The Right Whale to Save

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

Whale researcher Monica Zani with Captain Greg from the Liberty Clipper

The sun might have been setting Friday night on Boston Harbor, but a schooner of 80 Women Working for Oceans (W2O) members and their friends were just getting started by raising the sails to kick off year-long deep dive dedicated to saving our iconic North Atlantic right whale. After last year’s unprecedented 17 right whale deaths from both entanglements in fishing gear and ship strikes, the North Atlantic right whale is now considered among the most endangered of marine animals in our ocean.

The message of the evening is one of empowerment. “We humans hold the power to save the right whale, through increased research and new technology along with digging into our hearts. We can stop the killing and save this intelligent and family oriented whale,” said co-founder and W2O Director Barbara Burgess.

W2O members and their guests were joined onboard the Liberty Clipper by Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life of the New England Aquarium’s right whale researcher Monica Zani, who has been studying these animals for over two decades.

Zani explained the challenges facing these whales, aptly named because of its size, ability to float, an abundance of oil, and slow speed targeted by whalers in the 18th century as the “right whale” to kill. Some of these same characteristics pose challenges now as this whale lives in urban areas along the eastern seaboard, putting it in the pathway of lobster and crab traps, shipping lanes, and other man-made pollution.

Since the 70s the entire population of North Atlantic right whales have been identified and tracked through a catalog maintained at the New England Aquarium with contributions by the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. The animals are identified by physical markings, like color, fluke shape and health. This allows researchers to trace family groups, births and deaths, as well as the individual health of specific whales over time, including where they migrate to for calving, how they feed, and other life-history traits important to protecting a species.

W2O Member Leigh Tappen provided a family tree of four generations of right whales, underscoring the loss that even one female represents for the future of the species. As Zani summarized, paraphrasing Dr. Scott Krause also of the Anderson Cabot Center, helping the right whale recover is something we already know how to do. “We simply need to stop killing them,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The will to help our North Atlantic right whale among W2O members and friends is strong. A heart-felt thank you to guests on our sunset sail, who started off this year right by signing over sixty letters to thank Senator Elizabeth Warren for her work in co-sponsoring the Save Right Whales Act of 2018. If passed into law this act will allot $5 million per year over ten years (2018-2028) in federal funds for conservation programs. The act aims to fund research for solutions that will reduce the lethal effects of entanglements in fishing gear and vessel collisions, the first and second leading cause of right whale deaths respectively.

W2O Shawna Giggey braving the wind while collecting signatures for our letter to Sen Warren

Partnering with Lobstermen

This past summer, W2O and the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life met with the heads of the New England’s lobsterman associations including Executive Director of the Massachusetts Lobsterman Association Beth Casoni, Executive Director of Maine Lobstermen’s Association Patrice McCarron, Supervisor of Marine Programs
NH Fish and Game Department Cheri Patterson, Erin Burke from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and Erin Summers, Director, Division of Biological Monitoring Maine Department of Marine Resources to learn more about one of New England’s oldest and most sustainable seafood industries: lobstering.  It was an inspiring day of information sharing about the lobster population and their thoughts on difficulties facing the right whale.

Will You Help?

Please help us protect our marine treasures and heritage and defend the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the first marine monument in the Atlantic, from being opened up to fishing by signing and sharing this petition in your networks. Read more about what’s at stake in this editorial by New England Aquarium CEO Vikki Spruill.

Blog contributor and W2O Dir. Laura Parker Roerden is Executive Director and Founder of Ocean Matters

 

 

 

 

 

Find Your Group: Forming W2O’s Young Professional Action Committee

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

Board Member Emily Conklin shares the story behind forming W2O’s Young Professional Action Committee

I have always considered myself a problem-solver, a detail-oriented perfectionist. If something had to get done, whether finishing grad school or finding an apartment, I’d make an orderly list and move through the steps until the task was accomplished. Protecting the environment doesn’t have an easy answer or fit into this strict model.  You can’t do it on your own. You need to find your group.

I found W2O as an intern in 2016. It was a strong answer to my need to join a community to advocate for our ocean. Over the two years I’ve been with the organization, W2O has spoken out, raised our signs in demonstrations, and lobbied our legislators about important environmental issues that impact us all. The women I have met through this group are passionate and serious about building a community that strives to make sustainable choices. Being part of this group fueled my determination to make positive change. I want to help shape the story of our blue planet so everyone can see and find their role in protecting it.  

As I moved from intern to board member and social media manager, I wondered how we could expand this messaging to highlight activist passion in a more diverse base. With the recent increase in youth involvement inspired by the Women’s March, March for Science and the recent March for the Ocean, including younger voices and perspectives is forefront in my mind.  More young people are raising their voices and mobilizing for causes they care about. As a young professional woman invested in the future of our environment and communities, I have felt the pull to stand up for our blue planet. I wanted to see how W2O could rise to meet this call.

I am lucky enough to be surrounded by intelligent, environmentally minded women on whom I could test out my burgeoning idea. A community of educators, artists, activists, students- all with a different perspective and unique ideas on our one common problem: how do we live in a way that supports our livelihood and our planet?

“Hey,” I asked them, “would you want to be part of a young professionals group that grapples with these issues?” Across the board, the answer was a resounding yes.

