A call to action by Cristina Mittermeier, SeaLegacy
World Oceans Day
8 min read
Meet Cristina Mittermeier, co-founder of SeaLegacy. Along with photographer Paul Nicklen, she utilises the power of visual storytelling to engage millions of people every day in a dialogue about the alarming threats and the solutions facing our planet’s largest ecosystem.
What does Luxury mean?
Luxury does not equal being wasteful, shallow and wanton. For me, luxury is finding a pristine forest or beach that doesn’t bear the scars of human carelessness. It is the opportunity for solitude in a very crowded planet, and the knowledge that my privilege to pamper myself does not mean someone else is suffering.
What is the health report of our oceans in 2019?
Things have gotten much worse on so many fronts. We are seeing more and more animals, especially large marine mammals, like whales, die because they have ingested plastic; there is an all-out assault by the Trump administration on existing protections against oil drilling and industrial fishing; nations like Japan and Iceland have gone rogue and decided that they don’t have to comply with the rest of the planet and that commercial whaling is morally acceptable; most dramatic is that the temperature of the ocean in many places is causing the rapid death of entire coral ecosystems, kelp forests and perhaps most terrifying, the melting of the polar caps.
What’s gotten better? A handful of nations, such as the Bahamas, South Africa, and the UK, are busy creating marine protected areas to comply with the 10% protection pledged to the UN by 2020. Sadly, the vast majority of countries have not even started, and many of the ones that exist are only protected “on paper”.
What is the main threat to our oceans?
The major threat is, without question, the climate crisis. Human-induced climate change threatens coastal and marine ecosystems through sea-level rise, acidification, and changes in weather patterns and water temperatures. These changes will also seriously alter coastal development, the reliability of ocean shipping, coastal recreation and marine activities such as oil platforms and aquaculture, thus adding economic risks.
Oceans and climate are inextricably linked, and oceans play a fundamental role in mitigating climate change by serving as a significant heat and carbon sink. Oceans also bear the brunt of climate change, as evidenced by growing acidification, sea level increase, and changes in temperature and currents, all of which in turn impacts the health of marine species, ecosystems, and our coastal communities.
“The best way to hope is through action” was a lesson taught to Cristina by a 20-year-old kid on the island of Moorea who started his own organisation ‘Coral Gardeners’ to replant the dying coral reefs of his home island.
To avoid this, we all need to push hard for a rapid transition out of fossil fuels and into renewables; we need to protect much more ocean real estate from the ravages of commercial fishing, as fish populations are far more impacted by warming waters than previously known; and most importantly, we need to understand that the best way to address climate change is by stopping deforestation on land, and by protecting ecosystems like mangroves and seagrass beds from coastal development.
Why is it so important to get everyone on board?
I believe that the lack of knowledge of the importance of our oceans to the survival of everyone on this planet is what drives the carelessness we see. We need to create a global movement of informed citizenry that is aware that their life support system is in a crisis. At SeaLegacy, we use visual communications, specifically beautiful and impactful photography, to engage large numbers of individuals who otherwise would not be interested in the subject. People like young Greta Thunberg have done more over the past year than politicians and CEOs to increase public will. Much more needs to be done. A significant investment in awareness and engagement needs to be made to get governments, corporations and individuals behind a rapid transition out of single-use plastics, fossil fuels and industrial fishing.
The emphasis on consumerism and the manufacturing of cheap conveniences needs to be penalised, and the purchasing of durable, reusable items needs to be encouraged. I believe artificial intelligence will make it easier for consumers to understand the provenance of the food they eat, especially wild foods, like fish, the impact of industries like the beef industry, and it will also allow consumers to reward restaurants and service providers that have made an effort to be more sustainable and plastic free.
How can we raise awareness of our planet’s protection and replenishment?
Social media is an excellent way of spreading information and engaging communities across the globe. It is also the most democratic way of making sure people have access to information. Vehicles like the UN can make important determinations on why people need to be aware, but ultimately it is governments, corporations and civic society who must invest in educating citizens on the imperative to keep our planet alive.
What can we do to reduce our single-use plastic consumption?
Every day and the single most important thing we can do is speak up. Refuse plastic straws, cotton swabs, single-use cutlery and question why instead of letting the public know that the tap water is drinkable, so many establishments opt for plastic bottles. Question your grocer and your take-out food vendor on the use of plastics and offer alternatives by bringing your own utensils and reusable container. I am currently working on a large campaign to end single-use plastic bottles called #Hydratelike.
How does your commitment to sustainability translate into your parenting approach?
I never emphasised the need to have “stuff”. I raised my kids in a middle-class neighbourhood, but I put a lot more emphasis on experiences in nature and education, like going to museums. Most importantly, I taught them to be empathetic, not just to people who are less fortunate than we are, but to all creatures on this planet.
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