Welcome to our "Ocean Passion Series" where we are interviewing ordinary people doing extraordinary actions for the ocean. We believe learning from others can help our own life become more engaged and inspired. This week we have an incredible lady from Belgium helping shark conservation.
Good day Veerle, can you tell us about yourself and where you are in the world ?
My name is Veerle Roelandt (Vee because most languages have difficulties pronouncing my first name :-D ), I have been born, raised and still live in Belgium (the Flemish part of it) I am about to turn 50 this month (aaarrrggghh the F*** word is right around the corner) and although its the age where lots of people freak out, I am just glad I made it up to that age after some serious health problems). Happily married (for almost 30 years) and mother of one son. We have owned our own bakery for 25 years, but decided a few years ago to sell the business, since then I have been working as manager of the bakery division in a supermarket and since about a year I am now an executive in that same supermarket.
Happy Birthday Vee! We see your the co-founder of The Global Shark Conservation Initiative. Please tell us what your mission is and if you have any campaigns that our readers can get involved with?
Our mission at The Global Shark Conservation Initiative is to create awareness about the plight of sharks worldwide. To make people understand that healthy oceans are a must and that oceans need sharks in order to stay healthy. To point out that shark conservation is not a matter of a few countries but that each and every country (whether they are close to an ocean or not) that we can all contribute. We all benefit from healthy oceans.
Most of our campaigns are letter writing campaigns : we draft a letter (in several languages if needed) and ask several other conservation groups to co-sign or ask the public to send in the letter to the appropriate authorities. Our most successful campaign was the letter to the Tenerife government to ask them not to issue a permit for a shark fin drying company, over 100 different organizations co-signed that letter + many individuals. We also campaigned against illegal fishing in the protected marine park around Revillagigedo Island (better known amongst divers as Socorro Islands) in Mexico. The Global Shark Conservation Initiative has letters (in many languages) people can use to ask local businesses not to sell shark cartilage products.
We love the idea of letter campaigns of many languages! The work you're putting into these letters and helping people with all the work while guiding them to where to send them is brilliant. Very refreshing to see this type of campaign as letters can be more powerful then online petition writings. So Vee how long have you known your passion for the ocean and can you remember that day or situation that brought it to the surface and led you to Shark Conservation?
Since my husband and I started diving in 1996 we spend all of our holidays near or on the
ocean, our son learned diving at the age of 10 and as a diving geek family we never had dull days on vacation :-D Our son’s favorite books were dive guides and since we all loved
encountering the “big” stuff he pointed out that we should dive Cocos Island (an off-shore marine park about 500 km from the coast of Costa Rica), known for its congregation of hammerheads and many other shark species. Our first trip there in 2008 captured our hearts, the amount of sharks we saw was unbelievable.
In between dives we visited the island and the park rangers’ station and what we saw there just broke our hearts. Hundreds and hundreds of fishing hooks, countless boys and kilometers of fishing lines, all from illegal longline fishing around the area.
The bridges on the island are even made out of that material. The park rangers are trying their utmost to protect the area, but the shark fishing industry just keeps poaching as they know the sharks are easy to find here.
It opened my eyes to the fact that if sharks were killed at that speed, we might not be able to enjoy shark sightings for much longer and that future generations might not even encounter any. On my return home I started searching the internet for more info on shark fishing, and sharkfinning. I ended up opening a Facebook account to keep in touch with people working on the conservation of our beloved ocean. A few months later I was admin on several shark conservation pages, all volunteer work in between running the bakery. I worked for Shark Angels, Sea Save, and co-founded The Global Shark Conservation Initiative. I ran Facebook pages on shark conservation, helped many other shark conservation organisations spreading the word on their campaigns.
After selling our bakery and moving into a different job, I no longer work from home now. I
had to let go some of my volunteer work but the love for the oceans and the sharks never
died. I am slowly getting the hang of combining my work, household, family, sports and all other things with the conservation work. I am looking forward to starting new campaigns for The Global Shark Conservation Initiative soon.
