Cham­pion of THE SEAS

A tire­less de­fender of the oceans, Claire Nou­vian cam­paigns against the de­struc­tive fish­ing prac­tice of deep-sea bot­tom trawl­ing

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Environment - BY SU­SAN­NAH HICK­LING

CLAIRE NOU­VIAN couldn’t be hap­pier. She had just shown the proofs of her book, The Deep, to some of the world’s most em­i­nent ma­rine sci­en­tists at an in­ter­na­tional deep-sea sym­po­sium. The amaz­ing pho­tographs she had col­lated, doc­u­ment­ing life far be­neath the waves, had drawn ex­cited oohs and aahs.

But Claire’s pride turned to hor­ror as Amer­i­can ma­rine sci­en­tist Pro­fes­sor Les Watling showed a video to the packed con­fer­ence room. She found her­self look­ing at vol­ca­noes that lay 2000 me­tres be­neath the sea off the New York coast. Soviet fish­ing trawlers had rav­aged them in the 1970s and now, 30 years on, these seamounts were bare. In­stead of anemones and corals that take thou­sands of years to grow, there were only scars in the rub­ble left by weighted trawl nets. It was at that mo­ment in 2006 that Claire Nou­vian’s eyes were opened to the de­struc­tion wreaked by the fish­ing in­dus­try around the world.

Grow­ing up in Al­ge­ria, Hong Kong and Ger­many, and even­tu­ally mov­ing to South Amer­ica, 44-year- old French-born jour­nal­ist Claire Nou­vian, had de­vel­oped a fas­ci­na­tion with the world around her. Claire turned to video to tell the sto­ries of the world’s most beau­ti­ful places. It was doc­u­men­tary-mak­ing that took her in 2001 to the Monterey

Bay Re­search In­sti­tute in Cal­i­for­nia where she first dis­cov­ered the se­cret world at the bot­tom of the ocean, and the idea for The Deep was born. As well as a book, there would be an ex­hi­bi­tion that would travel the globe. Now based in Paris, Claire set up an or­gan­i­sa­tion, BLOOM, from her home to raise aware­ness about the oceans.

“I thought that if I shared the story of the beauty of the nat­u­ral world, peo­ple would stop de­stroy­ing it,” she ex­plains. “That was com­pletely naive.” Ex­pos­ing the dam­age – and stop­ping it – be­came Claire’s pas­sion. She was now an ac­tivist.

HUN­GRY FOR FACTS,

Claire en­listed Pro­fes­sor Watling’s help. They used Graphic In­for­mat ion Sys­tems (GIS) to cal­cu­late ar­eas of the sea floor that might be pro­tected. They gath­ered global f ish­eries sta­tis­tics. In the course of her re­search, Claire was shocked to find out that France’s largest deep-sea com­mer­cial fish­ing fleet be­longed to Les Mous­que­taires, owner of su­per­mar­ket chain In­ter­marché. Pro­fes­sor Watling pointed out that its trawlers could de­stroy an area of sea floor the size of Paris in two days.

Even though her book The Deep was pub­lished that year in 12 lan­guages and the ex­hi­bi­tion toured eight coun­tries, at­tract­ing 2.4 mil­lion vis­i­tors, there was lit­tle ap­petite for change. Claire’s mis­sion re­mained clear. I’ll stop these trawlers, she thought. “Most peo­ple, when con­fronted with the fish­ery sci­en­tists, or the lawyers from the bi l l ion- dol­lar cor­po­ra­tions, would wither un­der the pres­sure,” says Pro­fes­sor Wat l ing. “But not Claire.”

Claire with­stood in­tim­i­da­tion – a pic­ture mes­sage on her phone show­ing a dog with a knife in its mouth; a red laser beam fol­low­ing her round the f lat where she lived alone – and fi­nan­cial stress. At one point she con­sid­ered wait­ress­ing to pay the rent. She took her cam­paign to a Euro­pean Com­mis­sion f ish­eries con­fer­ence, where her slight build be­lied her de­ter­mi­nat ion as she de­nounced In­ter­marché to a packed am­phithe­atre.

By 2012, two other women had joined BLOOM. They had no fi­nanc­ing but they were get­ting re­sults. That year they took In­ter­marché to the French ad­ver­tis­ing reg­u­la­tion author­ity for an ad cam­paign that falsely claimed its fish­ing prac­tices posed

“We need to un­der­stand that this is war against na­ture, and the nat­u­ral world is our sup­port sys­tem”

no harm to the ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment. In­ter­marché had to with­draw the ­of­fend­ing ad­ver­tise­ment.

BLOOM won pub­lic sup­port too. In 2013, Claire gave a pas­sion­ate TEDxParis talk, where she re­vealed not only the mar­vels of the deep sea, such as sponges used in can­cer treat­ment, but also the ‘toxic logic’ of the French fish­ing in­dus­try. Even with sub­si­dies, the fish­ing in­dus­try was un­prof­itable but, by buy­ing fish from In­ter­marché, the pub­lic was fund­ing the de­struc­tion of the deep sea. Pop­u­lar car­toon­ist Pénelopé Bagieu was in the au­di­ence that night. She was so shocked that she turned Claire’s talk into a comic strip. The car­toon – which de­picts how deep-sea bot­tom trawl­ing is more than 3000 times de­struc­tive than any other hu­man ma­rine ac­tiv­ity, in­clud­ing gas and oil ex­trac­tion – went vi­ral. BLOOM’s pe­ti­tion ask­ing the French gov­ern­ment to stop deep-sea bot­tom trawl­ing grew to nearly 900,000 names in a few days. It was the big­gest en­vi­ron­men­tal pe­ti­tion in French his­tory.

But at a Euro­pean level, Claire suf­fered a bit­ter blow. On De­cem­ber 10 that year the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment un­ex­pect­edly voted to al­low deep sea bot­tom trawl­ing to con­tinue.

“I felt hor­ri­ble and dis­cour­aged,” Claire ad­mits. “I lost faith in hu­man­ity.”

But the next day Claire was again ral­ly­ing her small team. That same day In­ter­marché put out a pub­lic mes­sage, reach­ing out to en­vi­ron­men­tal groups for help in im­ple­ment­ing more sus­tain­able fish­ing prac­tices. A month later, the com­pany agreed to stop fish­ing be­low 800 me­tres. In No­vem­ber 2015, the French gov­ern­ment un­der François Hol­lande agreed to the same ban, fol­lowed by all EU mem­ber states in June 2016.

But her work sav­ing the ever-threat­ened ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment is far from done, Claire says. She has now turned her at­ten­tion to elec­tric pulse fish­ing, which indis­crim­i­nately elec­tro­cutes all ma­rine life close to the nets.

“A lot of other dam­age is still go­ing on and who’s watch­ing that?” says Claire. “We need to un­der­stand that this is war against na­ture, and the nat­u­ral world is our sup­port sys­tem.”

In April this year, Claire Nou­vian was awarded the Gold­man En­vi­ron­men­tal Prize for grass­roots con­ser­va­tion­ists who achieve re­sults even though the odds are stacked against them.

A photo of a dumbo oc­to­pus from Nou­vian’s book that de­picts the ex­tra­or­di­nary beauty of the deep sea

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