Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Living the Ocean - An interview with Jennifer Lash

Ava, from The Reef Tank is our guest blogger this week. She interviewed Jennifer at the beginning of October and her post is reproduced with permission here. The Reef Tank is one of the largest online communities of saltwater aquarists.

Did you know it was an Australian water landmark that inspired Jennifer Lash to create Living Oceans Society, the single largest marine conservation organization in Canada? Yes, it's true. After working as a prawn trawler, the destruction Jennifer witnessed during an Australian marine science experience completely changed her life, inspiring her to work in the small British Columbian ocean community of Sointula where she now lives.

Now, as the largest marine conservation organization in Canada celebrates its 10th year, its founder and Executive Director Jennifer Lash can look back with fondness at all the great memories and all the inspirational strides the group has made for the ocean communities in that area, including the recent Finding Coral Expedition. This was a mission to document deep sea corals that are at risk, and that currently do not have any protection measures in place by the government. The results of the expedition will hopefully change this.
Now we get to see what the Living Oceans Society is all about through the eyes of its leader.

Tell me about the founding of the Living Oceans Society.
I established Living Oceans Society in 1998. I was looking for a bold organization that would advance conservation of our ocean while respecting the cultural and social needs of the people who work and live on the coast. When I could not find an organization like that, I decided to start my own.

How did you get your own personal start in marine biology?
I am not a marine biologist. I studied political science in University. My focus was on how to take the work of scientists and turn it into effective polices that would ensure the oceans are healthy. I depend on the excellent work of marine biologists and other scientists to do the critical research that illustrates what polices need to be in place.

LOS is the largest marine conservation organization in Canada. How did it get to that point?
I’m not sure. There just seemed to be so much work to do and we have always had a team of dedicated people. Through hard work and passion, we were able to raise the funds to hire the staff to take on more work.

Tell me about some of the conservation goals you hope to sustain with the Society?
Living Oceans Society would like to see healthy oceans to support healthy communities. To realize this goal we would like to see the development of conservation plans for the coast. This would include an ecosystem based management approach to planning, a network of marine protected areas, protection of deep sea corals, sustainable fisheries, sustainable salmon farming, and maintaining the moratorium on offshore oil and gas development and tanker traffic.

How did your work at The Great Barrier Reef in Australia help you to create Living Oceans Society in Canada?
When I lived in Australia I was fortunate enough to dive on the reef every day for 8 months. I felt very connected to the environment. I also worked on a commercial fishing vessel and saw the destruction from the fishing gear. I met many people who depended on the fishing to sustain their livelihoods. I drew on this experience when I started Living Oceans Society and it helped form our commitment to developing health oceans to support healthy communities.

What are some ways for a person be a marine conservationist without joining any group or organization?
People should eat only sustainable seafood. They can learn more about what they can eat by visiting the Seachoice site. Reducing energy consumption helps address climate change issues that are harming our oceans. Finally, make sure that you do not pour anything down your drain that you wouldn’t pour in your garden as all toxic chemicals end up in the ocean where our seafood live.

What did the organization do to celebrate it’s 10th anniversary?
We had 2 great parties. One was a cocktail party in Vancouver where we served sustainable seafood and had a silent auction. In Sointula we held the Under the Sea masquerade party. Everyone dressed in costumes and danced the night away. It was a great way to celebrate 10 years of hard work.

How did you come to lead the Finding Coral Expedition and what was its goal?
We designed and launched the Finding Coral Expedition because government was moving so slowly to protect deep sea corals and the corals are at risk. Our goal was to documents deep sea corals and gather data about the species in BC, like where they are located, and what other marine creatures depend on them for habitat.

Sum up the adventure with a story or two.

There are 2 highlights from the trip that I can think of. The first was when we came across the Primnoa coral forests in Dixon Entrance. I was piloting the sub across the flat mud bottom when suddenly there were boulders and a rock wall in front of me. Nestled on one of the rocks was a small piece of Primnoa. I was excited and then I looked along the wall and saw coral after coral, after coral. It was a moment I will never forget.

When we were diving in the Moresby Gully we went as deep at 1700 feet. This was my deepest dive and I remember sitting there thinking “Wow, no one will ever be sitting in this location looking at this marine life ever again.” That was when I knew I was one of the luckiest people alive.

What are some of the goals of the Living Oceans Society moving forward?
We need to complete the projects we are currently working on and we need to challenge the issue of climate change. The increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is resulting in increased CO2 in the ocean. This, in turn, is creating carbonic acid in the oceans. The carbonic acid is affecting the shells of phytoplankton and zoo plankton as well as crabs and shellfish in the larval stage. If this trend continue, the ocean as we know it will cease to exist. We must decrease our carbon emissions and we will do what we can to make this happen.

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