Last week I had the opportunity to attend a unique event at the Royal Ontario Museum called “Canada’s Oceans: Towards 2020”.
This event was in light of Canada’s newly announced marine targets and aimed to bring together leading oceans scientists, storytellers, Indigenous leaders, and government stakeholders to explore the status of Canada’s marine conservation programs, and our role in protecting the oceans that sustain us.
I was thoroughly impressed with the incredible lineup of speakers and how well coordinated the event was. Even more so, I was blown away by the quality of the conversations about Canada’s oceans. I had originally intended to have this post up right after the event, but I was so overwhelmed with all of the knowledge and ideas that I needed a few more days to process everything before finally being able to present you guys with today’s post.
I wanted to take some of the main themes from the Canada’s Oceans event and highlight them in today’s post to hopefully get more people thinking about our oceans.
Plastic pollution is a planetary crisis
Chelsea Rochman from the University of Toronto gave an incredibly eye-opening talk about the seriousness of plastic pollution in our oceans and the threat that it’s posing not only to marine life but to humans as well.
Plastic pollution is something that I’ve talked about a lot on this website and through my social media channels, so I was very excited for it to be at the forefront of discussion during the Canada Oceans event.
Chelsea Rochman’s talk identified the global scale of plastic pollution and how it’s making its way back up the food chain and into the diets of humans. That’s right, if you eat seafood there is a very good chance you are eating plastic. If that’s not enough motivation to remember your reusable bag the next time you go to the grocery store, I don’t know what is.
Her talk concluded with a call to the Canadian government to implement a national plastic management plan in order to reduce plastic pollution, improve recycling mechanisms, and keep our oceans free of plastic.
How we can strengthen Canada’s Oceans Act
My last post went a little bit more into depth about this point specifically, but essentially the Canada’s Oceans event was leading up to a final roundtable discussion including of all the speakers. The objective was to combine the different knowledge and expertise from each individual into a proposal document for the Canadian government of suggested amendments to Canada’s Oceans Act. I thought this was an amazing idea and it was great to know that in addition to the knowledge shared at the event there was a real change occurring.
If you want to know a bit more about Canada’s Oceans Act and some of the new amendments being discussed, check out my last post HERE.
Everything in the ocean is connected
This point is really so simple, but something that struck me immensely during Dr. Brett Favaro’s discussion about fisheries management. Dr. Favaro discussed how current fishing quotas are inefficient because they miss the bigger picture. Current fishing quotas only look at the specific species they’re looking to catch, which neglects the interdependence of other fish species in the food chain, doing the ocean’s ecosystem a huge disservice.
Setting fishing quotas based solely on the species of fish that you’re trying to catch, doesn’t consider how that fish’s prey population will be affected. If we’ve set the fishing quotas too high, there’s a good chance that prey species population will grow uncontrollably without that original species there to hunt it. On the other hand, failing to consider the predator of the species being fished is also problematic. It can lead to entire populations dying off due to starvation if the fishing quotas are taking too much and not leaving enough for these other species to eat.
Both of these scenarios have serious consequences on the ocean’s ecosystems and can have lasting evolutionary effects on species and even lead to their extinction.
Favaro remained optimistic during his presentation, saying that he confidently believes that Canada can one day have perfect fisheries management, as long as we start looking at the big picture and recognizing that the ocean is one giant connected system.
Every action we take in the ocean has an equal and opposite reaction and once we understand those reactions and work within those limitations we will be well on our way to developing perfect fisheries management.
Overfishing is the greatest threat to our oceans
With so many different harmful activities threatening our oceans, from plastic pollution to acidification, it may seem difficult to identify one single threat as the “greatest” but after learning more about the commercial fishing both within Canada and globally, it’s quite obvious that overfishing is the greatest threat to our oceans today.
We take over 100 million tonnes of fish from the oceans every single year. 30% of that is taken illegally and unreported. Not being able to trace fish is problematic for so many reasons and why overfishing is our oceans greatest enemy. Without being able to trace seafood back to a certain location or fishing boat, there is no way of knowing how the fish was caught or if it was taking from a protected area. This makes proper labeling of seafood and keeping track of fish stocks nearly impossible.
Not being able to properly keep track of fish stocks is problematic not only to the ocean’s ecosystem, but also to the livelihoods of those in coastal communities who rely on fishing to survive. If we continue to let commercial fisheries deplete our fish stocks, soon there will be no fish left to catch, leaving coastal communities without any way to feed their families.
As was pointed out in the Canada’s Oceans event, fishing should be about quality, not quantity. That means we should be focussing our efforts on switching over to more sustainable fishing methods like using cod pots over gill nets to ensure not only a smaller catch but a healthier one as well. It also means we need to eliminate harmful fishing practices that are focussed on quantity such as bottom trawling and longlining.
The importance of storytelling
The theme of the Canada’s Oceans event was storytelling. The students who organized this event were part of a master’s program in environmental visual communication that focussed on translating environmental science into media consumable by the general public. This is something that I try to do every day through this website and my social media channels and I was so happy to know that there are other people out there recognizing the importance of storytelling, especially when it comes to the health of our planet. The two keynote speakers Alexandra Cousteau and Mandy-Rae Krack used their own experiences and stories to bring us all even closer to the ocean and make our hearts ache to save it.
During Mandy-Rae’s presentation, she showed stunning footage of her freediving alongside wild dolphins and their desire to be pet and shown affection; it was a reminder that life in the ocean is so special and sacred and that these animals are just as intelligent and capable of feeling as we are.
Alexandra Cousteau told stories of her childhood and growing up as the granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau, the greatest ocean explorer of all time. It really made me think about how he would feel if he could see what humans have done to our oceans today and how disappointed he would be, knowing that he invented the very tools to give us the ability to dive below the surface to experience the underwater world, and this is what we’ve done with them.
Canada is an Ocean Nation
One last bonus point that I thought was interesting came from Geoff Green, the founder of Students on Ice, an educational expedition program that takes hundreds of students every year to the Arctic and Antarctic to give them a first-hand experience of life in the poles and how much they’re being affected by human-driven climate change. Geoff Green encouraged us all to change our motto “from sea to sea” to “from sea to sea to sea” instead. “From sea to sea forgets that we have three oceans, and the Arctic is the longest part of our coastline. We’re an ocean nation if our youth grow up knowing that it will change how we do things. From sea to sea to sea!”
All in all, I was really, really impressed with this event and was so grateful to be able to attend and be in such good company among other passion ocean activists. I know that I was inspired by everyone’s passion and dedication to protecting our oceans and it only made me even more inspired and confident that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be – this is what I was meant to be doing. 💙
A big thank you to the Royal Ontario Museum and the EVC students who planned and organized the Canada’s Oceans: Towards 2020 event.