Meet Ocean Spirit Award Winner Bonnie Combs

By | Climate Action, Events, Featured Post, In the News, New England Aquarium, New England Aquarium, Sustainable Living, W2O Blog

Meet Bonnie Combs, our 2019 Ocean Spirit Award winner! Bonnie lives in Blackstone, a small Massachusetts community on the border of Rhode Island. Her journey to ocean conservation started years ago with a love of food and continues today with big ideas that exemplify how an army of one can influence two states and multiple communities, inspiring them to join the fight to protect our blue planet. When Bonnie tells her story, it’s best to have a map of Massachusetts and Rhode Island on hand! Her life has crisscrossed these borders and each state could claim her as their own ocean hero.

Bonnie’s motto is “be the change you wish to see” and believes everyone can make a difference when it comes to saving the planet. “Some people are just too shy or scared but I say if you just try and get out there, you never know how your efforts might make a difference,” she muses. Always a nature lover, Bonnie had her awakening to conservation while working as a chef at Whole Foods and was drawn into the company’s sustainability mission becoming Community Relations Team Leader. This work, in locations in MA and RI, became her conservation training ground and solidified her interest in working locally to spread the message that you too can choose healthy for your family and in turn, make our world a better place.

Bonnie is often using her skills as a trained chef to make sustainable meals or is firing up her sewing machine, stitching up t-shirts for reusable bags, sewing remnant fabric for cutlery wraps and repurposing animal feed bags. A creative energetic change maker, Bonnie is regularly organizing river and beach clean-ups across both MA and RI, teaching folks how to reuse and repurpose everyday materials to mitigate waste, and sharing her talents with the community by empowering others to learn how to make creative choices when it comes to refusing single-use plastic pollution.

Her life is bursting with community activism and her reach is wide. As Marketing Director at the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, Inc, she has developed and designed the Trash Responsibly and Fish Responsibly campaigns, making sure that waste and monofilament fishing line is recycled properly. A co-worker and volunteer coordinator of the Corridor, Suzanne Buchanan, describes Bonnie’s enthusiasm for her conservation work as contagious. “People stop by to donate feed bags for repurposing and you would think that she is being given a bouquet of flowers given her outburst of joy and the hugs that follows,” says Suzanne. “Bonnie is generous above and beyond as she gathers people together to think about their consumption and choices. She can’t go to bed until she has filled up a trash bag on one of her walks and on those walks she is stopping for conversations, inspiring others to join in.” Suzanne adds, “She makes me a better person and I am not the only one that would say that.”

Bonnie loves networking, outreach and the community participation in the building of a movement. She thinks big! Her newest project takes this concept on, literally. Bonnie is currently a “3D Resident Local Artist” at the Providence citywide public art initiative, The Avenue Concept, collecting a rainbow of plastic containers from across Rhode Island for an enormous public sculpture that will be assembled and constructed on site by famed New York artist Steven Siegel. The entire structure will be assembled from plastic waste including laundry jugs and personal and household cleaning products. The sculpture will be held together by discarded fishing nets and Bonnie hopes the art will spark discussions about how to protect marine life from entanglement and keep plastic pollution out of our waterways and ocean.

“The ocean to me (blending my passion for the environment and cooking) is the soup of life,” says Bonnie. “We all play a part in the recipe. If we want a well balanced, healthy and life-sustaining soup, we need to change our mindset and think of our daily actions as ingredients. Are we adding too much to the soup? If ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ we must be mindful of our individual impact and how collectively we all sit at the same table and share the same meal.”

Bonnie at The Avenue Concept

Congratulate Bonnie on May 21st at W2O’s On the Brink: Saving our Right Whale, Saving our Ocean. Bonnie will be presented the 2019 Ocean Spirit Award at this event that will educate the public about the endangered North Atlantic right whale. Find out how we can save this species, thought of as the “ocean’s canary in the coal mine,” and join us to take a closer look at how we can protect our blue planet. Click Here for Tickets!

 

 

 

 

 

W2O Joins Ocean Partners to Protect Our Coast

By | Events, Featured Post, In the News, New England Aquarium, Uncategorized

The ocean and our climate are making the headlines with awareness growing about sea level rise, plastic pollution, and the impact of human-induced carbon emissions. Just when it seems the threats to a healthy environment can’t grow any longer, our elected officials have proposed the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.  This proposal would include seismic testing and offshore drilling in the Arctic and off of our coast in the Atlantic, prompting W2O and other organizations to challenge each and every one of us to defend our coast.

