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“We can benefit from the oceans, while protecting and conserving them at the same time.”

Ocean Witness Brenda tells her story.

Brenda’s passion for the oceans first started during family holidays in France. Now, being part of WWF’s marine team, these days she spends less time at the beach and more time working on the protection of our oceans, in particular the Dutch North Sea. The marine expert wants people to become more aware about the value of the largest nature area in the Netherlands, since it’s much more than a ‘grey mass’. Today, this Ocean Witness Brenda shares her story. 

become an ocean witness
31 January 2020 | North Sea, The Netherlands

What is your first memory of the oceans? 

As a child, I went on a family holiday with my parents and older sister to Brittany, France, which is famous for its beautiful coastline and rough waves. I remember spending the entire holiday diving through the high waves and climbing the steep cliffs together with my dad. My stinging eyes and the salt in my hair couldn’t stop me: I experienced the ultimate feeling of happiness when jumping through the waves. And while not in the water, I was looking for shells on the beach, fascinated by their colours and shapes. 

What do the oceans mean to you today?

The ocean is a magical place for me, it gives me calmness and happiness. I love the sound of the waves hitting the beach, the way little stones and shell fragments move back and forth with the current and the endless shades of blue reaching the horizon. When walking to the beach, I always enjoy the smell of salt in the air and the sound of screaming seagulls. 

It is also a place of unexpected treasures. It’s a given that 72% of the Earth’s surface is covered by oceans, this large amount of water is ‘just’ there. However, when at sea, you never know what to expect: one moment the ocean may be very calm and the sky is clear, and the next you find yourself balancing four-meter waves in the middle of thick sea fog.

“The interactions in the underwater world continue to amaze me.”
Brenda

Because the oceans are so unpredictable, I feel an endless curiosity towards them and I always wonder what’s happening below the surface: what is living there? It’s a completely different world where everything is connected, from an octopus hiding for a predator below a shell to fish following their daily routine. These interactions in the underwater world continue to amaze me. I currently don’t live near the beach, but fortunately the Netherlands is a small country and the sea is never far away – I try to go for a walk on the beach as much as I can.  

What changes have you witnessed in the oceans?

The first time I really experienced the underwater world was in 2006 when I went to Bonaire on a holiday and got my scuba diving license. I still remember very clearly being mesmerised by the colourful corals and fish, an all the other marine life, from turtles to parrot fishes and from eagle rays to sharks. I tried to visit as many diving spots as possible and whenever I wasn’t diving, I went snorkelling.

Ten years later, I went back to Bonaire for another holiday. I was looking forward to going diving and snorkelling in this tropical area again and although it was still very pretty, colourful and lively, I was a bit shocked about the changes I witnessed. Within ten years, part of the healthy and colourful coral reef bleached and there was less marine life. The underwater world of Bonaire is still unbelievably beautiful, but I saw a clear difference compared to ten years earlier. However, this is just a personal observation at one location. That’s one of the difficulties of studying changes in marine ecosystems: the oceans are not as accessible as many terrestrial areas and still hide many mysteries. 

“Within ten years, part of the healthy and colourful coral reef bleached.”
Brenda

Nowadays, because of my work for WWF and passion for diving , I sometimes dive in the North Sea. There it’s even more difficult to make these kinds of observations, because it’s one of the roughest and most unpredictable seas in the world. For a long time I took the North Sea for granted, I thought it was just a big grey mass with little life, like many people still do. A lot of Dutch people don’t realise the North Sea is the largest nature area of the Netherlands. 

My perspective of the North Sea completely changed when I started diving there and came across unexpected marine life, among which species like oysters, luminous jellyfish and catfish. Oysters are fascinating creatures: every oyster shell is a small ecosystem in itself. The North Sea also has unexpectedly beautiful areas, including emerald green or even blue zones, like the Doggerbank where you can see 10 to 15 meters ahead – unique for the North Sea. I’ve seen the potential of the North Sea with my own eyes, but I also witnessed the threats that are caused by humans. It’s a very crowded sea where many users claim space for their own activities and within this web of activities we need to make sure ecosystems and species are protected to preserve the resources of the North Sea

“It makes me sad seeing how human consumption is affecting even the most abandoned places on Earth.”
Brenda

How do the changes you’ve seen influence you?

