Meeting the famous Ric O’Barry

Last week American activist and former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry visited the Netherlands. During a fundraising event for his organisation The Dolphin Project The Black Fish got a chance to shortly sit down with this influential character. Richard O’Barry (76) is a well-known activist, who spend most of his life protesting the captive industry of marine mammals and freeing them whenever he could. We were curious to hear about his past experiences in ocean activism and excited to hear about his future plans.

Initially Richard O’Barry started out on the other side of the issue, working as a dolphin capturer and trainer for the Miami Seaquarium during the 1960’s. He got globally renowned as the trainer of the 5 dolphins that starred in the popular tv series Flipper. After having lived so close with these dolphins for so long, O’Barry began to doubt the ethics of the work he had been doing those past ten years. When one of his favorite dolphins, named Kathy, presumably committed suicide in his presence he decided to radically change paths.

On Earth Day in 1970 Ric founded his organisation The Dolphin Project, aiming to end the hunt and exploitation of dolphins and whales worldwide. Over the 40 years that followed, he succeeded to release over 20 dolphins back into the wild. In 2009 O’Barry released the Academy Award winning documentary The Cove. This film showed the world how, each year, hundreds of dolphins are brutally slaughtered and captured in Taiji, Japan.

O’Barry’s work in Japan is remarkable. He has been monitoring the killing cove in Taiji since 2003 and still returns each year. In great detail, he narrates his encounters with the local fisherman, the Taiji whale museum, the local police and many others. Campaigning in Japan is extremely difficult. Due to the corrupt authorities, the local inhabitants of Taiji and its surroundings are completely unaware of the annual slaughter. Attempts by O’Barry to get locals involved, to reach out to schools and to broadcast The Cove documentary on local tv and internet have failed more than once. Nevertheless the numbers of killings seem to be going down.

Additionally, thanks to the international success of The Cove, Japan seems to be realizing that ‘the whole world is watching’. Using The Cove and the documentary Blackfish as an example, O’Barry tells us how he is convinced that making movies is ‘the new activism’. Movies have great potential to reach and touch a very wide audience.

The main purpose of O’Barry’s visit to the Netherlands is to convince the Dutch government to put an end to the dolphin shows at the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk. O’Barry says he feels a deep responsibility for the dolphins that are kept in the Dolfinarium. The Netherlands was the first country in Europe to hold wild dolphins captive. These dolphins may even have been captured by O’Barry himself. Now he believes The Netherlands could well be the first country to completely ban the captivity of wild marine mammals.

He stresses that the present issue is not only about animal well-being and animal rights, it is just as much about people as it is about dolphins. “To teach a child not to step on a caterpillar is just as important to the child as it is to the caterpillar” he says. We are seriously mis-educating our children by showing them dolphins that are doing tricks only to be fed dead fish. The dolphins that perform in these shows are ‘freaks of nature that we have created for our own amusement’. They have nothing in common with free, wild dolphins.

He then reveals that he is working to establish a so called dolphin sanctuary in the Mediterranean. Even-though he cannot elaborate too much on it yet, this promises to become a place where former show-dolphins will get a chance to ‘retire’ and be ‘untrained’. There is even talk about a collaboration with the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk. The amusement park is considering to participate in an experiment that O’Barry proposed to them last week. Some of their dolphins will be sent to the sanctuary for a two year period. Eventually it will be determined through scientific assessment whether the natural habitat has improved the well-being of the animals. The idea sounds promising and we are thrilled to see it unfold in the near future.

Finally, when we asked O’Barry what he would say his greatest achievement would be so far, he answered by pointing out all the people that were present at the venue. ‘This’ he says, ‘When I started I was on my own’. The captivity issue did not exist. Now more and more people know about it. Documentaries like Blackfish and The Cove have caused significant drops in visitors to theme parks like Seaworld. ‘However, as long as people continue to buy tickets, the show will go on.’