Oh Vee that must have been devastating to witness such products that kill the very sharks you seen and love. The Rangers there are doing a terrific job pulling out the killing longlines. Just incredible how they're taking the waste and creating bridges around the island. That is just unbelievable that so many longlines, hooks, and boys have been confiscated around the island to create such bridge structures. How many marine animals that have been saved because of these Rangers. Look at what it did to you as well Vee! It lit a fire within you and The Shark Conservation Initiative was born. Tell us how has your passion for the ocean changed your thinking and your life?
The passion for the ocean and all its inhabitants sure changed my life. I learned to speak up for what I believe in! I will never shut my mouth when I see people littering and while diving I always pick up plastic, fishing lines, and garbage. On the first dive people might look at me strangely but after a few dives the crew is waiting with a garbage bin. When I explain why and how this is a very small effort to my fellow divers most of them respect the efforts and later I see them collecting trash and I know that I need to continue spreading the word !
Diet wise we adjusted our eating habits with no more threatened species on our menu like tuna is way off limit. When I see shrimp on a plate, I also see the by-catch so shrimp are off too. So practically all sea food is off the menu unless I can be 100 % sure that a small fisherman, supporting his family in that way, has caught it and serves it with lots of love for the resource. I am aware of the fact that many “conservationists” call me a hypocrite for this, but for me the ethical point counts, the non-extinction point does. I understand how some people have to live from the ocean, and when it is done in a proper way, with love and without contributing to extinction of species I am in support, not everyone on this planet has the means to choose what they eat, but if all people having the possibility would choose wisely, that would help a great deal.
Even in my household I try to do small things, yes, I am a freak on cleaning, washing, etc. But I recycle the water from my condensation dryer (not sure this is a proper word, but you have dryers with a drainage and others where the water is spared in a unit), we recycle all our garbage, I never ever throw anything just on the street. Remember folks, it’s the small things that add up!
We love your honesty Vee as diet can be a challenge for most people. Changing many areas of your life create habits that help the overall world you want to live in! Fabulous! Creating your life journey with the ocean in parallel did it help build a strong character and skills within you?
As I explained in the previous question it sure did! I learned to speak up for what I believe in. One small example is I used to pick up a colleague at her home for work and dropped her back off. She always had this plastic bag with her. I offered her a reusable bag and explained why, she was always welcome in my car with that reusable bag but not with a plastic one :-D We still laugh at this but hey, it worked.
Powerful! Pure confidence in who you are and how you want to live Vee. To give an item you respect to replace an item you do not was really amazing way to spread your values. Great to hear she accepted and laughs about it today. Tell us what ocean organization is your favorite and why?
This a tough one, there are so many organisations worldwide that I care for with all my
heart. If I have to pick one it is without any doubt Mision Tiburon in Costa Rica. They see the bigger picture and not just the donations coming in, they have the same view I have and that is you can gain a lot just by staying polite, no need to call people names or get all worked up.
Our Pelagic Love Team agree with you that just being polite you can break down walls of ignorance. By breaking the walls down the communication between people are open and awareness can be learned. Calling people names does not help any cause for positive change and only builds walls against proper communication. In your own words what would you like people to know that was a great lesson you have learned because of your passion for the ocean?
No doubt on this, changing your habits just a bit might mean the world to one species. Like
recyclable bags instead of plastic, and scrap endangered species from your menu. In other words "JUST CARE" enough to understand that small things make a difference.
Yes! We are all creatures of habit so when we change our habits we change everything in our life and the world itself. A good habit can become autopilot of compassion without even thinking about it any longer. That is the power of choosing a habit that helps like picking up garbage from the ocean, beach, and reducing plastics at home. What would be your favorite thing about the ocean?
Favorite thing about the ocean is that I just love diving! I could stay down there for hours and hours, favorite species, as I always go for the underdog that is without any doubt sharks!
Vee we want to say HAPPY 50th BIRTHDAY and thank you for sharing some new things that our readers can be inspired by. Your actions are definitely making an impact so please don't listen to any negative minds and keep focused on what you love - SHARKS!
Check back next week on the Ocean Passion Series to find out who our next ocean passionate guest will be and you will never be disappointed! Check out our past guests here >>Ocean Passion Series<<