In this week’s Community Spotlight, we chat with Shayna Cohen from Florida, USA. Shayna's passion for the ocean is so infectious, she's even involved celebrities in cleaning up our ocean. Together with her partner in crime Jack Fishman, the awesome duo is spearheading community action at a whole new level.
Tell us about your passion for ocean conservation.
I have always had a passion for ocean conservation – from doing research on fisheries management in Turks and Caicos to educating about coral reefs in Boston. But it wasn’t until local conservationist and long time Project AWARE supporter, Jack Fishman mobilized a team of divers to participate in a Project AWARE marine debris clean up that I was fully immersed in Project AWARE efforts. Seeing a team of divers come together to clean our local dive sites was inspiring. I instantly aligned myself with the mission and goals of the nonprofit and took a giant stride into supporting and participating the impressive marine conservation efforts they have underway around the world.
What are some issues that are affecting your local dive site or favorite underwater areas?
I absolutely adore coral reefs. The complexity of several tiny animals, in conjunction with microscopic algae, coming together to support almost a quarter of the life in the ocean is awe-inspiring. So, the fact that they are at such risk is heartbreaking. At my local dive sites, we see bleached corals, entanglement from debris, and the degradation of reefs from climate change. Over my time repetitively diving my favorite reef, I have seen a brain coral as large as me slowly wane in size and prominence. But I also see hope as I explore every day – the beautiful corals that are still hosting critters are everywhere, and juvenile colonies remain strong, but we divers have to work together to make those examples more abundant.
Tell us about your latest conservation action.
On August 12th, six dive shops, 118 participants, and a host of incredible organizations joined together to pick up around 700 pounds of trash from the ocean off the coast of the Upper Florida Keys. NOAA, PADI, Debris Free Ocean, Miami Seaquarium, Stream to Sea, and 4Ocean all joined Jack and I as we represented Project AWARE on the boat and underwater. Even Adrian Grenier, founder of The Lonely Whale and the #stopsucking campaign, came down to actively pick up trash, share his experience with marine debris, and become a Project AWARE Dive Against Debris Specialty Diver.
This event was so successful because each participant and sponsor offered a unique and effective approach to marine conservation. The results that can come from collaborations were amazingly evident as I was helping my dive buddy Adrian clean up NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary by placing fishing line removed from a coral head into a Project AWARE Dive Against Debris bag while wearing my 4Ocean bracelets, and reef safe sunscreen. We returned from our two dives to a celebration sponsored by local and global organizations and were able to educate participants and locals on the numerous ways people can make changes in their lives to improve the state of the ocean. The amount of good that can come from great minds and organizations working towards a common goal is inspiring, and I cannot wait to see what future collaborations may occur from these relationships down the road.
What is the most important thing you tell others about Project AWARE?
Project AWARE connects divers passionate about ocean conservation, similarly to the way the ocean connects us all. We are all impacted by the changes of the ocean, no matter where we are; Project AWARE allows us to see that despite the differences in our bathometry and ecosystems we explore, we face the same conservation concerns around the world. The weight of conservation can weigh heavy as a single diver, but being a part of Project AWARE allows us to feel connected, supported, and make serious changes in the marine environment.
What’s your top three pieces of advice to help bring about positive change in your local community?
1. Share what you know with others, and ask for more information. The more we know about what is happening to the underwater world, the more we can make real, lasting impacts. As divers, we are the lucky ones who see what is at stake and what changes are happening in the marine environment. So, pass on that information to your friends and family, but don’t forget to continue to listen and grow from what others have to share.
2. Don’t stop your conservation efforts when you take off your gear. What we do on land affects the ocean, even when we’re hundreds of miles away from the nearest shoreline. Rethink single-use plastic, be conscious of your energy use, and know that everything leads back to the ocean.
3. Be a conscious diver. Read and follow Project AWARE’s 10 Tips for Divers to Protect the Ocean Planet. As visitors of the big blue, it is our responsibility to leave it in the same, or better, condition than we found it.