“Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere, is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.” — Sylvia Earle, oceanographer
For World Ocean Day, Age of Union met with local Montreal changemaker and environmental awareness content creator Marie-Dominique Michaud. Michaud is currently working with her team partner Lolande Cadrin-Rossignol on a new documentary “The Ocean Seen from the Heart”, a positive and educational voice on ocean preservation. Her fresh perspective on the subject inspired us and we wanted to share her thoughts with you on this day of hope.
Age of Union: It seems that lately governments and the media are turning their attention towards ocean preservation, why is this such a trending topic right now?
Marie-Dominique Michaud: Ocean protection is essential to solving big picture environmental issues. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) has called on all world leaders to do everything possible to increase the number of cetaceans in our oceans, as they are one of our best warriors in the context of climate emergencies. Why? Because whales have the amazing ability to capture carbon dioxide and utilize it to fertilize phytoplankton, which in turn, creates our oxygen. Phytoplankton is responsible for 50% of oxygen production. The Saint-Lawrence – one of Canada’s longest rivers – has the largest whale estuary in the world, home to 13 species of whales.
How whales regulate the climate
° Whales feed in the deep ocean and then come back to the surface to breath: this type of movement makes nutrients circulate and is known as a “whale pump”
° Whales release their excrement at the surface: they are nutrient rich and provides food for phytoplankton
FACTS ABOUT PHYTOPLANKTON
° Absorbs ⅓ of Co2 from the atmosphere: regulates climate change
° Provides half of the planet oxygen: every other breath you take comes from phytoplankton
Age of Union: Do you think there is still time to regenerate our oceans?
Marie-Dominique Michaud: Yes, absolutely. More and more actions are happening to restore the coasts, but we must also protect the high seas. The high seas are an area that does not belong to anyone, so there is no legislation to protect this area. The recently released documentary Seaspiracy actually shows how it is threatened by the massive plunder of resources. Today, thanks to technology such as satellite surveillance such as Global Fishing Watch, we can better identify the pirates and act accordingly, like Sea Shepherd is doing. The high seas must be protected at all costs and, when used properly, technology can be a valuable ally to take action in our race against time.
What does "high seas" mean?
In international and maritime law, the term "high seas" refers to the open ocean that is not part of an exclusive economic zone, territorial sea or internal waters of any state or country. It is the common property of all nations.
The freedom of the high seas includes: freedom of navigation, freedom of fishing, freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines, and freedom of overflight.
Age of Union: You say that technology is key for ocean conservation. What other approaches or tools can make a difference?
Marie-Dominique Michaud: I believe that the secret for change lies in the plurality of actions. The greatest impacts can be seen when changemakers rely on their individual passions and creativity to find solutions. For example, Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson's patrols on the ocean, or Sandra Bessudo – the former minister of the environment in Colombia – who created the Malpelo Foundation and built the largest shark sanctuary in the world, are complementary actions that make a huge difference.
We must also integrate more indigenous traditional knowledge and practices: the collective action of the rāhui from the Māori tradition (as found in Polynesia, New Zealand) is a great example. This practice has been modernized to fight pollution and current environmental challenges. In two decades, biodiversity has returned at a much faster rate than expected.
For those who can’t act on the ground because they live in urban centers, becoming more aware of the intelligence of marine animals can make a difference. In his book What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins, Jonathan Balcolm is completely reshaping perspectives to show that the intelligence of marine life is completely underestimated. The more you know, the more empathy you have, and the more empathy, the more you will be motivated to act. Everyone can make their own contribution to change.
What is a Rahui?
A rāhui originates from the Māori culture. Set by a local community after an event on their territory, its goal is to temporarily ban the harvesting of essential resources being on land or the ocean, enabling the area in question to naturally restore itself. The rāhui relies on the Māori worldview that humans are directly linked to flora and fauna and therefore, what affects a part, affects the whole.
Age of Union: One important message that you’d like to share about the ocean?
Marie-Dominique Michaud: The good news is that the ocean has the tremendous ability to regenerate itself quickly when given the chance. The ocean is, above all, our greatest ally because of its resilience. The ocean will naturally restore itself if we just leave it alone. This is where the individual becomes crucial, a plurality of initiatives will help our oceans heal. Everyone has their own way to help, and all these actions are integral to the future of our seas.
Help the ocean from home
To act individually and collectively, priority must be given to:
° reducing our carbon footprint
° eating little or no fish
° getting information through books, documentaries, scientific journals
° avoiding pollution at the source (pesticides, plastic, makeup residue, etc)
° supporting initiatives for the conservation and regeneration of marine areas
An interview of Marie-Dominique Michaud – changemaker and content producer for environmental awareness – by Age of Union’s Mariette Raina
Marie-Dominique Michaud is co-author and co-director with Iolande Cadrin-Rossignol, as well as the producer of the documentary "The Ocean Seen from the Heart” to be released in 2022. This documentary follows the first piece “The Earth seen from the Heart” (2016) that traces the journey of the environmentalist Hubert Reeves to save the planet and invites scientists, philosophers, first nation representatives to speak about their research, experience and vision. “The Ocean Seen from the Heart” will feature David Suzuki, Frédéric Lenoir, Sandra Bessudo, Mario Cyr, Kim Juniper and Lyne Morissette, to name a few, with the purpose of raise awareness about marine life and reconnect people emotionally with the ocean. Marie-Dominique Michaud is a self-taught film producer driven by her passion for environmental causes.
Photo of Phytoplankton by NOAA Marine Sanctuary