Mak­ing a Move­ment

Asian Geographic - - Environment -

year, bil­lions of trees are cut down so we can plant crops to feed over seven bil­lion mouths. Ris­ing wa­ter tem­per­a­tures are ren­der­ing co­ral reefs bleached and life­less. It’s pre­dicted that by 2050, there will be more plas­tic in our oceans than fish; more wrap­pers than wrasse, and more bot­tles than bot­tlenose dol­phins.

Given the mag­ni­tude of these is­sues, it’s easy to be over­whelmed. What­canido?whereshould­ifo­cus my­ef­forts? These ques­tions are bandied around, as peo­ple scram­ble for an­swers, or try and be more en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zens.

Ev­ery­one has their own way of mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. Some start by mak­ing man­age­able, bite-sized changes to their ev­ery­day lives. They re­cy­cle, turn off the lights, eat less fish and beef, or share con­ser­va­tion sto­ries and images on so­cial media.

Oth­ers make en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism their lives and be­come sci­en­tists, cam­paign­ers or re­searchers.


As a pre­sen­ter at Sztv, I doc­u­ment con­ser­va­tion is­sues and ini­tia­tives, pack­age them up as en­ter­tain­ing films, and broad­cast them through the media.

Then there are those that as­sume a more “ac­tive” role. Cap­tain Paul Wat­son – who needs no in­tro­duc­tion – has spent over half a cen­tury ha­rass­ing, chas­ing, ram­ming and dis­abling those he deems a threat to the planet. Green­peace – no strangers to con­tro­versy them­selves – once even called him a “vi­o­lent ex­trem­ist”.

As I caught up with Wat­son on Skype, he dis­missed this la­bel. “I don’t con­sider my­self an ex­trem­ist and I don’t think what we do is rad­i­cal. I’m a con­ser­va­tive: You don’t get more con­ser­va­tive than be­ing a con­ser­va­tion­ist. Rad­i­cals and ex­trem­ists are out there try­ing to de­stroy the planet.”

It’s hard to keep up with Wat­son. Ev­ery sen­tence tum­bles out faster than you can sink a Ja­panese whal­ing fleet. He mixes ra­zor-sharp ob­ser­va­tions with lit­er­ary ref­er­ences, anec­dotes, metaphors and sta­tis­tics. By the time I’ve ab­sorbed one point, he’s made an­other three.

Wat­son’s life as an ac­tivist be­gan at the age of 11, when he would de­stroy beaver traps near his home in St. An­drews-by-the-sea, New Brunswick, Canada. By 1969 he went on to form a group called the Don’t Make a Wave Com­mit­tee, which, he claims, would later go on to be­come Green­peace. Whilst Green­peace deny Wat­son was a found­ing mem­ber, his claims are backed up in the film How tochangeth­e­world, about the first decade of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Wat­son’s meth­ods, how­ever, were deemed too con­tro­ver­sial and they parted ways in 1977. He be­lieves this was the best thing that ever hap­pened to him.

“I’m a con­ser­va­tive: You don’t get more con­ser­va­tive than be­ing a con­ser­va­tion­ist”

“Hang­ing ban­ners and tak­ing pic­tures only gets you so far,” he says, whilst re­fer­ring to or­gan­i­sa­tion Green­peace as the “Avon ladies of the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment”.

Whilst Green­peace brings in hun­dreds of mil­lions of Eu­ros ev­ery year in do­na­tions, Sea Shepherd only raises a frac­tion of this. “If peo­ple want to pro­tect our planet, they seek us out. Sea Shepherd is op­er­ated by those with pas­sion. I ask peo­ple if they would put their lives on the line for a whale. If they say ‘no’ we won’t take them.”

Wat­son doesn’t view Sea Shepherd as an or­gan­i­sa­tion, but rather a move­ment. “You can shut down an in­di­vid­ual or a com­pany, but you can’t stop a move­ment.” This move­ment has evolved to in­clude 10 ves­sels (mak­ing them the world’s largest non­govern­men­tal navy, Wat­son be­lieves), 165 full-time crew, and up to 10 times that num­ber in vol­un­teers.

It’s an ever-evolv­ing beast that even Wat­son can’t keep up with. “I heard last year that Sea Shepherd Nicaragua had res­cued two tur­tles. I didn’t even know we had a Sea Shepherd Nicaragua,” he jokes.

Wat­son’s role has also evolved over the years and he now adopts what he calls an “Ad­mi­ral’s po­si­tion” – co­or­di­nat­ing rather than chas­ing. It is an en­forced ab­sence: He has two In­ter­pol red no­tices filed against him, due to clashes with the Ja­panese and Costa Ri­cans, go­ing back 15 years. As a re­sult, he can­not travel any­where other than the United States or France. “In­ter­pol red no­tices are pri­mar­ily for se­rial killers, drug traf­fick­ers and war crim­i­nals. I’m the only per­son in his­tory put on that list for con­spir­acy to tres­pass on a whal­ing ship.”

