Mercedes Lee is assistant director of National Audubon Society’s Living Oceans Program and editor of Seafood Lover’s Almanac.

Monday, 4 Jun 2001

ISLIP, N.Y.

Hi, I’m Mercedes Lee, assistant director of National Audubon Society’s Living Oceans Program. I’ve been with Audubon for more than 17 years (practically my entire adult life) in various policy, programmatic, and editorial capacities. I came to be with the Living Oceans Program when it was first founded by Carl Safina (author of Song for the Blue Ocean) in 1993. It’s been truly a life-changing experience that has influenced who I am in almost every way. I’m able to involve myself creatively and to work on things I care about — wildlife and nature — with people who are intelligent, passionate, and extremely committed.

In my diary entries this week, I hope to give you an idea of the issues our staff and I work on, the strategies we employ, and what tasks these things require. But first a little context.

Since its founding nearly a decade ago, the Living Oceans Program has worked to increase awareness and improve the plight of ocean life. Currently we have a staff of 12 working in Islip, N.Y.; Manhattan; Washington, D.C.; Oregon; and Hawaii. Until recently we focused pretty exclusively on marine fish (analyzing trends in fish populations, advocating policy changes in how fisheries were managed, and increasing public awareness). We recently hired Bill Brown, former science advisor to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, as director of Living Oceans. This marked an expansion and reorganization of our program into four initiatives: sustainable fishing, seafood lovers, ocean parks, and sea ethic — an ecological conscience that embraces the oceans as a profound and nurturing source of wealth now and for all time, for all living things.

As astounding as it may seem, before we started our program, marine fish had gone unremarked upon by the mainstream environmental community, because fish weren’t viewed as wildlife. Marine fish conservation has since burgeoned into a whole and new very active environmental field. Fish and other marine animals are the last wildlife commercially hunted on a large scale. The present global pursuit of ocean creatures for food is unparalleled in the history of our planet. Understandable, considering these finned creatures provide an essential source of food for an increasingly crowded world, and in the process feed billions and billions of dollars into the world economy.

I will save you from the statistical details of how many species are declining, overfished, or facing commercial extinction and what that means in terms of the overall health of our oceans and world food security. Suffice it to say, it was easy to build a certain gestalt around the tragedies facing the blue part of our planet. In unfortunate — but necessary — characteristic fashion with many environmental initiatives that have come before us, the marine fish conservation movement’s modus operandi was to motivate through bad news and outrage. This seems to be a necessary step in drawing attention to a problem.

Well, it’s easy to turn a deaf ear to constant bad news. But I’ve come to understand (perhaps it’s a matter of personal survival) that outrage is not the only way to motivate. Simple necessity and inspiration can be at the heart of change. I took on the challenge to create a campaign that translates confusing and depressing information about the oceans into something that would attract people, resonate with them, draw them into wanting to learn more, and help them take simple actions that make a big difference. I figured that if I wasn’t inspired by the work I was doing, no one else would be either.