Inspired by Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, award-winning designer Cyrill Gutsch founded his network Parley for the Oceans. In conversation with Gutsch, Watson talks about the precarious state of the ocean, why anger won’t solve anything and real passion is priceless.
Cyrill Gutsch: I think the first question, Paul, is what is going on in the ocean? What is behind this statement that you're giving very often to the press or to the public, that “If the oceans die, we die”?
Paul Watson: The reality is that if the ocean dies, we die – because the ocean provides all of those things which make it possible for us to live on the planet. Over 70% of the oxygen is actually produced by phytoplankton in the ocean, and since the 1950 there's been a 40% diminishment in phytoplankton population. If phytoplankton disappear, we disappear also, we can’t live on this planet without phytoplankton. The laws, the ecological law of interdependence states that our survival is dependent upon other species, we're not standing alone here. So it's very important that we stop this diminishment of biological diversity within the oceanic ecosystem. There are many factors attributing to that, from overfishing, illegal fishing, plastics in the ocean, chemicals, sonic pollution, radiation, acidification, climate change – all of these things are contributing to a massive diminishment of biodiversity in the sea.
Looking at all these threats toward the health of the sea, how long do we have left to turn things around? When will the oceans be dead?
That's really a difficult thing to assess, but considering that 90% of the large fishes have already been destroyed, I would say that it's only a few decades, at the most the end of this century. The ocean has a way of being more resistant than we sometimes think, but we're seeing the collapse of fisheries worldwide. So I think it is the number one concern that we should have, that our oceans be protected. For the most part that is something that's out of sight and out of mind for most people, people just don't think about that that the fact that their entire existence depends upon a healthy ocean.
How are climate change and the oceans related?
Well I think the ocean is the key to addressing climate change. At the Paris conference a couple years ago, I said, "Look, all we have to do is allow the ocean time to repair itself." That means a complete and total moratorium on all heavy gear industrialized fishing activities – and to adapt the old Polynesian system of Kapu, which is to allow there to be areas which are protected. Because in the days of the shaman, Polynesian societies would say, "Well this bay here in Bora Bora is Kapu, no fishing for 20 years." If anybody was caught fishing there it was the death penalty. They took it very seriously because they knew that if the fish disappeared they would not be able to survive. And right now there are 4.6 million commercial fishing boats that are out on the ocean every day taking everything they can and causing incredible destruction to ecosystems. The oceans simply cannot keep up with that kind of exploitation.
When you look at climate change again, and you're looking at what happens when the temperature in the oceans rises, can you explain quickly what goes on behind global bleaching, coral bleaching events, and why climate change is related to these billions of lives dying under the shorelines. With the melting of ice in the southern and northern hemisphere, that puts freshwater into saltwater systems, that can have the effect of actually shutting down the Atlantic Conveyor, or what's known as the Gulf Stream. If the Gulf Stream were to be shut down, that would plunge Northern Europe into pretty much an ice age. So the Labrador Current meeting that would then take over. There are so many factors. We're already seeing the impact of that now with the changing of wind directions and speed around the world. And we're also seeing that water becoming warmer is causing species to move into areas where traditionally they were not. So a lot of species are moving north, some species are moving south, so everything is really out of whack. I think we really have to look at the ocean as the life support system of spaceship Earth. In addition to providing food it also regulates temperature and climate. That's all run by a crew of species, all of those various species which work to maintain that system, and what we're doing is we're killing off those species. There's only so many we can kill off before the whole system begins to break down, and that will have catastrophic consequences.
What about meat and seafood consumption? How are our eating habits contributing to destruction of the oceans and to climate change?
Well, one of the major contributors to greenhouse gases is the livestock industry. It's also the greatest contributor to groundwater pollution and dead zones in the ocean. We're killing 65 billion animals every year and that's having incredible consequences as far as creating greenhouse gases and pollution. Also we're overfishing the ocean, which are absolutely essential to the ecological integrity of the ocean. Even when we eat meat we're eating the ocean, because some 40% of the fish taken from the ocean is fed to livestock. We're simply eating the oceans alive both directly and indirectly, and that is having consequences.
