Farah Obaidullah, ocean advocate and environmental campaigner, explains how we can turn the tide for our ocean by connecting with people we relate to or who inspire us.
The ocean has always invoked the most profound feelings in me, from a sense of belonging to a feeling of awe and even fear. The ocean makes me come alive. I remember as a toddler running in the dark (it must have been winter) to the shore in a storm, feeling at home. It’s like the ocean is inside me. I am sure many of us can relate to the lure of the ocean and it isn’t surprising if we consider that over 70 per cent of our planet is ocean. The ocean determines our weather, provides us with half of the oxygen we breathe, and the seas are quite literally the cradle of life as we know it.
Growing up it was clear to me that I would spend my life understanding, exploring, and protecting the ocean. As I studied our relationship with the natural world, I very quickly realized that we, as humans, are on a path to destroying the one planet we have available to us. We have pushed our ecosystem – the foundation of our existence – to its limits. Climate change is warming our ocean, disrupting migration patterns, reducing the oxygen content of the ocean, and leading to the acidification of our seas. All of this is having deleterious effects on marine life. Destructive fishing is irreversibly altering marine ecosystems with around 90 per cent of oceanic predators, such as tuna and swordfish, already gone. I live on the North Sea and over the last few days, our coastline has been plagued by jellyfish. As a biologist by training it is hard not to think this proliferation of animals, low in our food chain, is the result of too few fish preying on them. Then there is pollution, which is having untold effects on life in the seas. Eight million tonnes of plastic enter our ocean every single year, leading to harmful chemicals reaching our own food chain. Plastics are now so ubiquitous that it is likely the next piece of seafood you eat is contaminated by them. Is this our future?
From early on, it baffled me that people around me, including those I cared about, didn’t or couldn’t see what I was seeing. When would we wake up? Determined to change things, I channelled this concern into my work. I ran campaigns against destructive fishing – many met with much success. I lobbied for protected areas at sea and an end to practices such as whaling, which is threatening to make a comeback as a commercial industry. Yet, we weren’t and still aren’t moving fast enough. With every new piece of legislation in place, another expires. Convincing one cabinet or administration to do the right thing is no long-term guarantee, since the next one can reverse progress.
Were my efforts in vain? I pondered this and realized that to make lasting change, we need a universal culture shift, one that brings us closer to nature, closer to each other and one that rewards environmental good practice. Through my campaigning, I learned that as humans we need to feel useful. We need to know that our actions can make a difference and make us feel good. Exposing the harm we are causing to our ocean is important but it must be met with hope, a call to action, and it must be revealed in a way that people can relate to.
With this in mind, my approach to campaigning and ocean advocacy has evolved. My focus now is on engaging people with the ocean through stories of hope, compassion for life, and through embracing our diversity. Each one of us has a different but equal relationship to the sea. We must tap into our differences so that we are all mobilized into action for our ocean. I run a platform called Women4Oceans (W4O). W4O connects, supports, and amplifies the work of women around the world for a healthy ocean. So many of us across cultures and geographies already do amazing work for our ocean. The idea is that we can accelerate our efforts to turn the tide, by connecting with people we can relate to or who inspire us. If we break down the barriers that divide us, by virtue of our job title, geography or culture, we are united in our quest for a healthy ocean. It is clear that we want to build on each other’s success by sharing information and lifting each other up and my aim is to achieve that through the Women4Oceans platform.
Farah Obaidullah (MSc/DIC) is an ocean advocate and founder of Women4Oceans. With 15 years of experience in marine conservation, Farah has travelled the globe, observing the beauty of our ocean and witnessing some of the most egregious practices happening at sea. Among her achievements, Farah has executed campaigns to end destructive fishing, worked with affected communities, and has been deeply involved in exposing fish crimes, including slavery and labour abuse at sea. Farah is biracial, bicultural, and considers herself a citizen of the world. She strongly believes that by embracing our human diversity we can turn the tide for our ocean.