Flip the switch for Conservation

No, not the light switch. Let me try and explain.

My parents are proud of my passion for conservation, but I get the feeling like it’s a bit of a ‘pat on the head‘, ‘isn’t she cute‘, ‘oh for God’s sake, shut up now‘ kind of proud. My brother sporadic interest at best. My “moral conscience” is on it’s own in my family.

And what a conscience it is! It’s bossy, unforgiving and completely judgmental. If I was to eat seafood now, I fully believe that my conscience would evacuate my traitorous body, rise up to the stratosphere and smite me.

But it wasn’t always like this. I’m from two countries that adore their seafood. In Philippines, a meal isn’t a meal without rice and fish. Or sea urchin, or sea cucumber, or seaweed, or jellyfish, or squid…you get the picture. And the UK, world renown for it’s fish and chips and kippers for breakfast. So away I ate (after the picky eater phase of my childhood).

Om nom nom indeed.

Purse Seine fishing method

At University, with all the hype about Blue Fin Tuna, purse-seine fishing, not so dolphin friendly, I decided to stop eating Tuna (all species).  Rebellious I know. I’d like to tell you that it was easy, but it wasn’t. I love tuna. I love it with mayonnaise, I love it in a pasta salad, I love it in a bake. But this was something I could actually do. I was slowly realizing my inherent power as a consumer. I was not adding to the demand that was decimating a species. If I wasn’t stressed out with Uni work, I would have slept better at night.

And that was it for a while. I was doing my thing, and I was happy about it. Then I started a job in environmental education, where amongst other things, we taught about conservation issues.

Me & my students on a biology and conservation fieldtrip

Well f*ck me, I realized I knew nothing. Talk about being “out in the real world”. There were so many more issues that I had been completely blind to. And ignorance had been bliss. How was I supposed to teach these kids, and encourage them to try and make a difference in this world whilst I was still contributing to many of these problems?

And I’m not just talking about food. There was a plethora of other issues that most of us are blinkered to. Shell collection, fish feeding, elephant riding, exotic pet trade, shark fin soup…the list goes on. I will be blogging about several of these issues in times to come, but after learning and then teaching about these issues, and being surrounded by colleagues that were going through the same process, I realized (and let’s quote Cat Stevens here) “it’s now time to make a change“.

Slowly I started avoiding foods that typically had destructive origins, as a tourist I would avoid the tacky “take a picture with this endangered species” situations that are prevalent over SE Asia. As a consumer, I found myself drawn to eco-friendly products.

The Conservation switch was flipped. I found myself “eco-aware”. And you can’t turn that off. It has taken over my life. I’m always asking questions, where did that come from? How was it harvested? What’s it’s carbon footprint? What are the knock-on effects of this activity?

YOU CAN’T TURN IT OFF! It makes you that annoying “morally superior” friend/ family member, the downer, the party pooper; the one who finds fault with letting go of balloons. Even more so if you are scientist and you have the facts to back up your claims.

Tourism with a conscience

It’s not that those of us whose switch has flipped want to be that asshole friend. You need to know that we’re trying really hard, all the time, not to be. I do my best not to judge anyone else’s actions and decisions, and I will not judge anyone who wasn’t informed about an issue in the first place. However, once we have made an informed decision, we feel that it’s our duty to spread the word. And finding that balance between relaying information and not offending someone is no easy task.

So for those of us Conservationists that don’t have a PR department to figure out the best way to say what we want to say, bear with us while we figure it out.

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4 thoughts on “Flip the switch for Conservation

  1. Pingback: Screw the divers: The sad tale of Thern Da Seafood Pte Ltd. | Mad As A Marine Biologist

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