In celebration of World Oceans Day on Jun 8, sea-centric beauty brand La Mer is honouring the work of marine biologist Dr Andrea Marshall, and launching a special World Oceans Day Crème de la Mer (available throughout May and June, AU$620/NZ$660, 100ml). Here we interview Dr Marshall – Conservation Biologist, National Geographic Emerging Explorer and founder of the Marine Megafauna Foundation.
What has been the biggest turning point in your career?
In my opinion, the most significant turning point in my career came on the day the first major documentary on my work aired in the UK, in November 2009. That evening more than 2.8 million people tuned in to watch one of the first dedicated documentaries about manta rays. I was totally unprepared for the public’s reaction to the program. Hundreds of people contacted me that night, some typing notes during commercial breaks as the show was underway. Each person wrote to tell about an inspiring experience they had had with mantas, to share their thoughts about the show or to thank me for introducing them to such an incredible animal for the first time. Since that day, that particular documentary has aired in over 100 countries and I have responded to thousands of e-mails and letters from individuals all over the world.
What has been the most defining moment of your career?
Manta rays are globally threatened species, vulnerable to extinction. Over a decade ago, I began working to list manta rays on CITES, an intern-governmental treaty which will offer them protection across the globe. Over the last decade, my team and I have carefully developed strategies to study key aspects of the biology and ecology of manta rays. This research has played a fundamental role in creating momentum for their protection. It was with great pride and relief that our long-term vision paid off and manta rays were successfully awarded protection on CITES last March in Bangkok.
Why should manta rays be protected and how do you stay motivated to keep pushing for their conservation?
Every species plays a role in the ecosystem of the ocean – eliminating manta rays will inevitably have an effect on the natural order of the pelagic environment.
In what ways do we rely on the world’s oceans without even realizing it? What role does the health of the oceans play in our daily lives?
Water is actually what sets us apart from other planets. It’s what makes our home habitable, beautiful and full of diverse life. Water is without a doubt, the key to life and in our case, it is our great oceans that support the planet and all of the life on it.
How do you suggest people at home can help the ocean conservation movement?
1. Use Your Voice – cast your vote or express your opinion. It may be difficult to keep up with campaigns globally, it is realistic to keep an eye on local or regional campaigns seeking support for the protection vulnerable species or the development of marine protected areas. It might not seem like it, but many species have been protected and marine sanctuaries created off momentum fueled by public outcry.
2. Respect Our Oceans – To have the continued privilege of going out into the nature, seeing wild places and engaging with marine life, it is important that we protect the places/things we love. This means not disturbing or touching animals, plants or structures in the sea, it means taking only photos and memories away with you and nothing else, and it means not leaving anything that you brought to the sea behind when you leave. As conscientious citizens, you are not only responsible for your own actions, but you may serve as a role model, influencing the behaviour of others around you, so do your part for the ocean!
3. Direct Your Support – As consumers, you have the power of choice – for example, abstain from eating unsustainably caught fish and support conservation minded tourism operators. This small act can have huge impacts and in turn encourage others to follow in your footsteps.
What does World Oceans Day mean to you? What impact does this day have in overall ocean conservation?
World Oceans Day should inspire us all to pause and reflect on what the ocean means to us and what we as individuals can do, in our own small way, to give back. Perhaps it means participating in a beach clean up, or even better, making a continued commitment to clean your local beaches. You may want to go on a dive or share your stories and underwater images with friends that don’t know much about the ocean. If you don’t live near the sea, perhaps you want to blog or post about what the ocean means to you and your hopes for its future. If you have children, use the day to enhance their understanding of the underwater world; engage them with marine related educational activities, watch a documentary together and have a question/answer session after it, or take them to a local aquarium or interpretation center. Be creative and have fun, but just don’t let the day pass you by.