We’ve heard his thoughts on getting kids into ocean conservation.
Today, we bring you the rest of the story on JournOwl and Thriving Oceans’ Scott Artis.
Listen in as this California-based ocean and wildlife champion and biotech industry professional tells us how he got interested in oceans, and details his long and winding route to a life dedicated to ocean conservation. [Pssst...you'll be seeing more of O4E and Scott teaming up in the near future. But we didn't just say that.]
O4E: How, and when, did your love of the ocean begin? Was it full-throttle right away, a slow-growing thing, did it ebb and flow? And why?
As far back as I can remember I’ve always been a nature and wildlife fanatic. Perhaps it started those many years ago while on the couch at my Dad’s side watching nature unfold in wildlife documentaries.
I am not quite sure if I was simply hardwired for a kinship with nature or if it was instilled over time. I tend to like the notion that it was instinctual; it just seems so fitting to be naturally drawn to nature. I do know when my absolute love for fish materialized though and perhaps that was the first genuine sign of things to come.
As a freshman in high school I converted my Earth Science project to a freshwater community fish tank. I conveniently managed to pick a project that required a 10 gallon fish tank, which soon evolved to a 55 gallon reef tank and eventually into the 125 gallon tank I have had over the last 11 years.
As of today it is home to African cichlids. I even worked for a local pet store while in high school and became known by customers and colleagues as the Fish Man.
And on that note I just can’t help but throw a little conservation tip out about making responsible tank-raised fish purchases, especially for saltwater enthusiasts. To be honest it is the reason I converted to freshwater many years ago.
And getting back on topic, I’ll never forget my first time snorkeling; it was pure heaven. It was a love for oceans, a love of fish and marine life, a love for biodiversity, and a love science all coming together in one place and interacting as a complete unit.
But I will say that my journey into ocean conservation has not been straightforward. One would think that an early love for the marine environment would undoubtedly result in complete career dedication as I moved from high school to college to the real world. And for a while that was indeed the path I was on.
I entered college as an Environmental Toxicology major, which is ever-so-applicable to current events with the recent oil spill, mercury contamination in fish, plastics and urban runoff infiltrating our oceans, etc.
However, I began contemplating a switch to marine, wildlife or conservation biology, but on the advice of a few university counselors I ended up pursuing micro and molecular biology on the promise of job availability at the time.
Regrets? None. But, I do believe it is a good lesson about following one’s passions.
In less than three years in biotech I began returning to my roots and started a nonprofit conservation organization designed to get people excited and active in conservation. And a big part of this project was organizing coastal cleanup opportunities for schools, giving presentations about ocean conservation, and providing information on ocean issues.
Thriving Oceans the project was born, and eventually Thriving Oceans, the blog.
Six years after graduating and entering biotech I returned to school for a certificate in Environmental Resource Management and continued on to earn a Fisheries and Wildlife Science degree in 2008. I am now in the process of returning back to school for a Masters in Environmental Science and as of last week I submitted a project application for sponsorship to Earth Island Institute.
As I say on my wildlife blog, JournOwl, “To make a long story short, during my first trip through college I chose the almighty dollar over an innate interest in wildlife and the environment (Green vs. Green).”
Now I am on the brink of completing a full life’s circle and essentially returning to what I always imagined I would be doing. It’s not about getting hung up on regrets and what I should have done, but about capitalizing on the great experiences I have had in biotech and the opportunities it has given me to carry on conservation activities on the side.
It’s about achieving goals, whether they are personal educational goals, spreading ocean awareness, sparking a love for marine life in kids and adults, or simply being a good ocean steward. Trust me, it’s all worth it.
And heck, what’s not to love about our oceans!
O4E: How would you say your love for the ocean “shows” to others in your life – this can be via what you do, what you wear, what you eat, how you decorate your home, etc.
I must admit this is a great question, as my ocean infatuation is not limited to direct interactions with our marine ecosystems.