Interview and article by Anne Twaalfhoven

What you are achieving for our oceans

It’s all happening. With close to 100 trained Citizen Inspectors, increasing amounts of evidence of illegal fishing and a growing community of volunteers across Europe, you are making a difference for the protection of our oceans. You have crowdfunded more donations, attended more events and raised more awareness than ever before. And it is having an impact.

With enforcement authorities increasingly taking note and prosecutions pending, your actions are taking on the powerful companies involved in illegally overfishing our seas. Here is what you in The Black Fish community have achieved for the protection of ocean life this year.

The (voluntary) staff team of The Black Fish. November 2015, Amsterdam.

Together we are building a growing ocean movement

There is strength in numbers. With our volunteer communities growing across Germany, UK, Spain and The Netherlands, we saw our community substantially expand this year. More events were attended than ever before and with more structural volunteer training now in place, you are helping us grow our movement more effectively so together we can make a bigger splash.

You raised over €200,000 this year to fight illegal fishing

2015 was without a doubt the most successful year for The Black Fish, including financially. You raised over €200,000 during online appeals, sporting challenging and community events, as well as contributed in-kind donations with an estimated value of over €1,2 million. We were also able to launch the #OceanCrowd; the first dedicated ocean crowdfunding platform, already with great results for our Citizen Inspectors that use it to crowdfund the necessary contributions to make our investigations possible. Thank you for donating!

We are training a network of civilian fishing inspectors

During two international weekend long training sessions we were able to train up Citizen Inspectors, which are currently out in the field collecting evidence of illegal fishing practices. With close to 100 people now trained up and the ambition for an estimated 120 additional people to be qualified across several countries in 2016, The Black Fish is will soon run the world’s largest fisheries monitoring network. Thanks to your support we are scaling up crucial monitoring capacity over fishing grounds, in ports and markets.

You are helping us expose crime

Our civil enforcement approach rests on the ability to collect evidence in order to initiate unique prosecutions and affect policy changes. On both levels we are seeing promising progress and especially due to growing support we were able to take on two major challenges this year. In April we took our case, for illegal fishing to be officially recognised as a type of organised crime, to the United Nations. Our ground-breaking report and subsequent policy discussions are changing the perceptions on what constitutes wildlife crime and how illegal fishing should be dealt with accordingly.

In July our Citizen Inspectors uncovered a major loophole in EU law which is enabling large scale illegal driftnets to return to European seas. Your support has been crucial to get this issue investigated and with your continued backing we can see to it being resolved.

Our efforts are yielding concrete results on the ground

Less talk more action. With ‘boots on the ground’ we are able to get concrete results for conservation. Early on in the year our inspectors working in Italy cooperated with the Italian Coastguard on a major bust to confiscate illegal catches of juvenile anchovy. Further on in the year we were able to get back to sea to remove illegal Fish Aggregating Devices from killing endangered wildlife in the South Tyrrhenian Sea. Once again your contributions are translating into tangible results in the field.

Authorities are taking note and getting involved

Essentially we are doing a job that governments should be doing but are failing to. We will continue to do whatever is necessary in our fight for the preservation of the world’s oceans but an interesting development is that official authorities are increasingly taking note. Our approach is realising increased enforcement capacity at relatively low cost and achieving more results than some official bodies are able to manage. This year saw a broadening of our cooperation with the Italian Coastguard and we hope to announce new ground-breaking authority partnerships in the new year.

We will soon be backed up by air and sea services

While at The Black Fish we train and deploy Citizen Inspectors in fishing ports and markets, in the new year we will be backed up by air and sea support from the Conservation Services. Working as part of this new strategic conservation partnership, we will soon be able to take on illegal fishing from land, air and sea, as well as through innovative tracking technology and forensic science.

Your involvement makes it all possible

We are a community of ordinary people wishing to see concrete change for our oceans and we can have an impact thanks to your involvement. Your support, feedback, volunteering and spreading the word is what makes our world spin. Thank you. We are lucky to have you onboard our team and look forward to make ambitious things happen together in 2016.

