Everyone knows the name. But Jacques, Jean-Michel, and Phillipe Cousteau aren’t the only ones to have major hand in saving the ocean. Here are some obscure people who have helped preserve the sea and everything in it.
35 years ago, Mate shot a tag from the front of a small boat into the skin of a whale. The dart contained a small VHF transceiver that could be followed with a plane. The transceiver only had a five-mile range, and nobody thought it would work: in fact, Mate and his wife had taken out a second mortgage to fund the research. As it turned out, they were able to track the whale from Mexico to Alaska.
Mate, now the director of the Marine Mammal Institute at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, launched a sea change in ocean research. He identified whale and sea lion migration patterns, feeding grounds, breeding areas, and uncovered some of longest and most mysterious migrations on earth. With more modern GPS technology, a recent MMI study revealed that a small shift in shipping traffic patterns around San Francisco and Los Angeles will significantly reduce number of Blue Whales killed by ship strikes.
Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly
A vast amount of protein that humans eat comes from the sea. Overfishing won’t just harm dolphins and orca—it will affect us in a basic way. Kemmerly isn’t a household name, but should be. In 1999, working at Monterey Bay Aquarium, she realized that consumers who wanted to buy sustainably harvested fish had no way to know what the good options were. Grocery stores weren’t distinguishing between Cod caught via longline in Alaska—a well-managed, sustainable fishery—and Cod caught with a bottom trawl off Georges Bank in the Atlantic, which is overfished and damages the seafloor.
She began Seafood Watch by producing an pocket guide shoppers could keep in their wallet. The shoppers in turn pressured stores to post more information about their fish. The pocket card is now a popular smartphone app, and has shifted millions of dollars from depleted fisheries and polluting fish farms to sustainable seafood.
Before 2009, Psihoyos was known for photographing the rich and famous for Fortune. On a chance encounter vacationing in the Caribbean, his son wanted have a sleepover with the boy from boat moored next door—which turned out to be the Spielberg family. The topic turned to film making, and Spielberg urged Psihoyos to “never make a movie involving boats or animals.” Psihoyos, with three whole days of film training under his belt, did both.
He directed The Cove, which won an Oscar in 2009. Using concealed cameras, military-grade night-vision hardware, and the craftiness of Hollywood’s Industrial Light and Magic, The Cove drew global attention to slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, and the effect of mercury-laden meat on human health.
Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins
The co-founders of the Five Gyres Institute, Eriksen’s and Cummins’ long sea journeys to the world’s great garbage patches have focused attention on ocean plastics, and the threats plastics pose to both the ocean and to human health. Their unique combination of science, long sea journeys, and nonprofit experience has brought plastics from a topic for scientific labs, corporate boardrooms, and policy wonks to people’s daily consumption habits. BPA, an endocrine-disrupting chemical in many plastics, wasn’t even on the public’s radar before.
If Doubilet’s stunning images don’t fill you wonder at what’s under the sea, nothing ever will. The National Geographic undersea photographer began photographing the ocean at age 12, using a Brownie Hawkeye stuffed into a an anesthesiologists’ bag to keep it dry. Over a career lasting over forty years, Doubilet has brought a sense of wonder to viewers, and documented countless changes in coral reefs and seas around the world. “Lines are very blurred these days between being a simple photographer and an activist” he says.
In 1984, a surfer in Malibu wanted to make surfing more accessible, teach the sport to inner city kids, and to create more access to surf breaks that were becoming crowded and territorial. Over time, the group—now known as the Surfrider Foundation—morphed into a powerful force for public access to the coastline, control of land-based pollution that affects the sea, and banning disposable plastic bags. Thirty years later, Surfrider boasts 90 chapters worldwide, and a strong voice for the sport in ocean conservation.