After some thought I have realised that I am a middle man (or woman) in life. As a marine biologist I digest scientifically sound recommendations, and as a conservationist I feed these suggestions to the people who can really make those changes. I do this by using every means available to me, and with the technologies available today there are many different ways to do this. We have websites, social networking and texting, we print posters, banners and spread environmental messages in their electronic forms to everyone who will take them, we meet with high level politicians, authoritative bodies and globally recognised environmental groups, we work directly with the people who live, work and eat from the oceans. With all these means of communication, funding really remains as our limiting factor but hey that’s life!
However, sometimes when I’m not being a marine biologist or conservationist, when I’m just plain old Chloe, I find I can lose my voice when it comes to passing on environmental messages as if they are my little secrets.
At the point when I’m sat in a busy restaurant and the table has been beautifully laid and the water already poured, I spot an endangered species available in one of the dishes on the menu. Do I approach the restaurant manager and explain the impact this has on the environment, that I will not support these activities and so will be leaving the restaurant in an attempt to make them realise that supporting the consumption of these species is not only destroying our seas but will also destroy their business? Or do I guiltily slink out of the restaurant with an apologetic smile and a speedy walk? Yes, I’m ashamed to say that sometimes I do the latter.
How about when I’m approached by someone asking for contributions to a mission against my environmental beliefs (e.g. anti-contraception groups). Do I take time to explain why I am against their mission and explain my own beliefs instead in an attempt to let them recognise how their advocacies are systematically destroying people’s quality of life? Or do I guiltily avoid eye contact and murmur something along the lines of not having any change on me? Yes, once again I have to admit that it sometimes remains as my secret and I choose to take the latter option again.
In my work I see people holding their own secrets close to them every day. A dive guide who speaks so beautifully about their passion for the marine environment and how it cripples them to see their divers damage the coral reefs, but who delivers an unimaginative, characterless and quite frankly boring dive briefing instead of taking the opportunity to inspire their divers to behave responsibly underwater. Or a fisherman who has always practiced sustainable fishing techniques passed down to him through generations of learning, who sits back and watches neighbouring fishermen greedily using mosquito nets in order to remove every living organism leaving nothing to reproduce and keep the fishing stocks healthy for the future. Or a daughter who has been taught at school about the impacts of marine debris who silently watches her grandfather absent mindedly flick his cigarette butt into the ocean. This information will remain her secret only.
Environmental degradation often stems from lack of knowledge, but sometimes I find that the knowledge is really there, but it just isn’t being used. I was once told by one of the local community members we work with in the Philippines, that “information is useless without the tools” and that I was giving them the tools they needed. I think it’s actually more apt to say “information is useless without the voice”.
There are a million reasons why these messages remain secrets; embarrassment or respect, or perhaps concerns over social discomfort or even personal safety. After writing this, I am going to make more of an effort to use my voice, in every capacity available to me. I don’t have to preach, or shout or order. I just have to gently pass on information in a friendly and fun manner and let people see that changing behaviour is necessary to preserve our natural environment; the lifeline we all rely so heavily on. I wonder if you could also do the same, to take the next opportunity you have to pass on the information you have to someone else, to find your voice.
Let’s follow someone who inspired change in the most incredible way who said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Nelson Mandella