Looking to contribute? Thank you for getting involved or making a donation

In memory of the incredible Doug Tompkins

The world has lost one of its greatest conservation leaders with the recent sudden death of Doug Tompkins. As pioneering philanthropist, conservationist and ambassador of The Black Fish, Doug was a major figure in the ocean conservation movement; inspiring and supporting many people and initiatives around the world.

Tompkins, 72, was paddling with five other experienced outdoorsmen on Lago General Carrera, a large lake straddling the border between Chile and Argentina in southern Patagonia when his kayak overturned in bad weather.

Wietse van der Werf, who founded The Black Fish in 2010, was lucky to count Doug as a personal friend: It was on an Antarctic expedition in 2009 when we first met. Spending numerous weeks at sea together makes for strong relationships and we hit it off quite instantly with our shared love for nature, history and aviation.

We stayed in touch and when I started The Black Fish a year later Doug really was one of the first with confidence in our ambitions. His support so early on when we really had very little to show for ourselves has definitely made the crucial difference to enable us to get started. His loss is felt greatly across the conservation world especially because he was so receptive and supportive of young initiatives such as ours. His enthusiasm, drive and commitment to the protection of the natural world was really quite incredible.

In the new year The Black Fish will present a fitting way to honour Doug’s work and passions to ensure his legacy can live on to inspire others for years to come.

Read on: Doug Tompkins: life and death of the ecological visionary behind North Face | Everything We Know About the Kayaking Accident That Claimed Doug Tompkins’ Life

Rock legends in concert for ocean conservation

Rocks legends Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor, Doug Wimbish and Leah Wood joined Bernard Fowler and an impressive line up of bands including The Strypes, Hidden Charms and Will Heard, as well as a host of celebrities in London for Project 0’s Wave Makers Concert. The night, which featured the work of Project 0 and its partners, raised crucial funds for the Blue Marine Foundation, Nature Conservancy and The Black Fish.

Ronnie Wood, guitarist of the Rolling Stones, joined the concert as a special guest. Photo by Project 0

Concert goers and people around the world enjoyed live stream performances and short talks on the importance of taking action for the oceans by actress and model Cara Delevingne, actor and Project 0 board member Jimmy Jagger, the Nature Conservancy’s Maria Damanaki and Wietse van der Werf of The Black Fish.

The Black Fish has partnered with Project 0 to raise the profile of its fight to halt illegal overfishing and raise funds to strengthen its civilian enforcement work in the Mediterranean Sea.

Learn more about Project 0 and get involved at weareprojectzero.org

Civilian air service patrols for shellfish poachers

A unique new partnership between The Black Fish and the Wildlife Air Service has realised crucial surveillance flights for shellfish poaching off the UK’s North West coast. Monitoring flights were carried out over the coasts of Northern Wales, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria for two weeks in mid-August. Observers from The Black Fish inside a Cessna 172 patrol aircraft have been on the look out for shellfish poachers, believed to be operating in the River Dee estuary and Morecambe Bay during low tide.

Pilot Dan Beeden after an early evening patrol flight. Photo by Paul Wolfgang Webster.

While the initial flights have not yet uncovered the larger poaching operations believed to be taking place in the region, the air crew remain determined. “This is all about having eyes in the sky and ramping up crucial surveillance capacity. We will locate illegal activity soon enough if it is occurring. Otherwise we very much hope to confirm the shellfish populations in this region are safe and well protected.” says Wietse van der Werf, the primary Airborne Inspector onboard; responsible for evidence collection and analysis.

Dan Beeden, pilot and founder of the Wildlife Air Service; “This is the start of a much larger operation we will run along the UK coast over the coming months in order to have eyes in the sky and ensure crime on our coasts can be identified and tackled. The regions we are now patrolling have traditionally experienced problems with shellfish poaching. Our flights help realise much needed additional monitoring capacity to collect evidence, which will be handed over to enforcement agencies.”