You sometimes describe Sea Shepherd as the biggest privately-owned navy on this planet.
We're the biggest non-government navy on the planet, that's true. We call it Neptune's Navy.
So describe please how you're running your missions and what all these vessels do.
Primarily we're involved in anti-poaching activities. So right now on the west coast of Africa, our vessel The Ocean Warrior has partnerships with Somalia and with Tanzania, and soon hopefully with Mozambique. On the west coast we have partnerships with Liberia and Gabon and Cape Verde and Sao Tome, and hoping to expand that also. Just last week Liberia gave Sea Shepherd the distinguished service medal, which is the highest military medal awarded in the country, and they gave it to us for our anti-poaching activities in their waters. So we're protecting both the east coast and the west coast of Africa. We're protecting the vaquita in the Sea of Cortez from poachers there. And our vessel, the Brigitte Bardot, just returned from facing the Chinese squid fleet, where we caught them doing shark finning and we got the evidence to report the Ecuadorian flag vessels and the Chinese flag vessels.
We're also patrolling in the Mediterranean. The Emanuel Bronner, from Sea Shepherd Germany, is patrolling in the Baltic. So we're going wherever poaching is a problem, and where we can actually intervene and do something to address it. And I have to say, our partnerships with the various nations, the African nations in addition to Costa Rica, Mexico, and Peru are really paying off. They give us the enforcement opportunities and we give them the resources. And this non-NGO government partnership I think has really been very effective.
So you're getting awesome merits and recognitions and support from very unexpected other corners. Like the Italian Navy gave you recognition, the Dalai Lama sent you his blessings with a little statuette, and you're winning lots of awards.
Yeah we are, and what happened with Italy was amazing. The former chief of staff of the Italian Navy, an admiral, joined Sea Shepherd as a crew member off Africa, and he said he was deeply impressed with our professionalism even though we're a volunteer organization.
And what happened with the Dalai Lama?
Well that was a long time ago – the Dalai Lama came out and supported us. For instance, he gave me this little statue, it's called Hayagriva, and what it means it's the divined aspect of the wrath of the Buddha. As he pointed out, "You never want to really hurt anybody, but sometimes when they don't see enlightenment you have to scare the hell out of them until they do."
In another conversation we had you said that untrained volunteers in your eyes do often a better job than professionals when it comes to enforcement and when it comes to activism on high sea.
I think you can't really buy that kind of passion. I couldn't pay professionals to do what our volunteers do for nothing. It's dangerous, dirty, hard work, and they don't complain. They're there because they believe in what we're doing, they're there because they want to make a difference. We've had literally thousands of volunteers participate over the years, and I think in addition to being very very helpful in our campaigns, it's also left them with a lifelong commitment to do things in their personal life to make this a better world.
In your volunteer application there's this one sentence, "Would you die for a whale?"
I always ask our crew members, are you willing to die for a whale? And what that means is that are you willing to take the risks that are necessary. Sometimes people say, well that's asking too much. But over the last couple of hundred years we've asked people to not only risk their life, but to take life in defense of religion or real estate or oil companies, and nobody questions that, we give medals to people who do that. I think it's a far more noble activity to actually dedicate yourself and take these risks for the protection of the endangered species or an endangered habitat.
Do you ever have fear when you're out there?
No, the only thing I'm afraid of is we're going to lose so many species, and what I'm really afraid of is ecological collapse. So any personal fears there are pretty irrelevant compared to that.
Is there anger in you when you see how fast the destruction is spiraling, and not so many really care about it?
No, I think to do what we do, and to do it properly, you have to have a sense of detachment from that, and you can't get angry. You just have to do what you can to intervene and shut down these illegal operations. You have to do what you can to try and clean up the world's oceans. Getting angry is not going to solve anything. Being scared isn't productive.
That's great, and you often do the job that governments don't do. Why are they not going out there enforcing law?
