Our Future Whale Watchers Scholarship – 1st Place
March 6, 2018
We were so lucky to receive so many great entries for our first ever Whale Watchers Scholarship! We understand that the pursuit of education and knowledge will lead to better solutions in the future and we want to help students afford the costs of attending post-secondary education.
We opened up the scholarship to students in the US and Canada who had a passion for the ocean and its wildlife with the following question:
WHAT PRACTICAL CHANGES CAN PEOPLE MAKE TO ENSURE CANADIAN OCEANS ARE A SAFER PLACE FOR WHALES?
We were so thrilled to share our winning scholarship submission and recipient of the $1,000 Whale Watcher’s scholarship, Ciara V from the University of Alberta. She shared personal experience and some practical ways each of us can make a difference. Great job Ciara, we are happy to know you will be looking out for the whales!
I can remember my first whale watching experience vividly. When I close my eyes, I recall the cold – it had been absolutely freezing with the ocean spraying up into the boat. Then the grey sky slowly materializes out of the fog of memory; then comes the memory of people shouting with excitement, and most vivid of all: the surreal sight of a fluke disappearing silently beneath the dark surface of the water. I was three years old at the time and it had been such a monumental moment it has stuck with me all these years, always accompanied with feelings of joy and wonder. Having this as one of my first tangible memories makes the challenges and destruction of our ocean communities very real to me. I am concerned that one of the pivotal moments in my life may not be an experience that future – and dare I say – current generations may experience.
Every morning when I was a toddler, I would ask to watch the movie “Free Willy” first thing after I woke up. This went on for a few years and from it began to grow a concern. Concern because, in that movie the climactic moment is centered around an oil spill; and I became very aware that the world was getting dirty and we needed to clean it up. That initiated my sense of urgency and desire to make a global difference. My parents can attest to me wandering around my neighbourhood with a shopping bag before I could read, picking up garbage and worrying about whales.
There are innumerable ways we as citizens of the planet can find ways to improve our biosphere and more specifically our oceans. The challenge we are faced with is that many require that the government install regulations and laws to enforce these eco-friendly behaviours. Or even larger than that, many of these ideas would require us to infringe upon economic growth which I have come to accept is hugely challenging in modern culture: “money” often supersedes our longer term environmental goals since they do not have immediate results. I believe though, that rather than give up due to the seeming helpless predicament us environmentalists are faced with we can implement a practical approach that every citizen can readily practice in their every day lives. What I am suggesting is a means to save our whales/oceans in the guise of practicality and what has become the driving force of our culture “saving money”. To convey my proposition allow me to walk you through what I find many of the students’ day to day habits to be: They start off at their favourite coffee shop to purchase a beverage, then at lunch they eat out since it is quick and they are on campus, and then in the evening not only do they need to pay for groceries but it costs extra to get the plastic bags necessary to carry them. Over a year this has major impact on the wallet – and the environment. What I am suggesting is reusable food storage containers, thermoses/water bottles, a coffee maker, and cloth bags.
This has already been done you are thinking! Yes, I know. Which is what will make this approach more practical, for we have all the necessary tools readily available. It won’t require a massive political reform or economic expense. Simply, it needs to become a daily cultural practice. As it stands we are a plastic culture. One that allows all this plastic in our everyday lives to empty our wallets and contribute to polluting and ultimately poisoning of our oceans. Whales are beaching with their stomachs and intestines so congested with plastic debris that they were smothered from the inside and small microbeads of plastic become toxic as they break down and work their way up through the whale’s diet via bioamplification. This plastic is killing us financially and the whales quite literally.
The question now is: how do we implement this type of change? My solution is almost comical, so comical that I think it could work. We have become an online society. We live here in the real world (where our oceans, prairies and mountains are) but, we don’t really “live” here from a more anthropological perspective. Which is also probably why as our society evolves we simply seem to care less about our planet – collectively. We live in the digital world. It is in the digital world that we gather ideas, thoughts, fashion, identity…etc. It is only valid now if it happened on the internet. Take the “hipster” fad for example. It started with a few Instagram posts, memes ridiculing the new era of “wannabees” and then suddenly everyone was buying flannel, round glasses became the next big thing, records and record players started to appear in every young person’s room and although the mention of “hipster” has died down it has become an identity and nuance of our culture that has stuck around for several years. Something like this is necessary to make the usage of reusable containers and bags something mainstream. The reusable container needs to become a hashtag, it needs to be a trend and marketed to be something desirable and that makes one appear “connected” for practicing. Instead of everyone running for record players, to be able to post about it online, to seem in the loop we need to have them running to buy their very own coffee machine and thermos.
Memes, snapchats, gifs…all these and more have become a form of communication on their own; we speak a virtual language and it is most practical to have the concern for whales become part of the ocean we surf on the web for their oceans to stay inhabitable. Therefore, it simply requires each of us concerned individuals to make an Instagram post next time we meal prep to show off our reusable food storage containers; it requires us to start normalizing the hashtag “#saveouroceans” when we bring our reusable beverage container to our favourite coffee shop and then upload a picture of the latte art gracing the top; we need to make reusable shopping bags an accessory and normalize their usage. The only way to normalize an eco culture is to make it part of our online language. Everyone suddenly cared about the well being of a dead gorilla when he became a meme. So, let’s get people talking, or better yet memeing about our oceans before – like that gorilla – they die.