Already this year has been a whirlwind adventure as I learn how to balance my GUE NextGen Scholarship, my full-time job and now world-wide pandemic. Just like you, I am missing the outdoors, the chance to get salty and see my ocean friends but on the positive side, I have been able to get through my to-do list - the one that I seemed to never get through. For this blog I want to share with you my job when I am not diving and it's a chance to show you what it is like underwater in New Zealand through 360 videos that a FREE for everyone to view. Make sure you check them out!
As many of you know, I am a part-time mermaid, part-time environmental educator, full time ocean lover and bringing everybody on board.
I can hear you asking, what is an Environmental Educator???
Well… it’s exactly what it sounds like! I teach people about the environment but instead of just talking I show them their environment.
Using a Boxfish camera to film 360-VR videos, a team from New Zealand Geographic filmed and produced VR experiences to enable people to experience what it is like beneath the surface around New Zealand’s coast. You can deep dive at the Poor Knights where you weave through bright finger sponges, hit walls of blue mao mao, and dodge giant stingrays! Then be flying high above New Zealand’s active volcano Whakaari / White Island before submerging yourself at the Kermadecs following a school of HUGE kingfish.
With this amazing footage, the BLAKE NZ-VR team (myself, Alice Ward-Allen – avid surfer and all-round an environmental bad-ass and Courtney Davies – who shares my love of sweet things and is kicking arse in agriculture) visit schools with a class set of VR headsets to take students on a virtual underwater adventure.
Imagine Blue Planet but 360 degrees! You’re completely immersed in it and then realising that it’s in our backyard!! What’s even better is these videos are FREE and online for everyone to experience.
Check out here - https://www.nzgeo.com/vr/
Why an Architectural degree?
I have always loved the ocean and all the marine life within. If I had a superpower, it would be to have gills so I could breathe underwater. When I left high school, I decided not to pursue Bachelor of Science as I have always found reading and writing difficult. As many of you know (or might realise cause I always have spelling mistakes in my posts….ALWAYS) that I am dyslexic and find immersive learning the way I learn best.
I got to teach at my high school last year and show my amazing biology teacher what I have been up too since leaving school. After the class, she came up and laughed saying - “You have just taught a whole class about complex biology processes like filter feeding and here I always thought you didn’t like biology because you always struggled in your exams.” I smiled and realised that it wasn’t the subject I didn’t like, I struggled with learning out of a book.
(*my dyslexia wasn’t identified until my first university were I completed a Diagnostic English Language Needs Assessment)
So instead I did an Architecture degree as there was a huge practical element that allowed me to be hands-on. Like building my own coffee table and working on site, conserving Sir Edmund Hillary’s Hut (check out my blog here) with BLAKE as part of their ambassador program.
I could not speak more highly of my architectural degree, and do not regret it in the slightest. You are always trying to solve a problem or make something better when you are designing. My architectural degree allowed me to approach problems, thinking outside of the box. I have also found my skills in design programs like photoshop and illustrator extremely useful for any job, you would be surprised some of the jobs I have done. Like cutting out 39 peoples faces and imposing them on every Lord of the Rings characters to make a massive poster.
On the side, I gained marine knowledge through experience in the marine industry, trying to find ways of living my Marine Biology life too.
So I am probably more of a part-time mermaid, part-time educator and part-time designer. Although if you had asked me the question when I graduated my masters - what are you going to do now, I hadn’t the faintest idea. Although something that has always resonated with me is “your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do." - Steve Jobs.
At the beginning of 2019, I was approached by BLAKE. For those that don’t know BLAKE - it is an incredible non for-profit organisation that inspires environmental passion and change. The organisation was set up to honour Sir Peter Blake, a New Zealand hero in the sailing world and a champion for our environment. He one of my own personal heroes that I always looked up too and had was lucky enough to have seen him sailing the Americas Cup off our family boat and waved to our us before his race.
BLAKE has a series of programmes that involve a hand-on, experiential learning around our environment targeted at different ages. I had been previously been involved in BLAKE Ambassadors that is targeted for people between 18-25 years old, giving people the opportunity to have internships with environmental partners like Antarctica New Zealand, NIWA National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and DOC Department of Conservation.
