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The Art of Conservation - Interview with Conservation Film & Photojournalist Joakim Odelberg

“I work as a conservation film and photojournalist, where I try to be the voice for the voiceless.”
Photo by Joakim Odelberg

Please tell us a little about Yourself…

I grew up in a small village 60 km north of Gothenburg, Sweden. It is a coastal village, so I grew up by the sea.

I always felt drawn to the Ocean, and for as long as I remember, I've been curious about the underwater world.

When I was three years old, I got my first diving mask, the best gift ever, - it still is. Later, when I was ten years old, I took my first diving certificate. I started to dive because I wanted to dive with sharks. I love them.

How would you define Your mission ?

My mission is to raise awareness, and change people's attitudes and behaviors towards a more sustainable and understanding future.

What aspects do You find to be the most important concerning Ocean Conservation ?

We need to do so many things, and we need to take action now, not tomorrow, - preferably yesterday.

We know the fishing industry fished out the Oceans between 70% to 90%.

We know that 3 billion people are dependent on fish as a primary source of protein. Most of those 3 billion people come from developing countries.

We need to change behavior and habits in how we consume seafood.

Another important thing is that only 6% of the Oceans are protected. Scientists agree that we need to protect at least 30%. Some even say we should protect 50%, and I agree with that. I've been diving worldwide, in marine protected areas and non-protected areas, and the difference speaks for itself.

It shows that if we leave marine areas alone, life will come back and thrive.

We know that the Oceans cover a little more than 70% of our planet. The Oceans are our lungs and our heart. It provides us with oxygen for us to breathe, it provides us with food, and we are about to mess it up.

You are a member of the highly respected Explorers Club,You have been on many expeditions, You have several collaborations…

What is Your most groundbreaking Ocean experience, and how has it inspired You ?

Less than a year ago, Todd Steiner, the Executive Director at Turtle Island Restoration Network reached out to me.

He is also an Explorers Club Fellow. Todd invited me to this fascinating and exciting Shark tagging expedition to Cocos Island, Costa Rica.

The reason for this expedition is to understand the moving patterns of Sharks and other marine species, to establish a Mission Blue Hope spot called "Swim Way."

This year, Mission Blue announced that the “Swim Way” between Cocos Island and Galapagos is now a Mission Blue Hope Spot, - fantastic news !

Photo by Joakim Odelberg

It was a super exciting expedition. My job was to document the hard and time-consuming work of Shark tagging.

There were two different ways of tagging.

First, it was diving, and we hid behind rocks at cleaner stations, and we were just sitting there, waiting for a Shark to swim past.

At 32 m (105 feet), You don't have so much time, so luck, skill and timing are crucial for a tagging success.

The other method was, that before breakfast and before diving, we went out at 4 AM to catch sharks from the boat.

When the team managed to catch a shark, we secured it to the boat's side, still in the water, and there we attached both a satellite and audio tag.

We also took a skin sample, blood sample, and we secured DNA.

This expedition result was, that Mission Blue could, with help from scientists, announce that the “Swim Way” between the Galapagos and Cocos Island is now officially a Mission Blue Hope Spot.

Has Your approach to Ocean Conservation changed over the years ?

I started working in Conservation because I had this fantastic encounter with a Manta Ray in Southeast Asia in 2007.

I couldn't believe my eyes when suddenly this beautiful being occurred like an angel from the deep blue.

I fell in love then and there.

This manta ray stayed with me for about 50 minutes, and when we came back up on the boat, there was a guy who opened up a beer can, knocked it back, and threw the can over his shoulder into the sea.

I reacted very strongly to that, and from that moment, I changed the path in life. From that moment, I decided to work towards changing people's attitudes and behavior.

I guess it's thanks to the guy with the beer can, that I do what I do today.

From 2007 up to now 2020, lots of good things happened, when it comes to Ocean Conservation. People are more aware. I feel that more people care about the Ocean's environment and understand how important the Sea is to our survival.

Sadly we have so much more work to do.

I know it's a long answer, but you asked if my approach to Ocean conservation changed over the years, and I have to say yes…

- It has changed. Today I work harder and more intense than I ever did before, contributing to reach The Global Goals 2030.

Photo by Joakim Odelberg

How do You experience people's reactions to Your work ?

Most of the time, the reactions are very positive, and people are curious and want to know more about how to change routines and attitudes towards a more sustainable future.

Of course, there are people who don't believe in Climate Change, that we fished out our Oceans, Coral Bleaching, acidification, and global warming… but sadly all of that are scientific facts.

Those deniers are the most important clientele. Those are the people we need to address.

It's always easy to preach for the choir and for the believers. I'm aiming for the unbelievers.

Photo by Joakim Odelberg

Are You optimistic about the future of the Oceans ?

Yes, I am optimistic about the future of our Ocean. I am convinced that we can change this negative trend to a positive one.

Many have told me, that what I do is mission impossible, that we can't change attitudes and behavior.

I say nothing is impossible. Of course, we can.

For example, during the pandemic, when our governments announced the restrictions and regulations to fight Covid-19, most of us changed our routines and our behaviors, and we did it together.

What advice do you wish to give the readers of Oceans Daily Magazine?

“Keep an open mind. Be curious - Trust science. Suppose You feel that You want to be a part of a better, and sustainable future. Don't be afraid to get Your hands dirty. It starts with You. Together, we can make significant changes.”


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