The ocean has no borders when it comes to the threat of an oil spill. No herculean effort can contain a spill or determine where it won’t go. The ocean has its own agenda, especially with the proposed area for drilling including the Gulf Stream just hundreds of miles offshore flowing from Mexico right up to Canada, over to Europe and finally to the Norwegian coast. An oil spill would devastate the economic engines of New England; including tourism and the fishing industry.

The first order of business before offshore drilling is exploration using seismic testing, which entails analysis of the ocean floor using airguns that emit a deafening sound. In a statement released this week denouncing the administration’s proposal, the New England Aquarium joined aquariums across the nation to warn of the dangers of this type of exploration.

The statement explains, “Seismic airgun noise travels more than 1,500 miles underwater. Scientific studies show that when seismic surveys happen, fewer fish are caught, more zooplankton die, and marine mammals struggle to flourish. Seismic airguns negatively impact everything around them and haven’t been used in the North Atlantic since the 1980s to search for commercial quantities of oil and gas.”

We think of our oceans as a silent underwater world. In reality, the ocean is full of noise. Diving on any given day, anywhere in the world, you might hear fish chomping, waves crashing, mammals calling to each other and even rain falling. Marine life is wired for sound and depends on it for finding food, mating, and migration. Our critically endangered North Atlantic right whale has fallen victim to multiple human stressors with only a few hundred left.  These animals use the proposed area for drilling off of the Atlantic coast as their highway, breeding off of the coast of Georgia and coming north to feed right here in Cape Cod waters.

Explosions in the ocean not only affect the largest of our underwater friends, but also the smallest.  Important nursery grounds and our newly designated first national monument in the Atlantic, the North East Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument are at risk from this proposal. Zooplankton, which is an important part of the ocean food web and includes the larval stage of fish and other marine organisms, dies when exposed to seismic testing according to this article in Nature Ecology and Evolution.  

Join W2O on January 10th for an evening to learn more about seismic surveys, oil and gas exploration and how you can protect our coast. The evening will include short films on the topic and an expert panel monitored by Vikki Spruill, President and CEO of the New England Aquarium, poised to answer questions and inspire you to speak up on behalf of our blue planet. Register here

We Marched. Now Vote Ocean

By | Action today, Events, New England Aquarium, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

W2O descended on Washington D.C. with thousands of other ocean defenders from around the country at the beginning of the June to attend Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW), an annual event to highlight US policy and the importance of our coasts and inland waters. This year for the first time, in addition to the conference, gala and partner events, organizers National Marine Sanctuary Foundation added a “day on the Hill.” W2O and a New England coalition met with U.S. Representatives, Senators and their congressional aids to:

  • Encourage increased funding for NOAA and support public investment in ocean and Great Lakes conservation and science
  • Defend the integrity of all National Monuments designated by the Antiquities Act like our North Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts, the first ocean monument in the Atlantic
  • Urge Congress to sustain important ocean science-based management provisions like the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act

The week ended with The March for Our Ocean, produced by Blue Frontier and partners to bring ocean awareness to the public across the globe. Thousands marched with a renewed purpose of ocean advocacy. Now what? Time to vote!

We are all constituents of our elected officials and we have enlisted them to act on our behalf. Yet somehow, the ocean is not often on the agenda of what we ask from them. For coastal communities, the ocean is always reminding us of its importance. We rely upon it for food, tourism and the air we breathe. When, during a weather event, the ocean lashes back at us we see and feel the fiscal consequences of erosion, storm surge, and lost industry opportunity. When the storm is over, we take the ocean for granted and assume it will continue to provide for us. Out of sight and out of mind, to some, the ocean is way down on their totem pole of important issues.

Let’s face it, today there is a myriad of issues worthy of our concern. When we marched for the ocean, we showed unity across the spectrum in the knowledge that we have just one ocean. We need a healthy ocean for our own health, whether or not you live on the coast and regardless of your political views.

Just this month, the Administration revoked the 2010 executive order that created the National Ocean Policy. The new plan, reviewed by our partners at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium “abolishes the Regional Planning Bodies that helped New England create an inclusive, coordinated ocean plan and removes language that focuses on conservation and climate resilience efforts for our ocean.” In this statement in support of science-based decision making, the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life says, “We believe the best way to create sustainable oceans—both environmentally and economically—is through strategic and transparent planning, science-based decision-making, and collaborative partnerships across all sectors. We consider the current Administration’s decision to revoke the 2010 executive order that created the National Ocean Policy and the National Ocean Council shortsighted.”

