Ever since being a kid, I felt a connection and fascination for the ocean. Growing up landlocked, I spent every minute of my holidays snorkelling, looking for crabs in crevices or bodyboarding. It was a challenge to keep me out of the sea and sun.
Now, partially grown up, I’m still that same kid but with more responsibilities. I upgraded my summer holiday activities into a lifestyle: studying environmental sciences and biology, surfing, scuba diving and free-diving as much as I can.
Currently I am chasing my dreams, figuratively and literally – I swim after manta rays and whale sharks as a job – working as a research assistant for the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) in Mozambique. MMF focuses on studying marine megafauna – everything big in our oceans such as Manta Rays, Whale Sharks, Leopard Sharks, Marine Turtles, and more amazing creatures. Then we use what we learn to educate local and global communities to find and inspire sustainable, long-lasting conservation solutions.
One of my tasks as research assistant is to go on research dives and ocean safari’s - just like normal safaris looking for wildlife, but instead of sitting in a jeep through the bush, we sit on a boat and look for marine life. On such days, we keep track and monitor fishing activities as well as the marine megafauna we encounter.
With manta ray, whale shark, and leopard shark encounters, we try to get identification photos, as each individual has a unique spot pattern, much like our fingerprints. We use the spot pattern on the bellies of manta rays, while with whale and leopard sharks we use the spots on the side, just behind the gills. By doing so, and working with citizen science-powered global databases, we can track a species which allows us to learn about population size, structure, and changes over time. We can also trace individual animal movements and discover new migrations.
All of our lives are in a way connected to the oceans. As humans, our well-being and survival is dependent on the oceans - literally 50% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by them - for that they need to be healthy and full of life. Unfortunately, right now, we are the greatest cause of the oceans devastation. With the increase of human pressures, on both marine life and the marine environment, it’s getting more and more important for us to do something and change the current situation. In the same way, we are responsible for destroying it, we should also be the ones responsible for the oceans restoration and improvement.
We can help the ocean through research, conservation and education as Marine Megafauna Foundation and other organisations are currently doing. However, even we as individuals can have a great impact. Here are a few simple life changes that can help the worlds’ oceans:
- Reducing plastic use: stop using disposable plastic water bottles. Instead, opt for a reusable bottle, say no to plastic straws when ordering a drink, and bring your own reusable bag when going shopping.
- Making sustainable food choices: support sustainable fisheries, choose local by visiting farmers markets and opt for a vegetarian/vegan meal instead of one with meat.
- Support sustainable brands: Such as Hakea, great for spending the whole day in the water and under the sunshine (Thanks Demi!)
Words by Demi Kerkhof, research assistant MMF