From a young age, Dorien has been determined to save the oceans. Nowadays she educates and informs the general public about sharks and rays at the Dutch Shark Society.
“I think education is one of the most important tools for conservation.” From a young age, Dorien has been determined to save the oceans. She decided to respond to her determination to save the oceans by studying Biology and Oceanography. After her graduation, Dorien worked in places like Tenerife, to educate tourists about whales, and South Africa to research great white sharks. Nowadays she educates and informs the general public about sharks and rays at the Dutch Shark Society. Today, Dorien shares her story.
Hi Dorien, what is your earliest memory of the ocean?
I grew up in Rotterdam, which is very close to Hook of Holland, a North Sea beach. My parents have a small holiday home there, where we spent most weekends and summer holidays. One of my earliest memories is my mother teaching me how to dive through waves and not to go deeper into the water than your waist.
And what does the ocean mean to you today?
Today, the ocean to me is a place I go to, to unwind. I think there is nothing more relaxing than scuba diving, it has a similar effect on me as meditation has on other people. A day at the beach, swimming in the sea or going for a walk with the wind blowing the sand everywhere. It eases my mind every time.
As a regular visitor to the ocean, what changes have you witnessed?
When I was working for Oceans Research, a South African marine and terrestrial research and conservation organization, we used to receive sharks from the bycatch of fishing vessels. We would use these sharks for research on their anatomy and take DNA and other samples. At one point we were getting dozens of sharks in one week from the fisheries, especially from sardine fisheries, indicating than bycatch was really going up.
Another change that I have witnessed which really struck me, was going on a dive during the sardine run. The sardine run is a migration of sardines in a current of cold water by the South African coastlines towards the Indian Ocean. Where many years ago the sardine run was literally a massive school of sardines stretching for many kilometres along the coast, today you have to be lucky to find a tiny bait ball of sardines. This is a direct cause of overfishing.
How do these changes affect you?
The realization that so many sharks are getting caught as bycatch is just very sad. Especially if you consider that many were still so small that they had not yet reached sexual maturity. We are killing some species faster than they can reproduce.
“We are killing some species faster than they can reproduce.”
Can you tell us a little bit more about what do you do to make a positive change for the shark species?
With the Dutch Shark Society, I have the chance to inform and educate people about the sharks and rays living in Dutch waters. We aim to use education as a tool to connect scientific debates and research to the general public. To some people, the fact that we have elasmobranchs, a collective name for fish like sharks and rays, in our waters is a surprise. With others, I get the chance to resolve some misconceptions they have about sharks. It is very satisfying to see that a number of people, especially children, already know a lot about sharks. Another thing we do at the Dutch Shark Society is trying to get as many people as possible involved in the Great Eggcase Hunt we run in the Netherlands. We give out free identification guides for shark and ray egg cases, and organise guided egg case hunts on the beach. By using citizen science and education, we want to make people enthusiastic about shark and ray research, as well as increase the number of egg case finds for the global database!
“By using citizen science and education, we want to make people enthusiastic about shark and ray research.”
And what are good solutions for better conservation of our oceans globally, in your opinion?
This might be the teacher in me speaking, but I think education is one of the most important tools of conservation. We protect what we love, and if we can teach children to love our oceans and everything in it, they will be more likely to protect it as adults.
Also the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is very important in helping our oceans, and particularly their inhabitants. MPAs, when organized properly, can provide jobs and income to the local communities. However, it is impossible to protect the entire ocean with MPAs, so even though well-picked MPAs are hugely important, regulations for the rest of the ocean are just as important.
With the help of the solutions you mentioned, what will the ocean look like according to you in 2030?
I’m hoping that by then there will be increased awareness about plastics and overfishing. I hope the public has brought about changes in politics and businesses and that there will be big cleanup projects, some of which are in the works now. The same goes for MPAs and strict quotas. We’re not out of the woods yet, but improvements are visible.
“I think education is one of the most important tools for conservation. We protect what we love, and if we can teach children to love our oceans and everything in it, they will be more likely to protect it as adults.”
Thank you for sharing your story, Dorien. You’re an Ocean Witness now. What would you like to say to other Ocean Witnesses?
I’m so happy that there is a growing group of people doing something to protect the oceans. It’s beautiful that so many people are thinking of different ways to go about this, and that there is such variety in the focus of the projects. I would love for more people to get together and work together on their projects to increase the impact of the projects.
Dorien is 33 years old and lives in Schiedam, The Netherlands. Ever since she picked up her mother’s Greenpeace magazine at the age of 7, she wanted to save the whales. Her focus has changed slightly since then, but the theme of saving the oceans has remained. She went on to study Biology and spent a summer in Tenerife after graduating, where she educated tourists on whale watching boats for the Atlantic Whale Foundation. After she left Tenerife, she continued to attain her master’s degree in Oceanography and interned for Oceans Research in South Africa. She wrote her thesis on white sharks and continued to work for the research institute right after. When she returned to The Netherlands, Dorien started working for the Dutch Shark Society, an organization that aims to use education as a tool to connect scientific debates and research to the general public.
Our Ocean Witness Fabien also strongly believes in the education of the next generation. Click here to read more about Fabien and the Ocean Learning Centre. Also on of our other Ocean Witnesses, Verena, argues that it’s important to connect science to the general public. Read Verena’s story here.