Do you know the legend of the hummingbird?
One day a terrible fire broke out in a forest. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the forest. As they came to the edge of a stream, they stopped to watch the fire and they were feeling very discouraged and powerless. They were all bemoaning the destruction of their homes. Every one of them thought there was nothing they could do about the fire, except for one little hummingbird. This particular hummingbird decided it would do something. It swooped into the stream and picked up a few drops of water and went into the forest and put them on the fire. Then it went back to the stream and did it again, and it kept going back, again and again, and again. All the other animals watched in disbelief; some tried to discourage the hummingbird with comments like, “Don’t bother, it is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too tiny, it’s only a drop, you can’t put out this fire.” And as the animals stood around disparaging the little bird’s efforts, the bird noticed how hopeless and forlorn they looked. Then one of the animals shouted out and challenged the hummingbird in a mocking voice, “What do you think you are doing?” And the hummingbird, without wasting time or losing a beat, looked back and said, “I am doing my part.”
Last fall, at a networking event, someone mentioned I was like this little hummingbird as I was explaining my deep motivation behind World Adventure Divers. While these were some the kindest words, however, somehow, they triggered a depressing feeling in me. I wanted to write a compelling piece about ocean conservation but it took me 6 months to write this article.
” But… I am bigger than a hummingbird, I should be able to do more…”
Last summer, screening the sea for dolphins with Marine Biologist Kimon in Alonissos National Park, I asked: “How do you define the aim of conservation?” He answered the job was mainly about collecting data, in his case long hours at sea to look for cetaceans and to record when, where, which individual and what type of behaviours. Then a long analysis job starts to give a meaning to the large amount of data collected. The scientific information will serve to educate and hopefully influence policymakers.
The scientist in me was quite satisfied with such a logical way of proceeding, but the blogger in me, far less patient, wants to spread the word and take action, so hopefully, you can be inspired to do the same. Writing can be so powerful when you find the right words and manage to strike a chord.
But who am I am to tell others what to do? I am not a role model; my lifestyle is still far from being the ultimate example of veganism, zero waste or zero carbon emission. Should I write about it? Can I write about it? Should I just publish another listicle with eco-friendly lifestyle ideas but not taking proper actions myself? Am I an imposter? Is the solution to end any form of travel and just go back living in a cave to answer potential detractors?
Please, take this article as a roundup of where I am in my journey of doing a little better for our planet and our oceans, and pick whatever resonates like something easy you can do to hopefully start yours if you have not started yet, and if you did, maybe your next step.
What I have been doing so far in hummingbird mode
- Learning about climate change and environmental regulation. Thanks to my internship in solar thermal systems in Canada, I realised I could do good with the knowledge cumulated during my engineering studies. I moved back to France after another internship in hydropower with a clear understanding of global warming top causes. Interestingly, regarding greenhouse gases emissions, I realised the European Union was third (10%), just behind China (27%) and the USA (14%). Also contrary to common belief, in Europe, the top 3 sectors which consumers can have a direct impact are road transportation (18%), households energy consumption (14%) and agriculture (9%) while aviation is behind with 3% impact. After years of product development in renewable heating systems, I finally found my calling in working in the European regulatory environment during my 2 years in Scotland and continued on this path from Paris until now. I learnt we should never lose sight that reducing our carbon footprint is one good thing but it has to come with law enforcement. Corporations do not move unless they have to.
- Pledging to be a responsible scuba diver. From the very first day of my Open Water training, I heard my instructors saying non-stop “only leave bubbles”. While I thought that was quite obvious, I soon discovered it was far from being obvious for everyone, beginners like experienced divers. I have seen some divemasters who could not care less when divers were destroying coral reefs behind them because of terrible buoyancy control, or for the sake of a tip, won’t hesitate to feed or harass marine life to make sure their clients can take the best pictures. The more I dive, the more I witness that unfortunately not all scuba divers are ocean ambassadors yet, but everyone can start doing better at any time. The French NGO Longitude 181 did a great job at summarising all the best practices in 10 languages. Have a look at the International Guidelines for Responsible Divers: from working on buoyancy skills to responsible tourism choices, I agree with 100% of what is written. If you do too, please share with your friends!
- Changing a few habits in my daily life. It just all started with carrying a reusable fabric shopping bag and stopping eating red meat at home a few years ago. Today I always take my reusable bags and water bottle, and I am a kind of lousy vegetarian who does not like labels and is just doing her best. I would love to brag about my seamless transition to a vegan lifestyle, but the truth is, it takes time to adjust. The progress I made in 2 years is already surprising and encouraging. I made the ingredients of delicious veggie recipes inspired by the best specialities around the world, part of my usual shopping list. I must say it was a bit easier in the UK than in France, but things are slowly changing there too.
- Taking part in citizen science projects. For a long time, ocean conservation sounded like something appealing to me, but in fact, I had almost no clue what it was really about. So when you are curious about something, usually the best way to start is to look for volunteering opportunities and no project is too small when you start from scratch. When I discovered Capturing our Coast in Scotland, it was the perfect starting point for me. In a couple of months, I discovered what was citizen science, learnt how to differentiate a few coastal species such as algae, shells and crabs, practised the transect and quadrat method and did some data input for the marine biologists to analyse later. Last summer, it was an entirely different kind of transect I followed with MOM in Greece, as instead of following the seashore, I was on a boat in the open sea to spot dolphins. In only a day, I learnt marine conservation is way more challenging than most people think (starring at sea for hours without falling asleep is hard).
