Life Below Water: From the beach to the high political seas.
“Speaking at the United Nations Headquarters for World Wildlife Day on behalf of Y4WC and ocean wildlife
was an experience I will not soon forget”
World Wildlife Day 2019: Callie Veelenturf, an early-career marine conservation biologist and Y4WC ambassador, working to save vulnerable populations of leatherback sea turtles across the world, took her message and actions to the United Nations HQ in New York.
This is her Life Below Water (and behind the scenes) experience of taking her conservation action from the ground to one of the highest political levels.
By Callie Veelenturf
On the snowy Friday morning of 1st March 2019, my day started out by seeing none other than renowned Dr. Sylvia Earle, or Her Deepness as she is admiringly known for her countless hours spent underwater, in the UN security line! I was surprized, and a little honored, that she remembered me from the summer when I spent a few hours sailing with her as part of Mission Blues Hope Spot expedition. Seeing her there in her famous blue suit immediately calmed any nerves I had about delivering a speech in front of the distinguished guests at the United Nations.
WATCH: ‘Life Below Water’ Callie’s Speech at the UNHQ
When I walked into the conference room, I felt my senses heighten. I thought, “History is made here, and I belong here today.” The proceedings began with an inspiring short video of breath-taking underwater footage, setting the stage for the divers in the room, at least myself and Sylvia, to feel the “urge to submerge”, as she said. The energy in the room started out fairly political, with recitations of the dire statistics characterizing the state of our oceans and comments about high level actions being taken to combat the greatest threats to the oceans, none of which made me feel overwhelmingly optimistic. There was a clear consensus that the greatest threats to the oceans are climate change, pollution and destructive fishing practices, including bottom trawling, using non selective fishing gear, and illegal unregulated and unreported fishing.
The importance of working with local communities that depend on the ocean’s resources was highlighted, and I began feverishly adding in a couple sentences to my speech that showed how early career conservationists are engaging with local communities, to show that we are already implementing conservation strategies!
Then, Sylvia Earle was introduced as the last panelist. The energy in the room changed immediately. When she speaks about the plight of the oceans, people listen. Her passion, tone, commitment to the cause and utter disregard for ideologies that compromise the health of the oceans is truly compelling. She highlighted for me and everyone in the room how the first world simply does not need to consume fish. We all make choices every day that affect the world around us. She spoke to our destructive fishing practices, destroying habitats we just barely understand and said, “There should be just as many submarines as airplanes!” She reminded everyone that most of the ocean is still left unexplored and ended her speech saying, “I hope to see you all out there.”
Then it was my turn. Stomach in knots and my hands shaking I took the floor. It turns out I needn’t have worried. My interjection from the floor was very well received (check out the video above), and I felt empowered, knowing that there is a chance my passion could have inspired someone else in the room. It’s addicting to speak out on behalf of the wild world...and I am hoping to find an opportunity to do so again soon!
“The time for being tempered has passed.
We have had drastic negative effects on the oceans, now is a time for drastic change.”
I am so thankful to Y4WC for providing a platform for young voices to be heard at important junctions all around the world!