The Black Fish’s Citizen Inspectors have carried out coastal patrols on the ground during the same period as the Wildlife Air Service’s patrols in the air. Collected evidence has been shared between the two organisations to ensure investigative efforts into shellfish poaching can be as effective and cooperative as possible. The Black Fish is preparing for a report to be published during the fall, which will be presented to prosecutors and national enforcement agencies.

Learn more about issue of shellfish poaching here. Follow the Wildlife Air Service on Twitter and Facebook.

Night patrols seek out UK shellfish poaching

The Black Fish has launched a series of civilian night patrols around the English coast to track shellfish poaching. Shellfish poaching is a multi-million dollar black market trade, threatening shellfish populations, exploiting migrant workers and fuelling organised crime.

Citizen Inspectors have been on watch since early this week, at bays and estuaries where shellfish poaching has traditionally occurred. Poaching activities have already been observed and documented at three separate locations. The patrols will run until the end of the month and collected evidence will be handed over to prosecutors.

Samantha Hook, who runs the Citizen Inspector Network: “The tidal areas where the poaching occurs are very difficult to monitor. Our Citizen Inspectors add monitoring capacity and collect much needed evidence. The black market in shellfish fuels organised crime in this country while exploiting workers and endangering consumer health. The people involved simply need to be identified and made to face justice. We are here to help realise that.“

While most would not immediately associate cockles, scallops and sea snails with illegal fishing and organised crime syndicates, in reality the illegal trade in shellfish is a multi-million dollar black market industry, providing organised crime groups with a lucrative income stream while threatening species, coastal biodiversity and human health. Learn more about the issue and support our work at http://www.theblackfish.org/shellfish

New campaign targets illegal Fish Aggregating Devices

They look small and harmless but Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) are the hidden killers of ocean life, catching large numbers of juvenile (baby) fish, causing bycatch and entangling other wildlife such as turtles and sharks. The Black Fish has now launched a new investigative campaign in the Mediterranean to pinpoint who is deploying the illegal devices and confiscating as many of them at sea as fuel budgets allow.

The new campaign is focused on investigating exactly which vessels and companies construct and the deploy the illegal devices, in a bid to map out the extend of the illegal activity. The Black Fish has already started confiscating illegal FADs at sea and plans to continue this into the autumn.

FADs heavily impact on juvenile fish of various species, prohibiting them from enjoying at least one reproduction cycle before being caught. Furthermore, FADs cause high levels of bycatch and the plastics used in the process often end up floating ocean waste, forming navigational hazards to shipping and animals.

In November 2014 The Black Fish carried out a series of sea patrols off the North coast of Sicily, Italy. Over 300 illegal FADs were observed in a relatively small area of sea and a number of devices were confiscated until the available fuel budget was exhausted.

The Black Fish has now started focusing on other areas and instead of removing FADs already deployed at sea, the campaign has deployed Citizen Inspectors in fishing ports to monitor FAD preparations at dock level. Groups of Citizen Inspectors have been out since mid-July and will carry on with their surveillance duties into August.

Samantha Hook, coordinator of the Citizen Inspector Network: “We have been present early morning until late evening in those ports we believe are the hotspots for illegal FAD activity. Over the coming weeks we will step up our efforts and we will do our best to ensure that any collected evidence is followed up by concrete enforcement action. Securing confiscations of illegal fishing gear is our top priority and we will call on the authorities to increase fines to those found using the prohibited devices.”

Read more about the FAD issue on the dedicated campaign page or follow us via Twitter and Facebook. You can also sign up for our mailinglist below, to get news updates straight into your inbox.