It makes me sad seeing how our human consumption is affecting even the most abandoned places on Earth. I even saw seabirds building their nest with plastics and read that plastic trash was found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench (the world’s deepest trench – nearly 11km deep), which made me feel very frustrated. We have to realise that we depend on the oceans: for food, livelihoods, the oxygen we breath, the climate, leisure activities, and even for cultural beliefs. People should know that we can benefit from the oceans, while protecting and conserving them at the same time.

Therefore, observing environmental changes also motivates me to show people the beauty of the underwater world: I truly believe that people protect what they love. It’s an ongoing challenge for me to motivate people to take better care of the oceans and convince them that protecting our waters is a win-win situation. We need a food chain that is sustainable and ensures a balanced supply of food for everybody. This way, we can enjoy the resources of our oceans without disrupting ecosystems.

“I truly believe that people protect what they love.”
Brenda

Can you tell more about how you contribute to healthier oceans? 

In my work for WWF-Netherlands (WWF-NL), I strive to not only protect what is still there, but also to turn the tide and actively restore what we’re losing or is gone. With WWF-NL I work on active restoration of shellfish reefs in the North Sea. These shellfish reefs – mainly consisting of flat oysters – use to cover 20% of the North Sea, but have disappeared due to overexploitation and diseases early 1900. These shellfish beds are the coral reefs of the North Sea and the foundation of a rich biodiversity in the region. It’s a big but rewarding challenge to work with this restoration project towards a healthy and resilient North Sea that is full of life. We take part in diving expeditions and monitor the restoration projects and marine life that is attracted to it. Subsequently, I share those findings through blogs and articles to make people more aware about what’s happening in the North Sea. 

Sharing my passion for the oceans is an important aspect of my work and my goal is making people realise that the underwater world is unparallelled and that this amazing place is under threat. The good news is: we can all do something to contribute to healthier oceans! I really believe that – no matter how small an effort may be – together, we can move mountains.

“I really believe that – no matter how small an effort may be – together, we can move mountains.”
Brenda

Let’s look ahead to the year 2030: what will the situation be in the North Sea and oceans around the world?

The North Sea will be healthy and resilient again and top predators, shellfish reefs and areas of ecological importance will be protected. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have an important role in this protection, but it’s of crucial importance that they have effective management plans to avoid the so-called ‘paper parks’. 

I feel very motivated to encourage policy makers to invest in a network of protected areas that protects the species and ecosystem in the Netherlands and I’m hopeful that by 2030, we will be on the right track to make this dream happen. We already see that restoration projects are taking off and are being successful, motivating policy makers and ocean users to invest in these initiatives. I hope that, in ten years, people feel more connected to the North Sea and value its underwater life by looking beyond its image of ‘grey mass’.

 

Thanks for sharing your story, you’re an Ocean Witness now. What do you want to say to other Ocean Witnesses?

Go out there, be curious, share your message and don’t be afraid to have a look underwater: every time you are amazed by the incredible beauty and uniqueness of the oceans, you want to protect them even more. 

“Don’t be afraid to have a look underwater.”
Brenda

And what would you like to say to other readers? 

Be more conscious about your consumption, for example by knowing what kind of seafood you eat by checking sustainability labels. Avoid plastic materials and when using them, make sure that these plastics don’t end up in the oceans, for example by recycling. Also, reduce your carbon footprint by cycling, walking, minimising flying, and travelling by public transportation. And last but not least: explore the oceans, play in the waves, go snorkelling, take a boat trip and be surprised by our beautiful oceans!

About Brenda

As a marine advisor at WWF-Netherlands, Brenda van Doorn-Deden (29) conducts research on MPA networks and the restoration of oyster beds in the North Sea. She is passionate about everything living below the ocean surface and spends as much time as possible at the beach or in the ocean. In her work she strives for a better balance between protection and a sustainable use of ocean resources. 

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Brenda

North Sea, The Netherlands

As a marine advisor at WWF-Netherlands, Brenda van Doorn-Deden (29) conducts research on MPA networks and the restoration of oyster beds in the North Sea. She is passionate about everything living below the ocean surface and spends as much time as possible at the beach or in the ocean.