With over 30 years experience in wildlife, underwater, aerial and sound sync lighting camera work, Jeff Goodman is an award winning cameraman filming and directing in varying habitats and conditions from underwater to aerials, from commercial studios to rain forests, from Arctic ice flows to deserts. In an exclusive interview for Scubaverse, Alex Earl talks to Jeff about their shared passion for conservation, what brought Alex to become an active conservationist and the work that Project AWARE do to empower divers in their local communities to take action to protect the ocean - one dive at at time.
I first learned about Project AWARE in this course and my instructor from the United Kingdom was very passionate about marine conservation and diving. He planted the seed which led over time to an epiphany that a professional commitment to marine conservation was my future.”Alex Earl - Executive Director, Project AWARE Foundation
Jeff Goodman: Your biography and experience in the world of marine conservation is extensive. You're a man who is obviously passionate about our oceans and the protection of all the wildlife they encompass. How did you first become aware and interested in the sea?
Alex: I was fortunate to grow up amidst one of the last wild frontiers on the planet in Stewart, British Columbia, Canada right on the border between Alaska and British Columbia at the end of one of the longest fjords on the Pacific Coast. I spent many days sailing and exploring this coastline with my family. Experiencing this pristine natural setting with wild salmon runs, otters, seals, sharks, porpoises, orcas, and whales forged a deep desire to protect and conserve our environment.
Jeff: At what point in your life did you realise our oceans were in serious decline?
Alex: My parents were environmentally aware in the best spirit of the sixties and seventies and encouraged a strong respect for the natural world. They always emphasized that the pristine environment we were experiencing was rare and diminishing globally. My environmental awareness grew as a teenager, in university, volunteering in Central America, and completing outdoor guide training. However, the seminal moment for me in transitioning my awareness to advocacy and activism was completing my PADI Advanced Open Water Diver training in the Philippines in a Marine Protected Area. I first learned about Project AWARE in this course and my instructor from the United Kingdom was very passionate about marine conservation and diving. He planted the seed which led over time to an epiphany that a professional commitment to marine conservation was my future. I used to lay wake at night staring at the ceiling feeling that I knew the environmental problems faced by the ocean and our planet but that I was not part of the solution. I felt I had to be part of the solution because I had no excuse and I did not want to be an old man in the future looking into the eyes of children and young people who asked me why my generation did not do something when there was still time. Future generations are going to judge us harshly and they are going to need to be inspired by the actions of those who came before them as those in the environmental movement now have been by Rachel Carsons for example.
Jeff: Can you tell us about your first environmental campaign?
Alex: I worked on rainforest seedling project in Costa Rica and I was involved in raising awareness about climate change as a high school teacher in Japan. However, my first environmental campaign as an activist and professional environmentalist was with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) working organizationally to support Operation Migaloo in 2007. This campaign was Sea Shepherd’s annual whale defence campaign in Antarctica. 68 crew members were at sea for 83 days covering 20,000 miles in the Southern Ocean. 484 whales were saved and no humpback or fin whales were killed. Operation Migaloo was the first Sea Shepherd anti-whaling campaign to be filmed by Animal Planet and it is profiled in Season 1 of the television series Whale Wars.
Jeff: I see from your profile on the Project AWARE web site that early in your conservation career you became a global executive for the ‘front line’ Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Having made a few films with Paul Watson I know how dedicated the crews and supporters of his campaigns are. I personally think direct action is often the only alternative left to us when confronting the impossible odds of bureaucracy, indifference and short term economics. What made you join Sea Shepherd rather than a more conventional conservation group?