What is overwhelming and discouraging me (sometimes)
- Alarming facts. When the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” was released in 2006, all the facts were already clearly explained. However, it seems, we, humans, cannot believe the facts until we suffer the consequences. How many more Irma Hurricanes, or Haiyan Typhoons do we need to get the message? Last November, 15,000 scientists signed an open letter that is a last call for the humanity. Their message is clear if we want to survive we urgently need to reduce our fossil fuel consumption, have fewer kids and readjust our alimentation. When you know that 93% of global warming is absorbed by the ocean, the rising trend of ocean temperature shown in the documentary “Chasing Coral” is vertiginous. It starts drawing a scaring future where we might have no more coral reef to look at in 10 years because of too frequent bleaching episodes. It will worsen the climate change pace as coral reefs transform CO2 in oxygen like trees. Beyond rising temperatures, when looking at the overfishing and plastic ocean crisis, scientists believe there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
- NGO’s politics & contradictions. In my quest of finding how to help, I started to talk with a few NGOs, big and small ones (NGO: Non Governmental Organisations). What I found out was disgustingly entangled with politics. A small NGO would refuse to inform me about their future campaign to raise awareness about plastics in the ocean because they were concerned a bigger NGO would steal their idea. The war of funding between NGOs is real and isn’t pretty. It also leads certain mediatic NGOs to organise counterproductive actions which will look good on press releases. I do not even talk about the financial or social scandals. The fact that nobody agrees on the actions to improve the situation leads to the multiplication of NGOs instead of joining forces and working together. I want to help, but only if the organisation can demonstrate they work in the best interest of everyone and not only to make sure donations keep flowing.
- Greenwashing & Voluntourism. Or how to pretend to do good to sell more. From coffee shop chains claiming they use fair-trade coffee but having a massive impact on plastic pollution, fake orphanages where children are taken from their families to keep a steady influx of western tourists looking for a picture for their social media feed, or turtle conservation projects that do more harm than good on turtle eggs. Not everything is bad, and there are genuine organisations achieving excellent results, but it is quite disgusting to realise you need to think twice before spending your money because some people just want to take advantage of your good intentions.
Why I still have hope despite all these issues
- Things that have improved over the last decades. In the EU, greenhouse gases emissions have decreased by 22% in 2015 vs the reference point of 1990. Unfortunately, it is the only region in the world so far with a significant improvement. The share of energy produced from renewable sources is increasing (the EU is on track to reach its 20 % renewable energy source share target for 2020 with 17% in 2015) as people demand cleaner energy and governments better energy security. On another hand, the number of marine protected areas dramatically increased, even if still not enough, from 0.7% in 2000 to 6% in 2017 of the ocean surface. The target is 10% by 2020 and 30% by 2030.
- The power of the step by step approach. Whenever someone gives you an eco-friendly tip, it is ok not to implement it right away, don’t feel any pressure, take your time to see if you could do it your way to find a place for it in your daily routine. “When climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, don’t look at the summit but at the first mountain refuge”. For any new challenge in your life, working this way can lead you farther than you expect. Before stopping eating meat, I felt so overwhelmed with all the new things I needed to learn. I hesitated a long time, but doing things step by steps, I now know what to buy and how to cook it. My next step is to dramatically reduce my plastic footprint, if it was not too hard in the kitchen, my bathroom is a kind of nightmare, but I will get there!
- The power of having a like-minded tribe. While feeling overwhelmed by all the contradictory information, the relief came from my friends. I am not a lonely hummingbird. Most of my friends also started their journey of doing a little better, but often they started from somewhere else. It is awesome because some are way more advanced about reducing their waste or embracing slow travel, while I became the veggie recipe go-to person, so I have many experts now all around me who are such a comforting and motivating tribe to consult with. Looking to make new friends who have the same interests? Why not joining the closest dive site clean-up in your area? In our World Adventure Divers’ Facebook group we also often discuss marine conservation issues, come and join us!
What I will actually do instead of giving up
Even if what I am doing is far from being perfect, the baby steps approach is what has led me today to bring tremendous changes in my life and hopefully doing my part in preserving our oceans.
For the coming months, I want to keep learning about how to embrace new eco-friendly habits and researching about the best practices in the conservation world:
- Considering more zero waste tricks at home and on the go
- Reassessing my way of travelling to more slow travel style
- Volunteering at an ocean conservation NGO
- Continuing to summarise and share my findings and experience on this blog
Where should you start your own journey?
My point is don’t go extreme right away, you would give up in less than a month. Take your time, make trials and errors, and above all, learn why you are doing it. If you have not started your journey yet, I warmly recommend you first to raise your awareness. It is essential to understand at a global level what’s going on with climate change, plastic pollution and overfishing. Once you clearly understand what is at stake, you will naturally start to take actions step by step.
Once one small eco-friendly new habit is part of your life, the next one will seem far less intimidating. Pick whatever seems the easiest to you, it can be anything from stopping using plastic bags and always carrying a reusable one with you to not eating meat on Mondays. The most important point is to start somewhere.
So before you try changing any habit in your life, here are some documentaries I recommend you watching (most are available on Netflix), they explain in plain English what is truly at stake. They will leave you empowered with the knowledge of why we need to do better even in hummingbird mode:
- An inconvenient truth
- Before the flood
- Mission Blue
- Chasing coral
- A plastic ocean
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credit cover picture: Ocean Minded
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