Green.Org sat down with Donal Griffin, marine policy officer for Fair Seas Ireland. We spoke about protecting, conserving and restoring Ireland’s unique marine environment.
Hi Donal, thanks for joining me today. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I grew up in a landlocked county in Northern Ireland, so visits to the seaside, never mind a sea swim or a boat trip on the water, were not a part of my childhood. Yet, funnily enough, I think it is exactly this readied the ground for me to become a marine biologist. Growing up, the sea and everything that lived in it, was mysterious, and curious to me, somehow out of reach. Yet, during my undergraduate degree, as part of various field trips to Portaferry on the shoreline of the beautiful Strangford Lough, I was for the first time able to lift rocks and splash about in rock pools to see for myself, the beautiful plants and animals that lived there. From small shore crabs to butterfish to whelks and anemones – I fell in love with the sea straight away. I promptly changed my degree pathway to Marine Biology (from straight Biological Sciences) and I haven’t stopped exploring the seas around the island of Ireland and further afield ever since.
I had the privilege of volunteering with the Irish Basking Shark Group for my Masters dissertation – a small conservation group working to protect basking sharks in Irish waters. More than 12 years later, I am still a part of that small group of like-minded people who are passionate about basking sharks and all the the marine life in our seas. Since my first trip off Malin Head (the most northerly point on the Island of Ireland), spotting no less than nine of these enormous sharks, I completed a PhD on fish-jellyfish foodweb interactions in the Irish Sea, I carried out Marine Mammal Observer surveys all around the world, and more recently I have delved deeper and deeper into the world of marine policy, having worked for a range of different environmental charities over the past 5 years in the UK and Ireland. My latest job as marine policy officer is with an exciting new project called Fair Seas Ireland, which is dedicated to protecting, conserving and restoring Ireland’s unique marine environment, and has a particular focus on improving Ireland’s network of marine protected areas.
What is a fun fact about you?
I was once on a ship far off the south west coast of Ireland, and it was my job to survey and record all marine mammals in the area. One evening, we encountered a huge pod of fin whales – the second biggest animal living behind the blue whale. There were huge blows right beside us, close enough to hear, and the long dark rolling backs of these enormous whales along the surface of the water in every direction. It was a magical evening, one I will never forget.
Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?
Climate change and sustainability is such as important topic today because people are realising that the climate and biodiversity emergencies, crises, call then what you want, aren’t just soundbites used by environmental groups. Nor are they over exaggeration. They are now becoming people’s reality and lived experience. The negative impacts of global warming and increasing levels of carbon dioxide in out atmosphere is starting to impact on people’s lives, as well as that of our most vulnerable habitats and species. Thankfully and finally, we have reached a tipping point in society where people want to see effective action to tackle climate change and to protect nature. It’s a big part of my job now, and that of society and countries around the world, to figure out the best way to go about it.
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
I work in the policy team of an environmental non-governmental organisation, and I suspect the job will be much the same in 10 years’ time, lobbying, influencing, raising awareness, campaigning for the improvement of our environment. What I hope though, is that we are working from a much improved baseline – that not only have the brakes firmly been been put on biodiversity loss, but we have we have a wealth of successful examples and case studies of nature’s recovery to learn from , model, and scale up in the future.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
The most powerful thing a person can do in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss is to start to notice nature around them. Only by noticing and knowing what and where nature is in people’s everyday lives, do people begin to care about it. Equally, only by caring about nature, will people act to protect it. Millions of seemingly small actions can have a hugely positive effect on wildlife, often simultaneously helping fight anthropogenic climate change too. Critically, politicians and decision makers will also start to notice and react accordingly to a public movement and electorate which is more attuned to nature and its importance in our lives.