The travel ban does lit­tle to dampen the Sea Shepherd mys­tique: the Ad­mi­ral im­pris­oned in his own coun­try, con­signed to his key­board, as his sol­diers con­tinue to wage war against the “rad­i­cals”.

It sounds like the plot of a Hol­ly­wood film – and if it were made into one, there would be no short­age of ac­tors want­ing to be in­volved. Supporter Sean Con­nery might make the per­fect Paul Wat­son. Sea Shepherd’s Hol­ly­wood links have bol­stered its media pro­file and fu­elled their growth. Brigitte Bar­dot and Sam Si­mon bought them boats. Other donors in­clude Pierce Bros­nan and Martin Sheen. “We can’t lose be­cause we have two James Bonds and a for­mer pres­i­dent on our side,” he jokes.

Sea Shepherd have suc­ceeded in do­ing what oth­ers have failed at: They have made con­ser­va­tion “cool” – fight­ing for a noble cause, chas­ing il­le­gal fish­er­men on the high seas.

bot­tom left Sea Shepherd has spent years cam­paign­ing to pro­tect tuna, whose pop­u­la­tions are on the brink of col­lapse

bot­tom cen­tre Il­le­gal gill nets are a huge threat to marine life, en­tan­gling and killing many species, in­clud­ing sharks

When Sea Shepherd was ac­cused of be­ing pi­rates in the 1990s, Wat­son coun­tered: “What’s wrong with pi­rates? Pi­rates get things done – look at Sir Walter Raleigh or Sir Fran­cis Drake.” Then, in typ­i­cally provoca­tive style, and in a mar­ket­ing mas­ter­stroke, he de­signed their fa­mous Jolly Roger logo.

No one could ever ac­cuse Sea Shepherd of not “get­ting things done”. Their cur­rent cam­paigns in­clude pro­tect­ing the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered vaquita in Mex­ico, in­ter­cept­ing and ar­rest­ing il­le­gal fish­ing op­er­a­tors off West Africa, iden­ti­fy­ing viruses and par­a­sites from farmed sal­mon, and help­ing Adi­das pro­duce a trainer made out of marine de­bris.

The Ja­panese, of course, still re­ceive their fair share of at­ten­tion.

When Sea Shepherd was ac­cused of be­ing pi­rates in the 1990s, Wat­son coun­tered: “What’s wrong with pi­rates? Pi­rates get things done”

The amount of un­eaten frozen whale meat dou­bled to 4,600 tonnes be­tween 2002 and 2012. The gov­ern­ment still sub­sidises whal­ing by about USD50 mil­lion a year Pol­i­cy­mak­ers have urged the IWC to en­cour­age the de­vel­op­ment of com­mer­cial whale watch­ing, which gen­er­ates more than USD1 bil­lion in an­nual rev­enues world­wide

2002 2012

As Wat­son sat there amongst a Soviet whal­ing fleet in the ocean, he was left alone with his thoughts. “So here we are, killing this in­cred­i­bly in­tel­li­gent, beau­ti­ful, self-aware crea­ture for oil [from its blub­ber], which is used in the con­struc­tion of in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal mis­siles… to make a weapon for the mass ex­ter­mi­na­tion of hu­man be­ings. It struck me like a light­en­ing bolt: We are eco­log­i­cally in­sane. From that mo­ment on I said: I’m not go­ing to do this for peo­ple; I’m go­ing to do this for them.”

It’s es­ti­mated there are over 6,500 whales in the ocean that wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Sea Shepherd and Paul Wat­son. Peo­ple won’t al­ways agree with their meth­ods, but that’s ac­tivism for you. In or­der to get things done, you need to ruf­fle some feathers. And one thing’s for sure: Few have con­trib­uted more to our oceans. ag

Left Sea Shepherd is ac­tively in­volved in anti-whal­ing and launched its 11th Antarc­tic whale de­fense cam­paign called Op­er­a­tion Neme­sis in late 2016 bot­tom Plas­tic pol­lu­tion is one of the great­est en­vi­ron­men­tal threats fac­ing our oceans. Sea Shepherd has t

Left Dead thresher and blue sharks lie on the deck of the Reina Del Cisne above Plas­tics in the marine environment have sig­nif­i­cant eco­log­i­cal im­pacts caus­ing wel­fare and con­ser­va­tion con­cerns in­clud­ing in­ges­tion, en­tan­gle­ment and stran­gu­la­tion to marine

Above Japan is a sig­na­tory to the IWC’S mora­to­rium of 1986, but it uses “sci­en­tific re­search” as a loop­hole for killing whales left Cap­tain Paul Wat­son

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