I’m relatively lucky in the fact that my day job provides ample opportunity to work from a home office, so it is a place where I spend a fair amount of time. And my office is nothing less than an ocean cocoon.
There are Wyland prints showcasing different ocean scenes, a green sea turtle wall-mounted sculpture, a framed poster of the Namena Barrier Reef in Fiji, and a crab crafted from metal. And that is just a sampling of the ocean items adorning my office.
Regarding seafood, I guess it is more appropriate to ask what we don’t eat. I’ll be honest, my wife and I have moved away from seafood for the most part.
And I am quite the fan of shrimp and fish, so it’s not that I dislike seafood. We simply moved away from eating shrimp almost 7 years ago because of the incredible bycatch problem at the time.
And fish shortly followed. We just found it easier to completely avoid shrimp and other species as opposed to asking restaurants where and how they were caught.
I guess you could say it was a matter of convenience and at the time we wanted to err on the side of caution.
And all these years later we just haven’t looked back, but we make sure to keep an updated Seafood Watch List in our pockets when dining with friends and family. Which often presents a great opportunity to spread the word about overfishing.
O4E: What part do you want oceans to play in your life this year, in five years, for the rest of your life?
It’s funny, but I don’t necessarily have a short-term plan in place for integrating oceans in my life this year or in the next five years. Yet my neurons are always firing when it comes to conservation ideas so things just pop up unexpectedly.
But, my wife and I are dedicated to an eventual move to Hawaii…specifically Kauai. I even received a book about living in Hawaii from a family member for Christmas. I guess our secret has gotten out!
After we returned from our last trip in April I vowed to begin the search for our own piece of island paradise.
Until then, I imagine we will just have to continue visiting the islands. But, it’s not too bad as we can satisfy any ocean urges on the California coast.
Living in the East San Francisco Bay Area makes ocean visits relatively easy. The water may be cold but it is never disappointing as the amount of life is absolutely breathtaking.
Birds, seals, sea lions, whales, orcas, otters and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Plus it puts us in a great spot for actively promoting, supporting and working towards ocean conservation. And I am always striving to make my marine and terrestrial conservation activities a full time job.
O4E: If you could be an ocean animal, which one would you be and why?
Hmmm…I think I have to go with an octopus. They are remarkably intelligent with uncanny problem solving skills, they can change their texture, have chromatophores that provide the incredible ability to instantly change color and patterns, and their ability to compress themselves through tiny cracks is an added bonus.
I can, and have, spent quite a bit of time observing an octopus glide over coral, gracefully slip through the water from one rock to another, and disappear right before your eyes. They are quite masterful.
O4E: Do you have a prime focus area in your conservation efforts?
I really try to deliver the whole package. We are not just talking about a single issue, but a culmination of many problems that are each impacting the health of our oceans, coasts, and estuaries. However, I am drawn to marine debris and overfishing.
Either I’m a glutton for punishment or like the challenge as overfishing is one of those issues that has so many angles. It’s not just about pointing fingers at commercial fisheries, but it’s about pointing fingers at governments, at fisheries management, at poachers, and at ourselves.
We are all in some way or another responsible for the overfishing crisis. And at the end of the day consumers have the ultimate power because we decide whether or not to buy a particular species at our grocery stores and restaurants. We stop demanding, they stop supplying; it’s as simple as that. And the crux of the problem is that it is just so darn hard for most people to imagine an ocean without fish.
“The vastness of our oceans and the continued stocking of seafood has given rise to the general population’s false sense of security that fish always have and always will be available. Because of that it has become second nature not to give the origin of seafood a second thought.” And when we add on the fact that some people don’t care, some are too lazy to do a little homework, some just don’t know, and sprinkle all this with enormous profits we end up with a worldwide declining fisheries problem.
It’s an overabundance of short-term thinking that I hope we can overcome with the help of our younger generations before it is too late.
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