Interested to become a Citizen Inspector yourself? All we ask for us two weeks of your time a year and you can make a concrete difference to help expose and prosecute illegal fishing. Find out more and apply at theblackfish.org/cin/

 

How the Battle of Britain inspired our Citizen Inspectors

The Citizen Inspector Network, a new conservation initiative which trains ordinary citizens to gather evidence of illegal fishing, is on target to become the world’s largest civilian fisheries monitoring network by late 2016. While the programme is innovative, the ideas which inspired it can be traced back to the Royal Observer Corps, a former civil organisation founded in 1925, which made its mark during the famous Battle of Britain, carrying out essential monitoring for enemy aircraft.

Let us bring you back to the start of the Second World War conflict. The year is 1940, at a moment when civilian observers in Britain were about to make history with their binoculars, notebooks and radio sets. Not much different from the tasks our Citizen Inspectors fulfil today, these ordinary people helped to realise one of the largest intelligence operations in history.

In 1940 the British experience a particularly warm summer. The threat of German invasion seems imminent and the country is on high alert, bracing itself for the oncoming onslaught. The Royal Air Force (RAF), which has been hastily strengthened with additional aircraft in an effort to bolster the country’s home defences, has a total of 650 fighter planes at its disposal.

Pilots scramble to their aircraft

British fighter pilots scramble to get their aircraft up in the air as fast as possible.

While during that summer over 40 new aircraft roll off the production lines every day, the RAF finds itself hugely outnumbered against the might of the German Luftwaffe. The Germans had steadily built up their air force since the early 1930s and their fleet now numbers a total of 2,800 fighter planes and bombers. Almost the entire Luftwaffe arsenal would soon fly across the English Channel to cause havoc and devastation in Britain’s towns and cities.

While seemingly outnumbered, the British are steadfast determined to defend their small island, at any cost. The government initiates numerous programmes to develop innovative methods to strengthen the nation’s defences. While not all of the ideas prove successful in the field, two developments in particular make a major difference to the ability of the RAF to efficiently deploy its fighter squadrons, which ultimately, against all odds, help Britain win the battle for air supremacy over European skies.

Tracking aircraft via radar

A member of the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) tracking aircraft via radar in 1944.

By the mid-1930s British scientists were quietly testing a new type of technology which allowed for the automatic identification and tracking of aircraft and ships over great distance. What later became known as radar, the system could detect the reflections of radio signals on moving objects, thereby establishing their location, distance, speed and heading.

After initial testing proved successful, a ring of early warning radar stations, also known as Chain Home, were constructed along the British coast. Now giving pre-warning of how many aircraft would be approaching and from which direction, the RAF could direct its few aircraft more strategically. Radar made the crucial difference in offering the RAF squadrons just enough time to get their fighters up in the air, able to intercept enemy aircraft before they had a chance to drop their deadly bombs.

Observer post

Members of the army and civilian observers at an early observation post.

However, as soon as a formation of German aircraft would cross the coast and head inland, the radar stations would cease to track them and formations could change course and altitude, thereby evading further detection. To solve this, the British had come up with a simple yet ingenious idea.

From 1917, during the First World War conflict, civilian observers were stationed out of monitoring posts to observe the sky for the growing threat of enemy aircraft. While the observers proved useful in spotting and reporting on air activity, it wasn’t until 1925, in the wake of the conflict, that the need for aircraft observation obtained official recognition.

Observers in action

Members of the Royal Observer Corps in action at one their observation posts.

A more official network was established that would spot and track formations and routes of enemy aircraft. Known as the Royal Observer Corps, the new organisation trained ordinary people, many of them older, First World War veterans, in the art of identifying aircraft formations from small ground stations. From 1939 onwards the Royal Observer Corps operated over 1,500 observation posts, stationed all over the country.

Any suspected activity in the air would be relayed to a central point known as RAF Fighter Command, where the intelligence would be analysed and plotted on large maps. This essentially allowed British commanders to track enemy attacks and deploy their small number of RAF resources far more effectively that previously possible.