Over a coffee, we discuss the challenges facing our ocean and the term “Ocean blindness”. Understanding issues facing our oceans is difficult if you have never had the opportunity to see beneath the surface and conservation should end at the water’s edge. In the ocean there is a shifting baseline as it is often determined by people’s first experience seeing underwater, either by snorkelling or scuba diving and then the oceans ‘health’ or “sustainability” is often measured against that. The opportunity to snorkel or scuba dive provides more obstacles to experience the beauty ocean beneath the surface compare to visiting a national park or nature reserve on land. Therefore it is harder to see and track changes that are treating our ocean.
Diving through Virtual Reality
I have always wanted to take every single person on a dive with me to show them the wonder I have seen. This new programme was the closest to that which I am super excited to be apart of. Bringing the ocean to people is my dream come true. Little did I realise that in that year I would be showing over 20,000 people my favourite dive sites around New Zealand and explain how we are all impacting this ecosystem.
“I can’t see my feet!!!”
“The seaweed is touching me”
“Look up! There’s a diver! Wooow there is a stingray beside him!!!”
“I feel like I am actually diving”
This is was makes me so excited each time I teach a class. Through VR, students experience what I love about diving so much, opening their eyes to a completely new world as well as the damage that's been done to the marine ecosystem.
Students can glide with stingrays, swim through swaying sargassum weed at the Three Kings, dive with pilot whales off the edge of the continental shelf, explore the shallows of Parengarenga Harbour, experience the charms and challenges of the Hauraki Gulf and even swim with humpback whales in Niue! If you are in lockdown this is the best way to get your diving fix. The videos include natural sounds too! That means you can hear the humpback whales singing!!!
Creating a NZ marine environment baseline
Through the VR videos, you can set that healthy baseline. After that, it is very easy to see what in unhealthy. For example below is a compassion between a protected area and unprotected area. You don’t have to be a marine biologist to realise that the unprotected area has little seaweed and less fish.
After experiencing the different environment, we can discuss how the unprotected area has become unhealthy. If you target the top predators in a food chain and overfish, this creates an unbalanced food chain allowing Kina (Food source of top predators like Snapper and Crayfish) to overpopulate and graze over the rocking eating all of the seaweed. Seen in the diagram below.
The ocean seems massive, and just like on land everything has a purpose. Just because we actually can’t count exactly how fish are left in the ocean doesn’t mean we can’t run out of fish and that our individual actions won’t matter. Each time you are fishing or buying seafood you can be a mindful consumer. If I am fishing with my Dad we take only what we need for a meal and use the whole fish. If you are buying seafood, think about how it was caught or if its sustainable. We can take pressure off over exploited fisheries and learn about which seafood items are “sustainable” thinking about how they have been caught. Not sure where to start. You can check out the best fish guide online that indicates how sustainable each seafood species is.
Pollution in the ocean isn’t just Plastic, but this is the most visual. Most of us will have seen the viral videos of turtles with straws in their noses, Leatherback turtles eating Jellyfish that look like plastic bags, a seahorse wrapped around an earbud or a whale stomach fill of plastic. This is visually disturbing and an easy problem to see but pollution can take many forms.
The tyre is an obvious form of pollution, but what about the visibility in the water? Sometimes we all forget that anything that is running down our drains and off our land is going straight into the ocean. This doesn’t mean it disappears, its just harder to see beneath the surface. Even increase amounts of sediment which is naturally occurring material (consists of rocks, minerals, remains of plants and animals) from weathering can overload our coastlines. It would be like someone tipping a truck load of mud and dust over you. It would be very difficult to move or breathe. That’s what is happening to anything living on the seafood including shellfish. We just need to be careful about what is going into the ocean and not using it as a dumping ground.
In New Zealand, Maori our indigenous population have a term called kaitiakitanga, embodying being a guardian for our environment.
Regardless if you are a diving nerd like me or you would prefer to admire the ocean from afar. The ocean is an incredible part of our world that all life depends on. We all have to step up and think about our actions. If everyone can change there every day lives as the world went into lockdown then we can differently make change to help our ocean. Not just for the turtles but for every sea creature, from plankton the tiniest organisms to the largest including whales and sharks.
We want to have a future that includes catching your own seafood and swimming through kelp forests seeing the feelers of huge crayfish hiding below. We want to still be able to swim in healthy water, being schooled by thousands of fish and watching massive work ups, where the surface is bubbling with fish and seabirds are diving from above.
We are ALL connected to our ocean and that means we ALL have a responsibility to protect and look after our ocean too.