Can you please describe your role as Greenpeace’s Oceans Campaign Director?
I oversee our work on marine conservation in the US, and coordinate with colleagues around the world. It is a mix of strategic planning, staff management, and meetings with corporations, government officials, scientists and NGO allies. I also spend some time at sea, occasionally even getting to pilot a submarine. Every day is something different!
When did you first develop a passion for our oceans?
My parents brought me to Rocky Neck State Park on Long Island Sound when I was about 5, and that pretty much did it right there. Tide pools and waves, hermit crabs and mysterious creatures I didn't know the names of yet. I was hooked.
Why is it important for us to protect our oceans? What is at stake?
We live on the water planet, and our own health is inextricably linked to the health of the ocean. The oceans cover over 2/3 of the surface of our planet, and provide the oxygen for every second breath we take. Billions of people live by the sea, and many more depend on the ocean for food. Plastic pollution has reached the point where scientists project that there could soon be more plastic than fish in our oceans, unless we change course.
What is the goal of your campaigns with Greenpeace? Which campaign are you most proud of and which have made the most impact?
Greenpeace tends to take on the most urgent threats to our planet, with campaigns that can take years or even decades to win. At the beginning, our goals often seem impossible to many people, but by the end they usually look inevitable. For example, President Bush Sr. was one of many world leaders pressing to use the Marianas Trench in the Pacific as a dumping area for nuclear waste. Even though people thought we were crazy at the time, we fought for a ban on nuclear dumping. By the time Bush Jr. took over, not only had the UN banned dumping nuclear waste at sea, but public opinion had shifted so much that Bush designated the Marianas Trench a National Monument. I think I am proudest of the work we have done to improve seafood sustainability. We did our first assessment of US retailers in 2008, and all twenty in our survey failed. By our ninth report, in 2015, 20 out of 25 retailers had achieved passing scores - and several earned green ratings. This involved a lot of work from a great number of people and organizations, and together we were able to shift the entire retail sector a long way in a very short time. Since then, I've also been very pleased with the way Greenpeace has helped incorporate human rights and labor issues into our work on tuna fisheries and other industries. Environmental and social issues are inextricably linked, so talking about them together makes it possible to achieve better solutions for both sets of problems.
How can one person’s commitment to protecting our oceans make an impact?
There are a few ideas for ways people can help protect the Water Planet here. We should all do what we can as individuals, of course - give to charities that share our values, reduce our consumption of meat and fossil fuels, and educate ourselves so we can make informed decisions about the leaders we elect and the products we buy. I think we have the most impact when we go beyond personal lifestyle changes to advocacy. It definitely helps to choose sustainable tuna over BumbleBee, Chicken of the Sea, or Starkist, for example, but the real impact comes when you take it a step further. Explain to your supermarket and your family why you've made this choice. Ask your members of congress what they are doing to ensure that seafood sold in our stores is sustainable and ethical.
Are you currently working on any campaigns with Greenpeace that our readers should know about/participate in?
The biggest marine conservation focus for us right now is on cleaning up the tuna industry. Wild Planet is way ahead of the curve, scoring #1 in our canned tuna shopping guide this year. Many of the big brands and their suppliers have a long way to go, though. Bycatch is still a huge problem, with hundreds of thousands of sea turtles and millions of sharks killed in tuna fisheries each year. There are also major scandals involving human rights and labor abuses, with many fishermen not being paid a living wage. We have talked to tuna fishermen who have been beaten, thrown into freezers, and forced to work to the point of complete exhaustion. A shocking number of them have witnessed murders on board. Fortunately, things are starting to change. Individuals as well as retailers are starting to demand better, and it is paying off.
A huge and heartfelt thank you to John for taking the time to speak with us. We’re more committed than ever to our oceans and vow to continuing doing whatever we can to help maintain them and sustain our wildly good planet! To view our company’s Wildly Good Pledge to our oceans, please click HERE! Thank you! Your friends at Wild Planet Foods