Royal Observer Corps HQ

A Royal Observer Corps command centre, which collects and analyses the information

The Royal Observer Corps located and tracked hundreds of aircraft raids during the Second World War conflict and by directing allied fighters to victory, it caused such great losses to the German air force that it was soon forced to abandon its large scale bombing raids, meant as a prelude to a seaborne invasion that never happened.

In other countries, similar tactics were soon put into action to scale up aerial monitoring efforts. In Finland, the voluntary auxiliary military organisation Lotta Svärd, which was originally formed in 1918, had a large membership undertaking volunteer social work in the 1920s and 1930s. During the Second World War, it mobilized to replace men conscripted into the army. Amongst other tasks, the ‘Lottas’ served at air raid warning positions; observation posts that would spot aircraft crossing into the country from the Soviet Union.

Finnish 'Lotta's' at an aircraft observation post

Lottas observing aircraft activity at one their observation posts.

From a purely strategic point of view the conflicts during the 1940s teach us important lessons. The need to innovate and think up bold plans in the face of overwhelming opposition is a question that has been on the minds of military leaders throughout history. Could those strategic obstacles and the innovation which followed them guide us to tackle some of the growing challenges the world faces today? Could military history inspire new approaches to conservation, to help us track poaching and illegal overfishing more efficiently?

The Royal Observer Corps recruiting

The Royal Observer Corps recruiting for volunteers.

Since 2010 The Black Fish has worked at the forefront of driving innovation in conservation; testing the feasibility of new and creative ideas while running field investigations and enforcement campaigns in cooperation with authorities to expose and prosecute illegal fishing. In our recent projects we have revived some long forgotten and seemingly redundant ideas and tactics of decades ago, now readily deployable in the fight for environmental protection and the sustainability of the planet.

The global scale of destruction and conflict during the Second World War is luckily far behind us. However, the world, undoubtedly a safer and more peaceful place now, is facing new global challenges. While those challenges are of a different nature, what is not so different is need to direct limited resources to where they have the biggest impact. In this regard the odds of vastly outnumbered British fighter pilots is not so different from the world’s fishing inspectors currently struggling to take on the vast scale of illegal fishing and the organised crime activities that it facilitates.

A Citizen Inspector observing a port for illegal fishing activities

A Citizen Inspector monitoring vessel activity in a port suspected of harbouring illegal fishing activities. Photo by Kukka Ranta.

The Black Fish is looking for people to volunteer two weeks a year and join its Citizen Inspector Network as civilian fishing inspectors. We offer training, accommodation and a chance for you to actively help investigate and aid prosecution of fishing criminals. Are you interested? We look forward to hear from you!

Become a Citizen Inspector today

Sign up at theblackfish.org/cin

Deadly driftnet loophole exposed in Italy

Italy’s deadly driftnets are back. The illegal use of the destructive nets, thought to have ended on a larger scale thanks to recent measures taken by the EU and Italy, has again been exposed with fresh evidence emerging of their deployment. Citizen Inspectors of The Black Fish, who are currently on deployment to investigate other forms of illegal fishing in the country, were surprised to find evidence of widespread use of the illegal nets. Fishermen, exploiting a new legal loophole, are now openly setting the nets at sea again.

Dubbed the ‘curtains of death’, driftnet form an impenetrable wall in the ocean and while targeting tuna and swordfish, are instead the cause of thousands of cetacean, turtle and shark deaths annually, in the Mediterranean alone. Outlawed by the United Nations in 1992, the use of the nets are strictly regulated in the EU, yet compliance has been a contentious issue for decades.

Samantha Hook of The Black Fish: “At least ten different laws were introduced in the last decade that prohibit the use of driftnets but to no avail. The deadly nets are back. Throughout the last two weeks, as we have carried out inspections in ports across Southern Italy, it has become painstakingly clear that fishers are exploiting a new legal loophole and are once again causing havoc for marine life across the region. We call on EU policy makers to take urgent action and ensure this new loophole is closed before the start of next year’s fishing season.”

