Ayumi is proud and honored to be the Saba Bank National Park Officer. In that way, she can contribute to the conservation of the very first marine mammals and shark sanctuary of the Netherlands.
“I am fortunate that the changes in the oceans have no direct impact on my livelihood. However, it does affect my work as it feels like you have to push harder and harder to preserve these beautiful ecosystems that many people depend on.” When Ayumi was 13 years old, she saw the pristine beauty of the Great Barrier Reef with her own eyes and realized that she wanted to become part of conservation and protect these great ecosystems for future generations. Nowadays she is proud to be the National Park Officer and Science Coordinator of Saba Bank National Park. Her work on Saba is of great importance: Saba is only a tiny island in the Caribbean, but with the third largest submerged atoll in the world and the largest atoll of the Atlantic Ocean! Today Ayumi shares her story.
What is your earliest memory of the ocean?
My earliest memory was in 1995, when I saw the sea for the first time. Instead of being afraid of getting in the water, I wanted to play in the sea for as long as I could. In a place near Rio de Janeiro, me and my parents met some people who were part of the TAMAR project. This project was set up to protect sea turtles from extinction in the Brazilian coastline. I was lucky that my parents were interested in biology as well and wanted to see how turtles were protected back in the days. From that moment on, my curiosity in marine life and the sea started.
What does the ocean mean to you today?
I work with fishermen every day and I see how much they depend on the ocean. Also, the ocean connects my family in many ways. For example, my grandfather crossed the oceans to reach Brazil when he left Japan after the war to restart his life. The ocean is the source of life and connects all of us. The ocean is our today and tomorrow, it’s everyone’s future, it brings everyone together. I am privileged to have the ocean as a big part of my life and to be able to work on protecting our oceans.
“The ocean is our today and tomorrow, it’s everyone’s future, it brings everyone together.”
What changes have you witnessed in the ocean?
It truly amazes me to see how strong nature is and how it is working to adapt to changes people are causing through decades of negligence. We have focused so much on our own development, that we have forgotten about nature. We just did not care as much as we should have done. Now we face the consequences and have to fight hard to keep what is left. Sylvia Earle once said: “It’s time for us to see that we are part of the ocean and not the big boss ruling the oceans.” When I visited the Great Barrier Reef in 2008, I got to see its beauty with my own eyes. Now, just 10 years later, the reef is actually dying and may not exist anymore in 30 years. It saddens me to hear that we only have one-third of the world’s coral reefs left .. that is not a lot.
The thing that I witness in my daily life and that shocked me the most, is to see how vastly lionfish are spreading over the Caribbean. The lionfish invasion is one of the most successful, biological colonisations ever: they don’t have natural predators in the Atlantic Ocean, they can reproduce very quickly, they outcompete food sources of native fish species and they hunt on juvenile, commercially-important species (which can affect fishermen on the long-term). Hunting is one of the management strategies applied to eradicate lionfish from the coral reefs. However, lionfish live in deeper waters, which makes it difficult for divers to reach and hunt them. Although lionfish pose a threat to marine ecosystems, they do have the potential to become a commercial source for fishermen. Hopefully I will contribute to finding a way to target lionfish in a way that is ecologically and economically attractive. Together with many partners, such as WWF and NOAA, we are trying to see how we can target lionfish in the Saba Bank National Park and how we can stimulate a market for selling them.
“It truly amazes me to see how strong nature is and how it is working to adapt to changes people are causing through decades of negligence. We have focused so much on our own development, that we have forgotten about nature.”
How do these changes affect you?
In comparison to other people and other Ocean Witnesses, I am fortunate that the changes in the oceans have no direct impact on my livelihood. However, it does affect my work as it feels like you have to push harder and harder to preserve these beautiful ecosystems that many people depend on. I am concerned that at a certain point, it is going to be too much and we will not have many options left to protect nature and the many species living in the oceans. Nature is fragile and I am deeply saddened to think that my children may not be able to witness and enjoy the nature as it is now.
“In comparison to other people and other ocean Witnesses, I am fortunate that the changes in the oceans have no direct impact on my livelihood.”
And what do you do to personally (or in a community) contribute to shifting this change in a positive way?
As the Saba Bank National Park officer, I talk to fishermen daily to discuss how their catch is and we usually talk about how things have been changing over time. Once in a while I do measurements of their catch to keep track of the catch unit per effort, and we talk about how to work together in terms of research.
