Lessons from a Lifetime Marine Conservationist

When Roy Mulder learned scuba diving 43 years ago, it set him on his current path to devote his life to the creation of marine conservation areas in Canada. He is a strong believer in community and has been active in numerous organizations and programming. Among other titles, he is the President of the Canadian Marine Environment Protection Society (CMEPS), and past President of the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society. He recently shared some of the learnings from his years of involvement.

“Too many people think its jobs OR environment and we have to get past that,” Roy told me. One big concern is that Canada fully protects only 1.3% of our oceans, he said. Our legacy for marine protection is weak, since fish have been mostly left out of environmental management. We started with the biggest fish stock on the planet and decimated the populations. The biggest cause is habitat destruction, Roy added. And when habitat is destroyed, you can’t rebuild fished stocks.

Roy has worked towards protecting Howe Sound and Georgia Strait reef sites, and 9 have been protected. The largest challenge in doing so is there is no single legal path to protection. Each one has been a different methodology, meaning each protection has to be done independently every time. There is no solid baseline of population stats or other biology due to how the national Conservative government laid off several thousand government scientists and shut down 5 out of 7 related fisheries libraries. A lot was lost, including the Fisheries Act so rivers and lakes have no protection, Roy added.

Conservation wins are hard fought and often take decades to achieve. Unlike all the foundations in the U.S., Canada lacks many large funding groups. Between potential audits and less money coming from the BC Lotteries these days, funding can be hard to find. “Without that $20,000 from gaming night, small organizations can dry up” Roy added. Unfortunately, this lack of funding can lead to inter organization competitiveness, which leads to missing out on joint alliances and campaigns. This can be further impacted by personality conflicts, which Roy has personally experienced.

orca whales in marine environmetConservation needs strong leadership and people to support each other. Groups and their people should learn to cooperate and work with each other and put their mandate ahead of personal disagreements. We need more alliances if we are going to save what is left of wildlife and habitats.

The Canadian Marine Environment Protection Society is focused on whale protection, such as the 76 Southern resident orca whales. CMEPS also cares about the chinook salmon that the whales eat. Both need to be saved.

We also need to learn lessons from elsewhere, and from available resources. Roy has worked with the North Atlantic right whales. There are about 500 of these whales left, but only 100 are of reproduction age. There is a special committee to save them. Many of the whales have been involved in entanglements, but Roy says that he has heard that the real problem is ship strikes and nothing has been done about that. Instead, he said, crab fishers in the Maritimes have been stopped. At a recent tradeshow, Roy saw a company that has a crab trap that doesn’t use a rope to the surface. Instead, they use an inflatable balloon attached to the crab trap that gets signaled to inflate when a button is touched on a remote, and the trap floats to the surface. “So why aren’t we using solutions?” Roy wonders. “If something works, cookie cutter it.”

Roy likes Root Cause Analysis. Getting to the root cause requires digging. Conservation can be emotional, which goes beyond common sense and reasoning. For future generations, we need to conserve 20 to 30% of the oceans, he added. But what wins conservation fights can often be what is charismatic rather than statistical. Then once protected, new regulations need to be enforced.

Roy concluded our interview with two personal beliefs:

Everybody has to do 1 thing, and

Everybody has to realize the right balance is to spend 80% of the time doing something and 20% getting further educated, to reverse the current losses.

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Alison Wheatley

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