The future of our oceans depends on each and every one of us.
Our actions, wherever we are, make a difference in the health and well-being of our oceans—and that difference isn’t always good.
Fortunately, there are people who are passionate about ocean conservation, and who are dedicated to educating the world and inspiring them to act.
People like Alison Barratt.
As the newly appointed Executive Director of the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney, BC, Barratt is inspiring the next generation of ocean stewards. This award-winning aquarium takes a hands-on, hands-wet approach to learning, allowing guests of all ages to get up close and personal with the Salish Sea.
Barratt brings 12 years of ocean conservation experience to the job, including a decade at the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California. She’s been an advocate for wildlife as long as she can remember, and is excited to protect, preserve and educate right here on Vancouver Island.
Here’s what she had to say:
1. What would you like our readers to know about you?
I’m passionate about wildlife and preserving the special places on our planet. I feel an obligation to find ways to share that passion with others and to make a difference through my own personal actions
2. What cause(s) are you most involved with at the moment?
I have been involved in the sustainable seafood movement for the last eight years. I think being a responsible consumer is part of being an advocate for wildlife. It’s important to know where our food comes from, and if it is caught (or grown) sustainably. On a practical level it’s something most people can do in their daily lives to positively impact ocean health.
3. Are there any little known marine conservation efforts that you’d like to highlight here?
So little of our oceans are protected. On land, we have national parks and other wilderness areas, yet only a fraction of our oceans are offered similar respite from human activity. Studies show that marine wildlife would benefit from protections in a number of ways. When wildlife rebounds, our oceans are healthier and more resilient to climate change, pollution or fishing pressure.
(There’s a proposal for a new marine conservation area off the coast of Vancouver Island that would offer some protections to the waters around the unique habitats of the coast. I’d encourage everyone to have a voice in protecting our oceans and support marine protected areas. The oceans belong to all of us and we can leave a legacy to the next generation.)
4. Why are you so passionate about orcas?
I’m fascinated by their intelligence and highly complex social structures and how diverse each of the different “eco-types” is around the world.
And let’s face it, they’re also just incredibly stunning and cool animals!
The decline of the southern resident killer whale population has been a huge concern of mine for many years, and one of my hopes in moving to Vancouver Island, to their summer home, is to find a way to be involved in advocating for their protection.
5. When did you decide to get involved in marine conservation?
I’ve been an advocate for wildlife for as long as I can remember, and a member of many conservation organizations. But, in 1994, I met my first sea otter on a California vacation and it was love at first sight! I felt compelled to do something as their population was in serious decline, but, as I lived in the UK and had no expertise whatsoever, I wasn’t sure what I could do. Finally, I realized I would just have to go! So, I quit my job of 12 years and moved to Monterey. Just a few months later, I was interning at the Monterey Bay Aquarium tracking otters in the wild and I’ve never looked back from there! I’ve had so many amazing experiences and opportunities since that time and so for the last 14 years I’ve been working to protect many species, from albatross to great white sharks. I’ve been so lucky!
6. Do you have an inspiring, crazy, or beautiful story you’d like to share from your years of conservation efforts?
Without doubt, over the last 10 years my heart has been with the surrogate sea otter “moms” at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Over the years, they have raised a number of young, stranded pups and given them a second chance at life in the wild. Many have since gone on to raise pups of their own and are now contributing to the recovery of the population.
7. Though every aquarium is different, what do you see as the role(s) of aquariums?
The oceans are the largest habitat on the planet, and yet the least understood. It’s hard to understand its beauty, complexity and fragility when you can’t even see it. Aquariums give you a fish-eye view of their world, an opportunity to explore without getting wet and to engage without fear. By putting us in touch with this other world, we can find ways to connect with it. As we learn about the lives of our marine cousins, we can understand the issues we are creating for them, and then we are drawn into wanting to protect them.
8. What are some of the best online resources for marine conservation?
In today’s digital world there is so much information you could spend a lifetime reading it! My advice would be to seek out an organization you respect and admire and see what resources they suggest. I like to find organizations doing research, so for example, when I want to know what is happening with the southern resident killer whales, I go to the Center for Whale Research as they are one of my go-to trusted sources. For northern residents, I check out OrcaLive at the OrcaLab and watch and listen live!
9. Are there any fellow causes and/or activists you’d like to highlight today?
Everyone working to protect our oceans is a hero; whether it’s organizing a beach clean-up or protecting the waters from pollution.
I think the ocean’s biggest threat is global climate change. Right here in BC, the ocean chemistry is changing and threatening the future of the ways some of our local marine life make a living.
10. Is there anything you would like to say to youth who want to get involved in marine conservation?
You are the next generation of ocean stewards. Find your passion, be prepared to work hard and there will be many rewards! Volunteering is a great way to get involved and build up some experience and to try out a number of different things. It also looks really good on your resume when you are trying to get into college, or get a job!