Next to that I try to recruit students for the Conservation Foundation, since I know that students will be our future and I try to teach them as much as possible. Lastly, I provide awareness about our oceans through my website and together with my boyfriend we try to maintain Oceaware, an ocean awareness program to inform the public with interesting ocean-related news. A few months ago I also got an opportunity to raise awareness for the importance of the Saba amongst a very special public: I presented the importance of the Saba Bank to the King and Queen of The Netherlands. During a dive I showed them how beautiful the Saba Bank is and that all this beauty is located in the waters of the Dutch Kingdom.
And what are good solutions for better conservation of our oceans globally, to your opinion?
Well, I think people grew away from nature. One of the solutions is to try and make people feel connected again to nature, especially with our oceans. For many people the ocean is still a mysterious place, like when we first talked about exploring the moon. By witnessing and experiencing nature themselves we can show the importance of nature to our existence. Usually this is something that we only come to understand when we are older, maybe around highschool age. For us to make a real change, we need to start addressing the importance already when people are young still. As for Saba, the children should actually already understand from a very young age how important the Saba Bank is to the marine life around the island, but with that also to themselves, to the inhabitants of the island.
Another important tool for marine conservation is the expansion of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) network worldwide. I have always been in favor of MPAs and the approach of ecosystem-based management. We cannot protect important areas and important ecosystems without taking human interaction into account. In the creation and management of MPAs, it is important for us to understand different cultures. I come from a Brazilian-Japanese family, I have lived in Holland and I’m working in the Caribbean now. These are all different cultures and different approaches that need to be considered for each MPA, since we deal with different people.
And last but not least: we, conservationists of the oceans and oceans itself, need more media attention. Not only on National Geographic and Discovery Channel, but on national and local news as well.
“I think people grew away from nature. One of the solutions is to try and make people feel connected again to nature, especially with our oceans.”
In 2030, what does the ocean look like according to you?
Our mindset is changing and I hope we will be able to show many more people what we have accomplished to protect our oceans. The ocean may have changed in many ways by then, but hopefully we will be able to preserve the beauty. I hope to be able to tell friends and family: ‘Look at what we have managed to achieve.’ I hope to see a change on a global scale in terms of sustainability and that we all will have a loveable relationship with our oceans.
“We, conservationists of the oceans and oceans itself, need more media attention. Not only on National Geographic and Discovery Channel, but on national and local news as well.”
What do you think people can do themselves or at home to make a difference for the ocean?
Talk about it and face the reality of what we are dealing with now! Don’t leave it all to scientists, anyone can do something to support the ocean – anywhere and anytime. Even it if is just so throwing your cigarette butt in the bin, those two to three extra steps can and will make a difference.
“Don’t leave it all to scientists, anyone can do something to support the ocean – anywhere and anytime.”
Thanks for sharing your story, you’re an Ocean Witness now. What do you want to say to other Ocean Witnesses?
Keep your game strong, don’t give up! A little help is better than nothing.
Larissa Ayumi Kuramae Izioka is 25 years old and was born in Brazil. At the age of 9 she moved to the Netherlands and suddenly found herself in a country surrounded by water. She grew up seeing how controlling and innovative The Netherlands is with fresh- and saltwater and was amazed how much you can actually do with nature’s power. When she was 13, she visited Australia and was lucky enough to see the Great Barrier Reef. She then realized that she wanted to become part of conservation and protect these great ecosystems for future generations. Ayumi graduated in Coastal and Marine Management (a major in Marine Biology) and took part in many different research projects, ranging from building artificial reefs to improve coral health, sustainable fisheries in Anguilla and St. Barts, shark projects around Saba and many more. Following the track of tropical marine biology took her to the Caribbean, where she is currently situated. Saba is a tiny island of 13km2– you can’t even see properly on a world map – but what you do see is the Saba Bank. It is this large submerged atoll of 2.200km2, being the third largest of its kind in the world, and the largest of the Atlantic Ocean. Ayumi is proud and honored to be the National Park Officer and the science coordinator and that she can contribute to the conservation an area, actually the very first marine mammals and shark sanctuary of the Netherlands, that is so important to the surrounding islands and maybe even to the rest of the world!