June 14 through the 22 is Latino Conservation Week. In the spirit of this week I will be participating in a twitter version of ask us anything. Learn about all the amazing for Latinos around the country are doing in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and in ocean conservation. Details: https://go.usa.gov/xUXgE
Here is a previous of some of the types of questions I have been answering:
What does the National Marine Sanctuary System mean to you?
Imagine if we had no Yellowstone or its iconic Old Faithful geyser and American bison, no Statue of Liberty or its history, no Grand Canyon that was carved into the red rock by the Colorado River. The national parks have helped ensure these special places will still be there for future generations to enjoy. That is what national marine sanctuaries do for special places that are underwater.
Sanctuaries help preserve and protect iconic coral reefs, protect nursery habitat essential for many fish and other marine life, preserve historic and culturally-important sites that are part of this nation’s history, and more. National marine sanctuaries help ensure that we will be able to enjoy these special places for generations to come and that we can continue to use these resources in a sustainable manner.
How do you help protect the ocean?
Here are a few of the way I try to help out the most:
I make sure to make sustainable seafood decisions. When buying any seafood, I make sure they were caught sustainably by either buying locally and asking the fishermen how they caught it (this of course requires a bit of research on what are sustainable fishing practices), or you can check through Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list or look for certified sustainable seafood by the Marine Stewardship Council.
I also make sure to try and recycle everything, and use least amount of plastics possible. For example I never buy disposable single-use plastic water bottles and always carry my refillable, reusable stainless steel water bottle. In my family we also use small mason jars and re-fill them with juice instead of buying juice boxes that also create a lot of waste, and have a few stainless steel straws at home which we use instead of plastic ones. We always use paper bags or reusable bags when going to the grocery store. It has been well documented that many marine life die because of ingesting plastic materials, such as plastic straws or plastic bags.
Beach clean-ups and dive clean-ups are also a great way I like to help out ocean. Every piece of plastic or other marine debris removed from our beaches and ocean make a huge difference. We are now learning about the effects of microplastics on our ocean, and just picking up one single-use plastic water bottle (which eventually breaks into thousands of microplastic pieces) can make a huge difference! Anyone can help pick up a few pieces of trash anytime they visit the beach.
How does your heritage inform your experience in the outdoors?
I grew up in Ecuador surrounded by amazing marine and aquatic ecosystems. Since I was quite young, I was drawn to the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon region. Being part of this vast and unique biodiversity gave me an unbounded curiosity and enthusiasm for nature, for animals, and for our water resources. I saw their inherent beauty, and early on recognized what an important resource our waterways were to all living things and how much we owed them in return.
At a young age, I also realized that there were issues troubling our ocean, and it was then that I made it my goal to dedicate my life to finding ways to protect them. When I was little, my mom would take me to the beach in Ecuador, and I remember always going to the fishermen’s boats as they would come in early in the morning after spending all night fishing and looking at all the fish they caught and being fascinated by all the unique life that lived just beneath the surface.
My whole life since I was little I always thought of myself as a mermaid, mean to live life in the ocean, beneath the waves. The first time I dived into the deep blue I could not see the bottom. I was in a very special marine protected area off the coast of Ecuador called Machalilla, Isla de la Plata. My heart started racing with a mixture of excitement, curiosity, and a slight fear of the unknown. As I slowly started to descend I began to see the wondrous life that surrounded me; I could hear the fish pecking at algae on the reef, I saw a wall of fish dance and change forms as other fish swam around them. A baby sea lion playfully came close to me, blew bubbles in my face, and ran off to bring back its toy piece of algae. I felt like my heart skipped a beat, that moment I knew that is where I was meant to be, I have to come back as often as possible to visit the most beautiful places on Earth.
Although I began scuba diving later in life, I was able then to observe our impact on coral reefs and other marine habitats, and how we have decimated so much of our marine life. As I have grown, I have learned that marine ecosystems and the fisheries they support are some of our most priceless legacies, but if not handled properly they may soon be irreparably damaged. I cannot remember ever having a different life goal than to dedicate myself to preserving these special places.
As an optimist, I believe that change is possible and this is my motivation. It is a common misconception that conservationists, scientists, and fishermen must forever be embattled over “to fish or not to fish.” Rather I believe that we have a common goal: to ensure best practices so that this source of livelihood and cultural heritage does not decline over time, and that our descendants may enjoy and benefit from it too. It is possible to have both a healthy ecosystem and a prosperous economy.
What is your favorite way to enjoy the ocean and Great Lakes?
When I was little I loved to go tide-pooling and see all the cool little critters that make the rocky shoreline their home. I also love bodyboarding and hope to learn how to surf. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to experience the joy of diving. Diving has given me the opportunity to become a mermaid and to interact with the most amazing marine life. I have had the opportunity to go diving with sea lions and sharks in the Galapagos, dolphins and manta rays in Hawai‘i, and I hope to be able to go diving in kelp forests off the Oregon and Washington coastlines and see the rockfish that I am studying first-hand in their natural environment.
This is a well-written and engaging post, Alex. I liked hearing how your relationship to the ocean has evolved over time, and how you were aware that the ocean needed protecting from a young age. I am glad you stayed the path and are now living that passion. In response to the question you posed, my favorite way to enjoy the coast has evolved over time. My childhood began in a landlocked state in the middle of the US, and my family had no heritage with the coast. After about 20 years of now living close to the ocean, my family has moved beyond just walking the coastline to now surfing, crabbing, and bodyboarding. Hopefully, clamming and scuba diving will be in my family’s future as well!
Looks like the #LCWChat was a great way to engage people – thanks for sharing!
Cool photo and thank you for the insight into what makes you an ocean-lover! I hope your perspective helps to inspire others!