Alex: I was very proud and honoured to join and work for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) and to work with amazing activists across the globe like Kim McCoy, Chuck Swift, Carla Robinson, Kurt Lieber, Peter Hammarstedt, Alex Cornelissen, Jeff Hansen, and Geert Von Jon, because I also share your perfectly stated sentiment that direct action is often the only alternative left when confronting the impossible odds of bureaucracy, indifference and short term economics. By the day this is becoming more of the case and there is no organization and individual in the world using direct action from a marine conservation perspective more profoundly than Sea Shepherd and Paul Watson. It takes courage and commitment to push the boundaries and rules of society in order to effect change that would not otherwise happen. We are witnessing ecocide take place before our eyes to ecosystems and animals that have been on the planet for hundreds of millions of years and it is a crime against future generations. Both Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd were founded in Vancouver, British Columbia. Paul Watson was a prominent part of Greenpeace and the founding and driving force behind Sea Shepherd. Both organizations and Paul received a lot of media in my home province of British Columbia while I was growing up. Aside from challenging whaling globally and the seal hunt in Eastern Canada, there were also many battles over old growth clear cutting and wolf hunts in British Columbia at the time and Paul was front and center in all of these battles. My parents admired him greatly. Paul is a metal tiger in the Chinese Zodiac which is a very strong zodiac sign that comes once every 50 years. My son who is three is also a metal tiger and I am hoping he will have the best of Paul’s qualities and become part of the next generation that takes their spot on the watchtower defending our planet and all sentient life.
Jeff: How does Project AWARE differ from other conservation organisations?
Alex: Project AWARE is the only conservation organization exclusively focused on representing the global environmental voice of divers. We offer impactful global solutions that divers and ocean advocates can be part of through citizen science. Through our international membership in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and our global alliances and partnerships we also work to have the environmental voice of divers heard where it has not traditionally been on an international environmental policy level. We have a seat at the table to be part of discussions when and where they matter for some of the world’s most threatened species.
To me, Project AWARE represents one of the best investments in marine conservation because we have 20 years of achievements under our belt and a unique long-term corporate partnership with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) which provides us with powerful access to thousands of dedicated PADI Professionals and millions of certified scuba divers. Approximately, 1.5 million advocates are directly engaged with Project AWARE to date and we are growing. Our programs and campaigns align with some of the ocean’s top challenges globally, like the Dive Against Debris program which is the largest year-round underwater survey of its kind. Our supporters are directly trained and positioned to help remove marine debris and advocate for litter prevention globally.
Jeff: On the Project AWARE website it says you support an unprecedented global movement of divers acting in their own communities to protect oceans and implement lasting change. Can you tell us how that support manifests itself?
Alex: That support manifests itself in many ways. Project AWARE is tackling ocean protection from two angles – we’re connecting the dots between a top-down and bottom-up approaches to implement change. Top down, through powerful partnerships and alliances of like-minded policy-makers and NGOs, we’re pushing for change at the highest levels of government. And two, in partnership with 1.5 million scuba divers and activists, we’re working at a grassroots level to take action in local communities of the world. Today, the dive community is becoming more and more aware of the power of its voice and its ability to influence change for critical conservation issues. For example shark and ray tourism is estimated to be worth $310,000,000 USD annually. This is an economic power that opens doors to conversations at a policy level like never before. At CITES in Thailand in 2013, this support manifested itself in the largest petition on behalf of sharks and rays (130,000 signatures) which was backed by celebrities like Leonardo Di Caprio and Survivorman Les Stroud.
Jeff: If an individual or group of divers have concerns about the conservation of their local area and wanted to start their own campaign, would Project AWARE be able to look at those concerns and offer help in some way?
Alex: Here at Project AWARE, we do believe that lasting change is people-powered. Our online conservation network, My Ocean (projectaware.org/MyOcean) was specifically designed as a platform for divers and local leaders to scale up environmental issues and actions for change. In My Ocean you can post local events and recruit volunteers, you can post images and updates on local campaigns and connect with like-minded advocates in the dive community My Ocean. So far, this unique community has over 9,000 members globally and any member can request assistance or advice on a peer to peer level. In addition, if a diver or group of divers have regional conservation concerns and want to create a local initiative or campaign they can also apply for funding from our annual Ocean Action Project. Beyond these avenues we always work as we can to provide advice or consultation to the dive community if requested about how they may address local conservation issues or create campaigns.To be continued ...