Supporting legislation that defends our ocean from harmful action is part of our W2O mission. We promise to speak up and out, marching and meeting, but we need you to use your voice as well and vote with our ocean in mind. Everything flows to the ocean and no matter where you live, there are initiatives for legislation that will affect the quality of lakes, streams and rivers that flow to the sea.

If you vote, thank you! If you wonder if your vote will count, please consider the alternative. The ocean is what sustains us and gives us life. The ocean needs your vote.

Stories of Action Give Us Hope for Our Ocean

By | Action today, Events, Featured Post, New England Aquarium, New England Aquarium, Past Events, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

It’s as if Mother Nature herself rolled out the red carpet for W2O’s recent Think Big event at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ). Spring finally came to Boston Harbor and filled the tent with fresh sea air; Dr. Asha de Vos inspired with stories of her unlikely journey to becoming a marine biologist and blue whale expert in Sri Lanka; and our guests gave generously to support scientists working worldwide on the forefront of marine conservation through the NEAQ’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF).  But the real stars of the day were each of you—W2O Members and their friends– who attended and left with plans and dedicated actions to take on behalf of our ocean. In response to past events, attendees have shared stories of how they have changed minds in their community about using single-use plastic, have researched and purchased more efficient cars and have stepped up to speak out on behalf of our ocean at the MA State House and in Washington D.C. 

We delight in our being able to produce sold-out events, but the real success of W2O is when the topic of our events resonate with attendees and then, in turn, they take what they have learned and leave passionate and empowered to join our ocean workforce. After hearing Dr. Ahsa de Vos at our recent event, Montessori teacher, Dilani Vytheswaran wrote to tell us how she brought Dr. de Vos’s message about the importance of protecting the endangered North Atlantic right whale to her young students.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my day and the lecture by Dr. de Vos – it was informative and inspirational.  I loved when she said ‘do what you love and you will do it well.’  I think it will become one of my all-time favorite mantras – personally and professionally! After yesterday’s lecture, I was inspired to talk to the children in my class about the North Atlantic right whale, and the urgency in protecting them.  We discussed ocean pollution and the things we could all do to help make sure the right whale does not make it on to the list of ‘extinct.’  I encouraged the children to speak up and do their part by not littering, reminding their caregivers to use reusable bags, and, to pack their lunches in reusable containers etc.”

Teacher Dilani Vytheswaran with Dr. Asha de Vos at Think Big in May

According to the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, the number of North Atlantic right whales are in decline because of stressors including ship strikes and entanglement. We need whales for a healthy ocean. They regulate the ecosystem and are our ocean’s unintended farmers, fertilizing the plants that give life to all ocean animals. Our ocean feeds us, gives us joy, regulates our weather and is the economic engine of our planet.

Thank you Dr. Asha de Vos for your inspirational talk and thank you Dilani Vytheswaran for spreading the word, to our youth, their families and the school community about protecting the endangered North Atlantic right whale. It is stories like these that give us hope for our ocean.

 

 

Meet our 2018 Ocean Spirit Award Winner Sierra Joy Rothberg

By | Action today, Events, Featured Post, In the News, New England Aquarium, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

 

We are so proud this year to present our W2O 2018 Ocean Spirit Award to Sierra Joy Rothberg for digging deep and coming up with creative solutions for the reduction of single-use plastic pollution in her neighborhood of Dorchester and for all of Boston.

The W2O Ocean Spirit Award honors the individual that has encompassed our mission of educating and inspiring action using grassroots initiatives towards protecting our blue planet.  

 

Sierra Rothberg from Dorchester MA

 

“The ocean is everything for me,” says Sierra. “After moving from the West Coast to Nahant, the ocean was actually our backyard. All year long we watched storms roll across the bay for entertainment, felt wonder in endless discovery along the shores collecting shells, swimming, and felt the energy from the waves and tides. If we got a cut or scrape, we were told to go into the water. The ocean heals us!”

 

Knowing that single-use plastic bags litter our parks, clog drains and end up in our waterways, Sierra and a team of activist (including her supportive family and a very determined girl scout troop) fought for the Boston bag ban and then started Boomerang Bag Boston to provide reusable washable bags to communities that might need them. Partnering with local organizations, Sierra holds monthly sew-a-thons and to date has made over a thousand bags, helping to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in our ocean.

