Sea Shepherd Global is an international direct-act ocean conservation movement established in 1977 by Paul Watson, a founding member of Greenpeace. Their global mission is to protect the oceans and everything that lives in it, from the tiniest plankton to the biggest whale, by making life safer and healthier. Sea Shepherd Global has independent entities, called ‘chapters’, in over 20 countries worldwide. The ‘chapter’ Sea Shepherd Portugal was started in October 2019 by director Chris Storey and his team Guiga Pirá and Maike Baun. We had the pleasure to interview Maike Baun, the Marketing Coordinator and of Sea Shepherd Portugal and crew member of Sea Shepherd Global.
Why is ocean conservation so important?
The survival of the human race depends on the health of the ocean. Every second breath we take comes from this ecosystem. Corals function as underwater forests which produce more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe. We need to take care of this ecosystem because whales, sharks, fish and other living beings in the ocean can’t protect themselves from all the slaughter and pollution. Organisations like Sea Shepherd are the reason why some animal species haven’t gone extinct.
What are some of Sea Shepherd’s campaigns to protect this ecosystem?
We have many campaigns around the world! One of our biggest, in which I participated, is called Milagro. It takes place in Mexico, to protect the Vaquita Marina, a small whale species. There were around 6 to 22 left last year. We patrol the area in the upper Gulf of California, where they live, pulling out illegal fishing nets for their protection. In Africa, we have the IUU, Illegal Unreported and Unregulated fishing campaigns. A lot of sharks are caught and have their fins cut off, are dumped back in the ocean – still alive – and suffocate to death because, without swimming, they cannot breathe.
Here in Portugal, we do other things to raise funds for Sea Shepherd Global campaigns. Each ‘chapter’ collects money for their activities but also to donate to Sea Shepherd Global campaigns, as everything is connected. Here in Portugal we have a lot of problems with bycatch, so we are collecting data on stranded whales, dolphins, sharks that wash up onshore. When it comes to boats, we are going out with our dive team and getting rid of so-called ghost nets, which are abandoned and are deadly traps. We only go in with experienced divers because it can be quite tricky if you get tangled. Our team is at least advanced, but most of us are instructors or divemasters. That's also what we do in big campaigns. Not with diving but we go out with big boats and pull out illegal fishing nets that are still active so it's similar.
On November 7th, you held an online fundraiser – What was the purpose of this event?
Sea Shepherd Portugal held an online music fundraiser in which part of the donations received went as well to Sea Shepherd Global. Around 20 musicians recorded songs for us of diverse genres, from indie to hardcore metal, to pop, everything! We also had a live Q&A with Captain Alex Cornelissen, the CEO of Sea Shepherd Global. At the end we had a raffle for the shirt designed by CRØSS THE.LINE, in which the person picked won our limited edition shirt with Paul Watson’s signature. The design shows the blue shark, the most common shark in Portugal, which is a beautiful initiative for us to raise awareness of the stop finning campaign. Overall, the fundraiser went well, as we raised enough money to start our beach clean ups from the north to the south of the country and to get more equipment for ghost net removals.
Sounds great! So, what are Sea Shepherd Portugal's future goals?
The general mission worldwide is always to defend, conserve and protect. In Portugal specifically, we have spoken at many events, such as the Planetiers World Gathering, to raise awareness that we have these problems here as well and not just in Africa or other world countries. We do beach clean-ups and teach people how to clean properly. We also sell our merchandise on local, sustainable markets to get money for our campaigns. We have Sentinela campaign, where we collect data from stranded animals through a website in cooperation with our scientists. When people find an animal, they take a photo and upload it. If it’s still alive, they call the municipality to get help, as it is not safe to touch animals, neither for the person nor for the animals. Eventually, we want to have a Sea Shepherd boat as well here in Portugal, to take increased direct action, which requires a lot more donations. The more awareness we get, the more donations we get, and the more we can do.
You talked about beach cleanups as a simple measure to take. Are they open to the general public? Where do they take place?