Our first meeting was an informational gathering where attendees enjoyed pizza while I explained what I had in mind. I told them I wanted to take W2O’s mission of understanding and advocating for our ocean and expand it to better fit the demands, restrictions, and interests of young professionals’ lifestyles. There are so many voices and ideas that we haven’t been hearing on these issues, and I have been at a loss to find a space where genuine discourse is created and encouraged. I say we make one. The women in that room came for different reasons, from different places, but we were collectively energized by the idea of cultivating productive discussion surrounding the often troubling, discouraging problems we face. That day, we threw around questions like: How do we make sustainable choices without breaking the (sometimes very tight) budget? How do we make a policy impact and responsibly raise our civic voices through voting, rallying, and all around advocating? Do you all feel hopeless and, if you do, what can be done to pull us out of that feeling and move forward? And that was just the beginning. 

We may not have the solutions, but there is inherent value in finding allies and creating an opportunity to discuss the intricacies of the issues we face.

I left that meeting pumped. My generation is far from apathetic! They want to engage! And they’re willing to help me create a forum to do so! From that meeting, W2O’s Young Professional Action Committee (YPAC) was formed.

Our main goal is to create an accessible, inclusive space for folks to engage with the dilemmas facing the world around us. The Action Committee will take our concerns and drivers to create programming that W2O’s young professional members can engage with and enjoy. We want to work together to make sure we all understand the threats, to our planet and to ourselves, and that we all feel safe to participate in building solutions. Every stressor is an opportunity for discourse; every perspective is a chance for fresh analysis. Whether it’s a beach clean up, a voter registration event or a conservation-focused happy hour, we aim to make a space where young people of all genders and backgrounds are welcomed to voice their concerns and weigh in on solutions. I can’t wait to bring everyone to the table. I can’t wait to help people find their group, as I have found mine.

Sometimes, we might still feel hopeless. It’s ok- that’s why we have each other. Right now, I feel empowered by this group, and we’ve barely even started.

 

Emily Conklin with W2O’s 2017 keynote speaker Liz Cunningham

 

For questions about YPAC, please contact Emily Conklin at emilyforw2o@gmail.com. To join W2O at the young professional level, visit our Membership page. Our next young professional oriented event will be a happy hour meeting at The Reef, after which we’ll attend NEAq’s lecture series installment from MCAF Fellow Kerstin Forsberg on Manta Ray conservation in Peru: September 26th at 5:30pm. Follow us on social media for upcoming events!

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.

 

 

Join us on May 15th with Marine Scientist Dr. Asha de Vos

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

NEAQ Ocean Conservation Fellow Dr. Asha de Vos will be our keynote speaker on May 15th at Think Big: A Passion Lived. An Ocean Saved

Marine biologist Dr. Asha de Vos speaks quickly. An innate teacher, she has a lot to say and wants to make sure to get it all in. She is a celebrated scholar, National Geographic explorer and world-renowned marine biologist and is often referred to reverently as the “whale poop girl” because of her extensive research on the Northern Indian Ocean’s blue whale and her passion for what she calls the “the most beautiful poop in the animal kingdom.” She will challenge you to find poop more interesting than the brilliant red krill enriched poop of the whale. “Whale poop is our ocean fertilizer for the plants we depend on to breath. What could be more important than that?”

She has a casual cadence to her voice and that beautiful Sri Lankan accent. Growing up, Dr. de Vos’ parents celebrated curiosity and encouraged Asha and her brother to follow their passion. Her love for the ocean has brought Asha around the world as a research scientist and educator and then right back home where she says she is the happiest as a mentor to her community and country and as one of the few marine biologists in all of Sri Lanka. “My country doesn’t offer degrees in marine biology,” she says, “but I have found students, young and old, with a thirst for knowledge asking about our ocean. It is my obligation to respond and make this information available for everyone.”

Dr. de Vos’ response was to start Oceanswell, Sri Lanka’s first research and educational organization, to facilitate conversations about our ocean. With informal talks centered around a predetermined topic from a scientific paper, Asha leads a book group type of event creating what she calls “peer community engagement,” increasing awareness and enjoyment of ocean learning. “Communicating scientific research is the backbone of what we do,” Dr. de Vos says. Her Oceanswell website provides those scientific papers to anyone interested and all focus on the animals of the Northern Indian Ocean surrounding Sri Lanka. Oceanswell is growing and is now looking to hire interns and paid staff to support the team fostering new opportunities for Sri Lankans that want to take their interest to the next level.

Dr. de Vos rejects what she calls “parachute science” described by her as when scientists travel to countries around the world, do their research and then pick up and leave, never training or engaging the citizens that live where that research takes place. “You don’t have to have a degree to protect the ocean,” she comments.  She believes that through storytelling and shared ocean experiences people can become interested in the magic below the waves.“People from underrepresented nations need to be given the opportunity to build a movement of passionate citizen scientists to protect our ocean.” A favorite project features Dr. de Vos as a muppet-type puppet in an animated TedEdu about the blue whale. In the talk, she describes the secret to why whales are so big in an approachable way that doesn’t leave out the science. Her mission is to include everyone and she believes that the next generation of ocean heroes can come from any corner of the globe.

Join us on May 15th to hear Dr. de Vos speak about her journey, her passion for whales and how you can join in protecting whale species. Although the annual lunch associated with this event is now sold out, there are free tickets available for Dr. de Vos’ lecture. Please register!