There is a real lack of political and economic motivation on the part of governments to intervene. It's always trade issues getting in the way, or there's bribery; there's corruption. But really it comes down to, "Well we have better things to do." Even though there are international laws being broken, there's a real lack of concern about upholding those international laws on the part of governments. But I've always been of the opinion that governments don't change things, governments usually cause the problems. It's up to the pact and the courage of people as individuals to make a difference to go out there and change the world. Every single social movement in the history of our species has been carried out by the passion of individuals.
What is the one thing that Sea Shepherd really needs to grow?
I think the most important thing I think is supporters, especially financial supporters, because running ships is very, very expensive. But we do what we do with the resources that we have. That's the only thing that has limitation on our activities. We have to operate within the bounds of practicality and within the bounds of what resources are available. So the more resources we get, the more effective we can come.
What is your vision for Sea Shepherd for the future?
I've already seen that wish come true, I always wanted Sea Shepherd become a movement, and that's what it is. We're not an organization, it's an international, global movement. We have people all over the world who are acting under the Sea Shepherd banner and are proud to be doing so. It's great because an individual like myself, well we can be stopped as the Japanese have prevented me from traveling, an organization can be shut down by the courts or whatever, but a movement can't be shut down. A movement is unstoppable.
What about the youth? We're seeing a lot of very young activists that are coming up now. Kids that are six, eight, 14 years old. One of the latest, I would say, media phenomenon was Greta Thunberg giving her “I want you to panic” speech. What, in your eyes, is the role of the youth and how can we support, how can we encourage youth activism?
It's interesting that who we call “the youth” now, they really are the youth. They're not like in their twenties, they're not even in their late teens. They actually seem to be under 16 who are the most passionate about their activism. Even my own son who's like 29 months old, he keeps turning out the lights saying, his exact words are, "Earth getting hot." So there's an awareness there, and I think that awareness really is being pushed along by the realization that this is their future and where are we going with it? Will they survive?
This is probably the first generation to ever exist that is really has no guarantee of having a future at all. How can a young kid make a difference?
I think Greta has certainly demonstrated how one can do that. I know myself I started as an activist when I was 11 years old, rescuing beavers from trap lines and that. So I always encourage young children to say whatever you're passionate about get involved and do not be deterred from criticism from adults or anybody else, you can change the world. You have that power within you, embrace it and don't be put off by anybody saying you can't do it.
Cyrill Gutsch is an award-winning designer and brand and product developer. In 1998 he created a method called Cross Intelligence, which brings a culture of collaboration to major organizations. In 2012 he decided to focus on a new client vital to us all: the oceans. He founded Parley as a collaboration network for creators, thinkers, and leaders to create awareness for the beauty and fragility of the oceans and to develop and implement strategies that can end their destruction. Gutsch was named 2017 Environmentalist of the Year by the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association for his tireless work for the oceans. In 2018, Parley was named Environmental Organization of the Year at EARTHx and Gutsch was honored with a Special Recognition Award for Innovation by the British Fashion Council.
Parley for the Oceans is the global network where creators, thinkers and leaders from the creative industries, brands, governments and environmental groups come together to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of the oceans and collaborate on projects that can end their destruction. The organization has formed alliances with major corporations including adidas, Anheuser Busch InBev (Corona), American Express; the United Nations; the Maldives and collaborators spanning the worlds of science, art, fashion, design, entertainment, sports, and space and ocean exploration. To know more: www.parley.tv
"I am a designer, a creative strategist. I spent a third of my life creating brands and making companies and individuals famous, helping them make more money.
In 2012 I met environmentalist Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd & co-founder of Greenpeace — not just an environmentalist, an eco-warrior, a kind of altruist pirate who is getting things done. It’s thanks to Paul that I learned what is going on in the oceans and that every second breath we take comes from life in the magic blue. We’re destroying our life support system. The idea that the oceans could die is one I could not accept as my legacy and this motivated me to start Parley for the Oceans".