Fishers have added metal rings to their nets, arguing that the illegal driftnets on their vessels are instead surrounding nets, used to catch smaller species. Hook: “The international regulations are vague as to what exactly constitutes a surrounding net and fishers are cleverly exploiting this to their advantage. The mesh sizes of the driftnets are far too large to ever catch any smaller fish as surrounding nets do yet the law is obviously not clear enough on this.”

The Black Fish has presented the fresh evidence to the European Commission and US authorities in a bid to push for further sanctions over Italy’s continued disregards for international law concerning the illegal fishing gear. A publicly available report with the latest evidence will be published once The Black Fish’s field investigations in Italy have ended.

Interested in supporting our work? Please make a donation or get actively involved as a Citizen Inspector or volunteer.

How our illegal fishing investigations became self-funding

Last week we launched a new initiative named #OceanCrowd which enables 75% of the necessary funding for our undercover investigations to be raised through participation. How does it work? We question its creator Wietse van der Werf.

Illustration by Sally Madden

What is the #OceanCrowd?

#OceanCrowd is a unique crowdfunding platform that is run by our volunteer fishing inspectors, known as Citizen Inspectors. They give two weeks a year of their time, take part in a four day training and are then deployed as part of an undercover investigation for ten days. Because by the time they are qualified inspectors people have already made such a committment to be involved, they are very driven to crowdfund a contribution towards the costs of the investigation they join. This is where the #OceanCrowd comes in.

Why crowdfunding?

Many environmental programmes where you can volunteer in field work or data collection ask for a contribution from participants. We could have asked for a simple payment but the way we now run #OceanCrowd makes the participatory nature of crowdfunding do wonders. First of all it makes fundraising a shared responsibility for all those in our community. This minimises the need for traditional costly fundraising approaches such as street collections or office based fundraising staff. Secondly it enables us to access potential donors we would typically not be engaged with as people encourage their friends and family to contribute.

So it builds on those personal networks?

Yes and I would go even further to explain it as a type of emotional participation. Chances are that your mother, brother, nephew or colleagues at work are not as passionate about marine conservation as you are. They will be keen to support a loved one in their efforts but less likely to support this type of activism out of their own initiative. As those small networks of friends and family support those close them to join our investigations, it creates a stronger sense of collective ownership over our work. Then there is also the added benefit of those they have supported to report back on the outcomes of our efforts, in person.

And it makes you less reliant on traditional funders?

This new approach turns a project like an investigation that traditionally would be funded by one or two grant giving foundations, into an activity supported by hundreds. Say 20 Citizen Inspectors join an investigation, now it is likely that 300-400 people end up funding it. #OceanCrowd is enabling us to build strong community around ocean conservation.

Don’t you still need those grants?

Absolutely! Being more financially independent and opening up new avenues of funding is all about making us stronger and our model more sustainable as we increase our donor base. However, the reality is that most grant giving foundations have their own focuses and objectives. As there is less of a need for us to appease these donors’ specific interests, such as with campaigns to protecting more charismatic species or focus on specific geographical regions, we can run investigations on those issues that aren’t as popular, yet equally important. Examples of this are our work on illegal fish aggregating devices and the illegal shellfish trade.

What are your investigations focused on the coming months?

We typically do not announce where we are heading before our investigations but you can be sure that we will be out with increased numbers of Citizen Inspectors to scale up monitoring capacity along Europe’s shores. It’s all in a bid to locate illegal fishing and by working in direct partnership with enforcement agencies, we hope to secure further confiscations of illegal fishing gears and prosecution of those breaking the law.

Seems you have a good thing going with the crowdfunding!

Crowdfunding is all about involving ordinary people in realising ideas and making people feel ownership over the projects they support. If anything, the enthusiasm of ordinary people and their participation is what we need now more than ever in ocean conservation and the #OceanCrowd is a powerful tool for us to make this happen.