Repurposed donated fabric is used for these washable beautiful reusable bags.

Sierra Rothberg has serious skills. A creative entrepreneur with her own company, Lusterity, she can take something and make it into magic. With a mission of sourcing local products for socially conscientious events, her resume includes floral arranging, graphic design, event and organizational planning, development, being a data geek and community activism. Recently Sierra was hired by The Martin Richard Foundation as director of the community service component for One Boston Day. This day “serves as an opportunity to celebrate the resiliency, generosity, and strength demonstrated by the people of Boston and those around the world in response to the tragedy of April 15, 2013,” explains the organizers of the event. Sierra has just been hired as Director of Service Projects for the Foundation’s “Do More-Serve With Us” campaign inviting people to continue volunteerism throughout the year.  Sierra is someone that you want on your team!

“Our daily decisions on land greatly affect the ocean, even when not by the ocean’s side, and that is why I do what I can to change how we think and live more sustainably,” says Sierra. “Everything is all connected. Now I live in the city, just a mile from the ocean and even though the ocean is not my immediate backyard anymore, my favorite days are when I can smell the ocean air without seeing it.” 

It is fitting that Sierra will be presented the 2018 Ocean Spirit Award at our May 15th event featuring marine scientist Dr. Asha de Vos. Both women believe that community engagement to protect our blue planet is the key to making the meaningful lasting change that will benefit folks that are the day-to-day recipients of those efforts. Sierra and Dr. de Vos are “can do” women and mentors that bring hope to their communities.

Come join us in honoring Sierra at our event Think Big on May 15th. The lecture is free, but you must REGISTER.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth, MCAF and Thinking Big

By | Events, Featured Post, In the News, New England Aquarium, W2O Blog


“The whale is my gateway species,” says W2O member and biologist Elizabeth Stephenson with a laugh. “After a whale watch off of Montauk while visiting my relatives in my early teens I was transfixed and told my parents that I wanted to study animals in the ocean and be a biologist.” That was the start of her unconventional journey to becoming Program Chair of the Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF) at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ)

Childhood dreams sometimes get sidetracked and Elizabeth went on to study history and finally Earth Science Education, deciding to pursue a career teaching the subject she loved to 9th graders. Luck would have it that her sites were still on her goal of becoming a biologist when a graduate course was offered at the College of the Atlantic and she signed up. Her teacher? Famed ocean scientist and explorer Greg Stone, mentor to Elizabeth still, former V.P. of Conservation at NEAQ, currently Chief Scientist for Oceans at Conservation International and Special Advisor for Oceans at the World Economic Forum.  “Taking this course on “Whales, Porpoises, and Seals” was eye-opening for me and, even though I loved teaching, I felt compelled to continue on a path towards marine science.”

Today Elizabeth splits her time between raising two boys at her home in Maine and the New England Aquarium. Part of the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, MCAF is described as a “micro-granting” program that funds conservation projects around the world led by the folks that live in the places where the research is taking place. MCAF gives support and builds enduring relationships with entrepreneurial marine scientists that engage in local conservations projects sometimes in places that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. MCAF has been an important platform for emerging ocean heroes, often selecting grantees to spend time at the Aquarium, strengthening their connections with the Anderson Cabot Center researchers and sharing inspiration and enthusiasm with Aquarium youth audiences and the public. Like grassroots “boots on the ground, these “fins in the ocean” researchers, often from underrepresented nations, work with their communities to protect habitat, species and solve issues that benefit both marine life and the livelihood of the people that depend on the ocean.

The stories of these MCAF scientists is often both a beacon of hope and a blueprint for moving forward meaningfully with progress on pressing issues facing the sea.  Save the Date! On May 15th, Women Working for Oceans will welcome MCAF Fellow, Asha de Vos, PhD, as our keynote speaker for Think Big: A Passion Lived. An Ocean Saved.


De Vos, a marine scientist from Sri Lanka, and founder of Oceanswell, studies the Sri Lankan blue whale and with the support of Elizabeth, MCAF and others has become a leading expert in her field with numerous awards and accolades for her work. “I am so privileged to have worked with Asha as an MCAF Fellow and so excited that she will be presenting her inspiring work at W2O’s event. She is the epitome of  “Think Big”  through not only her commitment to her own research but with her work to train future marine conservationists and policy-makers in Sri Lanka,” says Stephenson. “Asha inspires the next generation of ocean leaders across the globe.”

Selfie photo of Elizabeth and Asha