Ocean photojournalist Shane Gross on saving our seas.
The water worlds captured by photojournalist Shane Gross are as awe-inspiring as they are fragile. The Canadian turned Bahamian has spent years photographing undersea creatures, becoming established within the intimate relationships of untamed environments.
Gross’s acclimation to the seas has also brought to light the pressures that environmental degradation and poor practices have put on oceanic ecosystems, leading to living a life of activism beyond photojournalism, with conservationism being one of his greatest passions.
Gross works hard to educate and raise awareness about the state of our oceans, offering a peek into the secret lives of marine life with actionable items to help protect them. Through small, but impactful changes, Gross assures us that we too can become stewards of the sea, helping to restore marine systems to a healthy balance.
Combat climate change
Coral Reefs have seen devastating effects from climate change. Appropriately dubbed the rainforests of the sea, reefs cover less than 1% of the ocean floor but provide biodiverse-rich ecosystems that house over 1/4 of the world’s marine life (among other average things like preventing coastal erosion and fixing nitrogen + CO2 to make food). These marine forests are put under strain as the warming and acidifying effects of climate change cause bleaching events and mass deterioration, sometimes wiping out entire systems.
Decreased energy consumption and adoption of renewable energy resources are great practices to aid reef health and combat climate change. Here are some easy things to implement into the daily routine.
- When commuting and traveling — bike, bus or walk.
- When taking a vacation, fly economy.
- At home be sure to switch lights off when not in use and swap those halogen lights out for energy conserving LEDs.
- Air dry your laundry and dishes when possible.
- Use less water by making use of greywater for gardens. Purchase water conserving appliances when they’re due to be replaced.
- Often overlooked, food choices have a critical impact on climate change. “Climate change is the biggest threat to coral reefs and the meat industry is actually worse for climate change than the transportation industry,” states Gross. This doesn’t mean you have to go vegan tomorrow. Start small and manageable with a day per week as Gross suggests, “Meatless Monday is a great campaign and something to give a try — it does help!”
- More easy climate change combat tactics here.
Use less plastic
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris — litter that ends up in large bodies of water — in the northern Pacific Ocean. The debris is largely made up of plastics around 1mm in diameter and microplastics invisible to the naked eye (it’s not a trash island like you might imagine). Because plastic is engineered to be indestructible, it breaks down into exponentially smaller pieces so organisms of all sizes, even bacteria, are threatened by lethal plastics ingestion.
Shane’s advice? Simply use less non-biodegradable, synthetic polymer products. “Bring your own bag to the grocery store. Drink from a reusable water bottle. Do you really need that straw? Supporting businesses that use biodegradable alternatives is also a great practice to adopt. It may seem small, but it makes a difference,” Gross assures.
More realistic ways to avoid plastics in your day to day at Reef Relief.
Purchase ocean friendly products
Research and conscious purchasing power can have a great impact. Many ingredients in common products are toxic to humans and marine life so it’s important to read labels and familiarize yourself with chemical names. Gross urges to, “buy sunscreens that are reef safe as a lot of them are lethal to coral.” Most reef-friendly sunscreens will advertise on the bottle so that’s an easy one.
Go the next mile and seek out certified organic and environmentally responsible products. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides used in commercial food production contaminate groundwater which flows into the sea causing algal blooms and dead zones. It requires some background checks to ensure that companies and products practice the environmental claims they make, however, taking the time to choose local, organic foods and feed home gardens with natural fertilizers can do wonders for ocean health and is well worth the energy investment. “With education, we can avoid supporting businesses that pollute, blast and disrupt ecosystems with careless practices,” adds Gross.
Check out these brands for more ocean-friendly apparel ideas.
Make sustainable seafood choices
Decades of overfishing have negatively impacted many species and affected the delicate balance of oceanic ecosystems. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed is a reduction in big fish,” Gross notes. “As one fish is no longer commercially viable, fishermen move on to another species until it’s depleted and so on.” Gross suggests trying to eat sustainably sourced fish that lie lower on the food chain and to cut down consumption to a few times per week. “Fish farming is improving and may someday hold part of the answer to this problem, but at the moment, farming is compounding it. We need to keep experimenting with it on a small scale until we get it right,” Gross adds.
In addition, invasive species (foreign plants and animals that are introduced into ecosystems by human interference) can destroy habitats and out-compete native species, disrupting a precarious balance. “We can’t forget everything is connected. If you’re going to eat fish, do your research so you’re not contributing to an invasive species problem,” Gross urges. He’s had first-hand experience in The Bahamas with a native species called the lionfish which, in his opinion, taste great. “In fact,” Gross explains, “they are the only fish I will eat because it actually does the reef a favor. It is highly unlikely humans will be able to eradicate lionfish from the Atlantic, but cutting their numbers may give nature more time to adapt.”
Oceanwise’s sustainable seafood journey is a great resource for the best fish and shellfish to look out for and request.
“Much like national parks on land, we need a network of marine areas that are off-limits to extraction and development”
Support marine parks
When asked to offer just one cause or action to help our oceans today, Gross named marine reserves as having the greatest impact.
“Much like national parks on land, we need a network of marine areas that are off-limits to extraction and development. Right now, just below 4% of the oceans are protected in some way — but that is up from 1% just a few decades ago, so there is hope. Scientists tell us we need about 30-50% of the seas protected if we want to have healthy oceans,” says Gross.
Share information and help educate
Educating and sharing information is crucial for spreading awareness and helping people make good choices. There are countless organizations who have put immense amounts of effort and time into protecting our oceans. Here are a few of Shane’s favorite causes and educators.
- Dr Sylvia Earle’s Hope Spots campaign that aims to protect areas of the ocean that are still relatively healthy is a great one to support. If you haven’t watched it yet I highly recommend watching “Mission Blue” on Netflix – it is a great motivator when all these problems start to weigh you down.
- The Save Our Seas Foundation supports scientists and conservationists in the field and looks to protect charismatic ocean animals which in turn helps protect all the species below them in the food web. They also support marine conservation photographers and storytellers.
- PEW is a big one – these guys get real conservation results!
- The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society provides enforcement services to animals that are in countries which cannot afford to enforce their marine conservation laws. Laws in the ocean are needed, but meaningless if poachers have free reign.
“We need to focus our efforts on educating and empowering people globally so we can make informed choices. Everything is connected. If we all use our skills, talents and wallets to make the world a better place, it will be!”