We have two kinds of beach cleanups. Sometimes we do it in cooperation with volunteers of other organisations, or sometimes we do it with companies and their employees. We also do general beach cleanups, which are posted on our social media where everyone can join and help. Because of the pandemic we have to limit them to 5 people at a time. They are mostly in Lisbon and the Algarve because most of our scientific team is located there.
You have been active with Sea Shepherd for more than one year. What initially inspired you to join Sea Shepherd, and what does your role include?
I made a world trip for two years, where I started to do diving and also did my first marine conservation internship in the Philippines. That’s what made me want to be more involved in marine conservation. I always intended to connect my marketing studies with something I live for. So my passion for the oceans grew and grew. I did some other internships, and the last one was in Honduras. At the time, I worked as a diving instructor as well. When I came back to Portugal and did an internship in a company for sustainability, they needed someone to do the marketing for Sea Shepherd Portugal. Everything just fell into place. It was great! I worked for four months, and then they called and asked me if I wanted to go on one of their boats, and I said “sure!” and flew to Mexico for three months, came back in February and continued working for Sea Shepherd Portugal. I live for this cause.
Seems perfect :) What is your favourite part of your job?
Being on the boat is intense but also so rewarding because every animal you save from a net is a big success. We find a lot of animals in the nets that we can still save. Sometimes we even save pregnant animals such as rays and put them back in the water, which is so rewarding, since we basically save a whole family. We always wave them goodbye, feeling happy and accomplished. It is an amazing and life changing experience and I can't wait to go back on a boat. Also, here in Portugal, we have a fantastic team! We are four coordinators and are all like friends. Even when things get hectic, everyone knows what they have to do, and we can rely on each other, which is super cool. It’s a very hands-on job. Sometimes when I feel it's too much work, I think, “Yes, but I know what I’m doing it for.” It can be intense at times, but I love it and do it for the cause.
It must be very rewarding. How can we, as individuals, contribute or join this cause?
You can always sign up on our website as a volunteer. Anyone with any kind of contribution can sign up and just fill in what their skills are. Also, donations are super important. Yes, we have merchandise, but right now it is a bit hard to go out and sell at markets. Something small everyone can do is to pick up trash and dispose of it correctly because anything that is flying around in the streets will eventually end up in the ocean. So whoever is picking up trash from the streets or beaches is already part of our group of activists!
What would you say to someone who wants to lead a more sustainable lifestyle?
First of all, stop eating fish and meat. Many people may stop eating meat, but they don't understand that fish feel pain and are anxious when dumped in tons on a deck. It seems drastic to say, but it is something people need to understand. The more we fish, the smaller they get, the less they reproduce. So eventually there won't be any more fish, and the whole ecosystem is going to collapse. Going vegan is essential, and we know it is not easy. Second, picking up trash from the beach, especially the tiny microplastic. Third, try to use less plastic, for example, with personal hygiene products, choosing reusable and sustainable products instead of tampons, plastic toothbrushes or floss. Just refuse, reuse, reduce. Consumption is a big part, and if everyone integrates a little bit in their life, it would already be a big step and impact. Leave the car at home and walk instead. Choose the vegan meal instead of the one with meat and dairy. Those little things that you might think, “yes I could do a bit more sustainable here, let’s just try it”. The more you do it, the more you get used to it. Not everyone has to be a big hero like Paul Watson to create a change. Everyone can be a little hero, and together we have a significant impact.
Thank you so much, Maike, for sharing your story with us! It’s truly inspiring, and I hope people who read this may learn from your experience!
At CRØSS THE.LINE we are honoured to have Sea Shepherd Portugal as our partner. The #stopsharkfinning design is available in our online shop as a signed limited-edition collection of 50 shirts. 10% of our profits go to Sea Shepherd Portugal’s cause to conserve and protect the oceans. Every time you buy and wear a CRØSS THE.LINE shirt you take a stance for the planet.