resume; it was a place where I hoped I would be able to express myself and be around people who understood and shared my passion. I knew this would change my life forever.
My second week at The Ocean Foundation, I was presented with the opportunity to attend Capitol Hill Ocean Week in Washington, D.C. at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The first panel that I attended was “Transforming the Global Seafood Market”. Originally, I hadn’t planned on attending this panel because it hadn’t necessarily sparked my interest, but I am so glad that I did. I was able to hear the honorable and heroic Ms. Patima Tungpuchayakul, co-founder of Labour Rights Promotion Network, speak about the slavery happening within fishing vessels overseas. It was an honor listening to the work that they have done and learning about issues that I wasn’t quite aware of. I wish I would have been able to meet her, but even so, that is an experience that I will never forget and will cherish forever.
The panel that I was most excited for, in particular, was the panel on “The State of Shark and Ray Conservation”. The room was packed and filled with such great energy. The opening speaker was Congressman Michael McCaul and I have to say, his speech and the way he spoke about sharks and our oceans is something I will never forget. My mom always tells me there are 2 things you don’t talk about to just anyone and that’s religion and politics. That being said, I grew up in a family that politics were never really a big thing and wasn’t much of a topic in our household. Being able to listen to Congressman McCaul and hear the passion in his voice about something that I care so deeply about, was unbelievably amazing. At the end of the panel, the panelists answered a few questions from the audience and my question was answered. I asked them “Do you have hope that there will be a change?” All of the panelists answered yes and that they would not be doing what they do if they did not believe that a change was possible. After the session was over, I was able to meet Lee Crockett, Executive Director of the Shark Conservation Fund. I asked him about his answer to my question, along with the doubts I have, and he shared with me that although it’s hard and it takes a while to see a change, those changes make it worthwhile. He also said that what keeps him going is making smaller goals for himself along the journey of the ultimate goal. After hearing that, I felt encouraged to keep on.
Above: "Whale Conservation in the 21st Century" panel.
Being that I am the most passionate about sharks, I haven’t taken as much time to learn about other large animals as much as I could have. At Capitol Hill Ocean Week, I was able to attend a panel on Whale Conservation and learned so much. I was always aware that most, if not all, marine animals were at risk in someway due to human activity, but aside from poaching I wasn’t quite sure what was endangering these intelligent creatures. Senior Scientist, Dr. Michael Moore explained that a large issue within whales is that they often get entangled in lobster traps. Thinking about that, I couldn’t imagine minding my business and getting entangled out of nowhere. Mr. Keith Ellenbogen, award-winning underwater photographer, described his experiences taking pictures of these animals and it was amazing. I loved how he was honest about being scared at first. Often when you hear professionals speak about their experiences, they don’t speak about the fear they have experienced when they began and when he did, it gave me hope in myself that maybe one day I could be brave enough to be near these enormous, magnificent animals. After listening to them speak about whales, it made me feel so much more love for them.
After a long first day at the conference I was given the amazing opportunity to attend the Capitol Hill Ocean Week Gala, also known as “Ocean Prom,” that night. It began with a cocktail reception in the lower level where I tried my first raw oyster ever. It was an acquired taste and tasted like the ocean; not sure how I feel about that. As the people watcher that I am, I observed my surroundings. From long elegant gowns to simple cocktail dresses, everyone looked great. Everyone interacted so fluidly that it seemed like I was at a high school reunion. My favorite part, being a shark lover, was the silent auctions, particularly the shark book. I would’ve put down the bid if I wasn’t a broke college student. As the night continued, I met many people and was just very thankful, taking everything in. A moment I will never forget is when the legendary and amazing Dr. Nancy Knowlton was honored and given the Lifetime Achievement award. Listening to Dr. Knowlton speak about her work and what keeps her going, helped me realize the good and positive because although there’s a lot of work to be done, we’ve come such a long way.
Above: Dr. Nancy Knowlton accepts her award.
My experience was wonderful. It was almost like a music festival with a bunch of celebrities, just amazing to be surrounded by so many people working to make a change. Although, it is just a conference, it’s a conference that restored my hope and confirmed to me that I’m in the right place with the right people. I know that it will take time for a change to come, but it’ll come and I’m excited to be a part of that process.