What did you receive from your involvement in Ocean Matters that will stay with you moving forward?
I think the biggest thing I received from my involvement with Ocean Matters that’s going to stick with me is experience. The whole trip just solidified for me that I want to go into marine biology and that this is what I want to do with my life. Taking my first breath underwater was mind-blowing, but even more so when we were diving over one of the Coral Restoration Foundation’s restored reefs and seeing all the amazing biology down there. Another thing is connections; those are definitely going to stick with me. I love the relationships I built with the Ocean Matters staff and with the rest of the teenagers. It’s amazing to know that I have a whole team of people that I know will always have my back in any sort of ocean-related activism I or any of the rest of the group want to do or are currently doing.
What do you wish everyone knew about the ocean or could experience in the ocean?
I just wish everyone knew that we are all connected to the ocean. Just like Newton’s laws say, every action has an equal and opposite reaction; every thing we do affects the planet and in turn comes back to affect us. The plastic bottles and ziploc bags and plastic straws and single-use utensils and all the pollution we throw out into the garbage eventually makes its way into the ocean, into fish and squid and other sea creatures, and then into our seafood and our fish oil and our sea salt. Everything we do affects the ocean and then us. And we can’t live without the ocean either. That’s the biggest thing I wish everyone would grasp when it comes to battling the ecological crisis we face. But I also wish people knew the wonder that goes on in the ocean, so that they could appreciate it and want to save it, not just because it affects us but because it’s so beautiful that it is worthy to be saved solely because of the majesty in it. I wish people could experience breathing underwater for the first time with schools of fish and eels and nurse sharks and scores of waving corals all living quietly beneath you. I wish people could understand the tragic beauty behind a whale fall, how when that whale passes on and sinks to the bottom it creates a macrocosm of abundant life in an otherwise desolate world. I wish they could see the bioluminescence that happens below the edge of the ocean’s darkness, how true life is found when the moon has risen and there is nothing but flashing, technicolor lights in the depths. I just wish others could know and understand the magnitude of life and color that lives in the ocean.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest threat to the world’s oceans and what is something we do about it?
I think the biggest threats to the ocean are apathy and stubbornness. Of course these are human qualities, so what I really mean is that humans and our actions are the biggest threats. But our harm to the planet stems from apathy and a refusal to change. Society as a whole has a general lack of care for the planet and the ocean. They think sure, we’re hurting the ocean, but it’s not gonna affect us. Either they think we’re not connected to the ocean or they think we are, but they’ll be gone by the time it actually becomes a pressing issue so why bother with changing anything. I think we’ve been very ineffective in changing this attitude until recently. But now the approach of science and activism has seemingly shifted to target this attitude and instill a sense of love for the ocean into people. Because if you don’t love something, why would you bother trying to save it? Places like Mote Marine Laboratory and Clearwater Marine Aquarium do wonderful jobs of this, reaching people with their resident animals through rescue stories, interactive experiences, and educational programs. They show people why these animals are so amazing and why it’s not enough to just care but that they have to try to make a real, palpable change. And I think that’s one of the best ways we can work towards changing one of the biggest threat to our ocean.
How has your unique perspective helped inform your passion for the ocean?
I think my passion for the ocean has definitely been shaped by my perspective as an artist. I love science immensely, but I also love art and all things creative, which has greatly shaped my view of the ocean. I find that I’m most passionate about the more poetic and artistic things within the ocean. Like two of my favorite things are whale falls and jellyfish. I love whale falls because there’s something so terrible yet awe-inspiring about the fact that when a whale dies it sinks to the bottom and essentially creates its own ecosystem. Brand new, abundant life springs up in the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean all from the death of a single whale. I love jellyfish because they’re beautiful to look at. The various colors and shapes and sizes they come in astound me, especially those that are bioluminescent. Bioluminescence is like the fireworks of the sea and I think it’s one of the most beautiful things. And this love of art is the thing that molds my passion for the ocean. I want to learn everything I possibly can about these deep sea occurrences because it’s so absurdly poetic to me that the deep sea is seen as a cold, lifeless abyss yet it holds some of the brightest, most alien creatures in the world.
Learn more about Team Ocean and our Ocean Matters Science Through Service programs! And stay tuned here as we introduce other members of our Team Ocean Youth Leadership Council.