John Tanzer is most notably from 2001 onwards, he was the Executive responsible for the oversight of the spatial rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park based on the Representative Areas Program.
“People need to understand that this is not just a realm for marine biologists, or fishermen and fisherwomen. It is a place where everyone can draw a lot of sustenance. And we need to.” Ocean Witness John Tanzer on why it should be everybody’s mission to save the world’s ocean.
John Tanzer is Oceans Leader at WWF International. For most of his professional life, he has actively participated in local and global initiatives to preserve ocean quality. As an Ocean Witness, he wants to share his story with us. We’ve had the pleasure of speaking with him at the Healers of the Ocean event, where he openly shares his outlook on the oceans past and future. Read more about his inspiring ocean story.
What’s your first memory of the ocean?
My first memory of the ocean is my days growing up in North Queensland in Australia at Saunders beach just North of Townsville. My grandparents’ house was there, so I have some wonderful memories of listening to the waves and enjoying Saunders beach for a day.
What does the ocean mean to you today?
The ocean is really my cathedral I suppose in many ways. I get a lot of personal sustenance and support out of the ocean. I’m continually fascinated and in awe of how it works and the goods and services it delivers as well. But now I try to put that personal part to one side to work in a very clear and sober manner – showing what the ocean provides in terms of benefits for people, regardless of where they live and how important it is to the health of the planet that we restore the oceans.
What changes are you witnessing in the oceans?
Well, I guess it started in my childhood. I still remember walking along the beach, this was after these things called monofilament gill nets, which is when you could set nets and then you’d go away and leave them and it would sit there. The masses of dead fish washed up on the beach – sharks, but not only fish. Also turtles, and dugongs. That really seared itself into my mind. I mean, as a young child I thought: ”Look at all this waste”. And of course these things rotting on the beach. It was just so decadent in a way and that stuck with me. We’re treating this ocean as though it’s infinite and, clearly, it is not.
“People need to understand that this is not just a realm for marine biologists, or fisherman and fisherwomen. It is a place where everyone can draw a lot of sustenance. And we need to.”
If you could transport yourself to the year 2030, how would the ocean look?
Well, I think it would look very busy in terms of people working to restore it. I think it would look much clearer in terms of the knowledge. We’d have more insight into how to better manage it. But I think most of all, it would be much more a busy space in terms of public engagement. Of people all around the world realizing that the ocean is their place. Fixing the ocean is their business and we’re all responsible. I know it sounds somewhat idealistic, but that’s the place we have to get to if we’re really going to save the ocean which in turn will save us: humanity on the planet.
What is your favorite thing about the ocean?
I’d have to say probably the life under the ocean. Coral reefs – obviously because of where I grew up. I’m endlessly fascinated by coral reefs. But I also love visiting communities whose life is very interwoven with the ocean wherever that is, but particularly places in the developing world where communities everyday depend on the ocean for their food, their jobs and their cultural sustenance. I love that, I love going to places like the Solomon Islands or it doesn’t matter where it is, where coastal communities are heavily involved everyday in their relationship with the oceans.
Obviously, you are an Ocean Witness. What would you say to your fellow Ocean Witnesses?
I’d say spread the word. People need to understand that this is not just a realm for marine biologists, or fishermen, fisherwomen. It is a place where everyone can draw a lot of sustenance. And we need to, because we have a massive job on our hands to rebuild the resilience of the oceans. We’re starting from well behind, we’re playing catch-up in this. And we can’t do it alone. It can’t just be civil society; it can’t just be conservation organizations. This has to be a global effort. And we heard at this conference as to why it has to be a global effort. And I’m not going to go into all the threats and the pressures. Oceans are everybody’s business.
So get involved, don’t sit on the sidelines. Talk to your friends, talk to your families, get them involved in the mission to save the world’s oceans.
John Tanzer was appointed as the inaugural Chair and Chief Executive of Queensland’s Fisheries Management Authority (QFMA), Executive Director of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). Most notably from 2001 onwards, he was the Executive responsible for the oversight of the spatial re-zoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park based on the Representative Areas Program. He was an Advisor to The Coral Triangle Initiative for several NGOs. Mr Tanzer led WWFs Global Marine Programme and helped reshape its global strategy to focus on sustainable development. He is now Oceans Leader at WWF International.