By Cora Hilts
Originally from the Maine countryside, Cora spent five years in Paris and New York City intermittently working in luxury fashion and studying Politics before ending up in London.
Hawai-based Natalie Parra is an activist, conservationist, researcher and co-founder of Keiko Conservation, an organization trying to create accessible ways for anyone to participate in marine conservation from anywhere in the world. We are fortunate enough to talk to her about the issues surrounding our ocean and understand how we can take action !
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became an environmentalist ?
I was raised in California by the ocean and for as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with marine life. As I grew up, I began home-schooling and working at a young age in film and design, but all it took was one attempt at free diving and I was hooked. I felt like it sort of snapped me back to that little ocean-obsessed girl I’d always imagined I would grow up to be. At that point, I basically dropped everything and moved to Hawaii to pursue diving as much as possible. A lot of people have asked me why I chose to get involved in marine conservation and activism but I don’t think it was ever a conscious choice. Conservation just sort of came hand in hand with diving. It’s difficult to spend a day out on the water and not see the impact we’re having on marine life. The ocean has given me so much, truly everything, and it’s impossible for me to not try and find any and every way I’m able to lessen that impact and encourage people to do the same.
How did you come to co-found keiko conservation ?
My friend Siena Schaar and I eventually wanted to get even more hands on involved with marine conservation, but we weren’t exactly sure how to go about it. So we decided to form a group to find the small things we could change and pursue them. It grew faster than we ever imagined and we now have a team of 13 volunteers running five international chapters.
What are the most pressing issues facing our oceans ?
We’re pretty much attacking the ocean from all sides right now. Ocean acidification, pollution, marine debris, overfishing, global warming are all such intense and thorough issues that even if we were to completely halt one, the oceans would still be in desperate need of our help.
So, if I had to pick one thing, I think it would be apathy. There are so many people who know what’s going on and think they’re either too small to make a change or that it doesn’t really affect them anyways. We’ve treated animals and nature as nothing but a resource for so long, but our planet can only take so much. We really need to engage people and get them to care and make sure the next generation does, too.
Could you tell our readers about your plastic debris campaigns : #nerdsagainstnurdles / #grab4tag4 ?
#Grab4Tag4 was the first marine debris challenge we started and it was actually inspired by the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. We thought, what if we could get people to do something similar and tag their friends to partake in an action that gets them out on the beach and seeing how much trash is accumulating on shores around the world? It was really fun to see how many people joined in and how many of them told us later that now whenever they go to the beach they can’t stop themselves from picking up far more than four pieces.
The next one we launched is still currently ongoing. It’s called #NerdsAgainstNurdles. We encouraged people to make artwork out of marine debris, particularly with microplastic and nurdles and upload it to their social media accounts to show their friends with the goal of spreading the word about what how plastic begins, how it ends up, and what those little pellets called nurdles are.
Photography – Marina Kulakova – Reef Clean Up
What are the items in our day to day lives that usually end up in the ocean ?
Oh goodness there are so many. Pretty much everything that’s single use and has a plastic or polystyrene component. Even small things we don’t normally think of like the little plastic stick between cotton swabs or the thin inner plastic lining on our paper coffee cups most people don’t even know is there. Every plastic item we use will outlive us. No matter how far inland someone may be, our plastic items have thousands of years to find their way to waterways and the sea. It’s a really big commitment to make to a take-away bag or plastic stirrer when we you think about it !
Do you see a positive or negative change regarding the protection of the ocean ?
It’s hard to say. The stakes are definitely higher than ever. Things are constantly changing so quickly and most of them are negative, but there’s definitely a growing movement that’s really positive and exciting. Technology and social media can be double-edged swords, but they’ve allowed us to find the people around the world who care about the ocean as much as we do and bring them together behind a cause in an unprecedented way and I really think it’s growing!
What can the average person do to ensure the future health of our oceans ?
Believe that your voice and the small actions you do everyday really do have an impact on the environment, because they truly do. Every single plastic bag, cup, spoon, foam tray we don’t use is one less in our environment. Treat everything you buy like a vote for the products you want to see on shelves. If we all begin refusing the ones causing a negative impact, the markets, restaurants, and businesses that carry them will stop restocking them and purchasing more from the manufacturers. Don’t feel like you can’t make a difference unless you drop your entire life, job, or family to run off and try and save the world. There are so many people from so many different backgrounds contributing in creative ways. Whether you’re in design, filmmaking, photography, education, media, pretty much anything, there is almost always ways to get creative and apply your unique skills to a cause you’re passionate about to bring more awareness to it. We also constantly post on our social media platforms about small ways you can contribute to a cause, even if it’s just from your phone or laptop. Taking the minute or add your voice to a cause actually makes a huge difference on some of the projects we’re working on, especially when it comes to legislature or hearings held for public comments.
Finally, what is your most unforgettable moment in the sea ?
We’ve recently been pushing for Sea Life, a Hawaiian Marine Park, to retire a false killer whale they acquired by auction – the last surviving animal in the US from a Japanese drive fishery. She was kept in a small tub with little stimuli or shade. In the wild, false killer whales are extremely intelligent. It’s hard to fathom what it must be like for her in this concrete tub.
While in Revillagigedo, I scanned the water daily for signs of false killer whales. On my second day, we were preparing for a dive when I looked over, saw the head of a one pop up. It was too good to be true to get my hopes up. What if they were close by but not close enough to actually see under the water from where we were? My worries were cut off as they began to move closer before swimming beneath us. It was surreal to be engulfed in all the sounds they make. It gave me hope that there is a better life for Kina, be it in a sea sanctuary or sea pen. This is the life she was robbed of and we owe it to her to get her out of that tub.