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"Our diving expeditions are real eye-openers in terms of what a biodiversity hotspot in the North Sea looks like."

Ocean Witness Melvin shares his story

“When we go on an expedition, it’s important to capture the iconic species from the North Sea on photo and film. This helps us to tell our story for a bigger audience via television and newspapers.” As an explorer, diver and keynote speaker, Melvin Redeker is committed to exploring, documenting and protecting his beloved North Sea. Together with his wife Fiona, they set up the foundation In de Noordzee (‘In the North Sea’ in Dutch). With this foundation and expeditions, Melvin aims to educate, raise awareness and inspire behavioural change to protect and preserve the North Sea. Examples of In de Noordzee’s projects are the educational theatre show De Roep van de Orka (‘The Call of the Orca’ in Dutch), and an elementary school education program. Starting small, he hopes to teach all ages how to take better care of his beloved North Sea.

become an ocean witness
17 May 2019 | The Netherlands

What is your earliest memory of the North Sea?

Originally I am a mountaineer. My life existed of climbing and the focus of my expeditions was climbing new routes to the steepest Himalayan summits. For me, the North Sea was a grey dull mass of water. However, this changed radically when I saw the dorsal fins of killer whales in the North Sea. It triggered my curiosity and inspired me and Fiona to learn how to dive, to explore the intriguing underwater world of the North Sea.

What does the North Sea mean to you today?

Our oceans fascinate me. Over two thirds of the surface of the earth consists of ocean, but 90% of it is terra incognita; never been seen by the human eye! Also, the oceans are a major source of food and oceans play a fundamental role in shaping the climate. There’s oxygen from ocean plants in every breath we take. Basically, decisions we make on land have a huge impact on the wellbeing of our oceans and our planet.

However, the North Sea does not reveal her secrets easily. It’s a challenging sea with strong currents, steep waves, many storms and sometimes very poor visibility (less than 1m / 3ft) underwater. This makes diving, photography and videography difficult. Hence, when we go out and explore, we try to be the eyes and ears of the public and report our adventures and findings back via photo expositions, the theatre show, lectures for companies and our primary school program.

“Some people tell us they are blown away by our video and time lapses of pristine shellfish beds; they never knew how rich these ecosystems are.”
Melvin Redeker

What changes are you witnessing in the North Sea?

On every boat trip, we find balloons that have been released by kids or during events. No matter how far we sail, whether it’s 10 kilometres or we’re over 100 kilometres from the Dutch shore, we will find some. We think that the amount of litter and plastics that we see is increasing. This has a major effect on our oceans and its animals. Sea life is dying from ingesting plastics and some of it even ends up in our seafood (in the form of microplastics, for example).

But there also are many problems that are invisible to the eye: toxins, like metals that enter the marine environment and (our) food chain, and chemicals, like pcbs from the seventies that are still widely present in marine ecosystems. These are more difficult to understand for people because we cannot actually see them.

“What I learnt in the sometimes harsh environments of my expeditions, is that we live in an age of unprecedented ecological challenges, and the time to act is now.”
Melvin Redeker

How do the changes that you witness on your expeditions affect you?

We’ve lead several diving expeditions to the last pristine shellfish beds of the North Sea. Those really opened our eyes in terms of what a biodiversity hotspot in the North Sea looks like.

We put a lot of effort in time-lapsing and filming the shellfish beds, people love these productions. Some people tell us they are blown away by the images; they never knew how rich the North Sea is. And then to think we used to have them in our backyard…

Huge parts of the southern North Sea were covered with oyster reefs but unfortunately all is gone now. A few horse mussel beds, however, still exist in the northern part of the North Sea, where every inch teems with life. It is important that people become aware that the Dutch North Sea (the southern part of the North Sea) has not always been the underwater desert that it has become. There were huge reefs from oysters and they were hotspots for biodiversity.

 

And what do you do to contribute to shifting this change in a positive way?

Observing these changes, my wife Fiona and I founded In de Noordzee. Our foundation’s main goal is education on primary schools; we believe that a healthy sea starts on your school yard. Committed to contribute, we educate kids about marine life, the food chain and plastic soup, so every child can make a difference and contribute to a healthy sea. After all, you protect what you know and love. By keeping our school yards, our villages and cities clean, we help prevent plastics and other waste coming into our oceans – and on our plate. So far, we have already reached over 20.000 kids with our program running in Holland.

“Our foundation’s main goal is education on primary schools; we believe that a healthy sea starts in the school yard.”
Melvin Redeker

Another project is our theatre show named De roep van de Orka. In the theatre, we take people of all ages on an exploration journey under the thin blue line without them getting wet. We travel over the pristine and untouched seabeds of the North Sea all the way up to arctic Norway, where we see killer whales team up with the gentle humpbacks in their hunt for herring. Our show is a live narrated documentary; I am on stage as the narrator, sharing my experiences.

Also, when we go on an expedition, it’s important to capture the iconic species from the North Sea on photo and film, like harbour porpoises that are very shy. We also succeeded in making an underwater film shot of a minke whale, and I won an award in the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition with my photograph ‘Eye to eye’ of a killer whale in the North Sea. I captured this shot from the seabed while the orcas were hunting seals. This kind of visual material helps us to share our story with a bigger audience via television and newspapers.

Could you reflect on the role of Marine Protected Areas as a conservation measure for better protection of the North Sea?

We need more Marine Protected Areas, especially in the Dutch part of the North Sea. Areas where the seafloor is totally protected from any form of industry and any form of fishing, year round. Decisions we make on land have a huge impact on the wellbeing of our oceans and our planet. So, with a network of marine protected areas the health of marine ecosystems, this ever so valuable seventy percent area of our planet can recover.

 

In 2030, what does the North Sea look like according to you?

If today’s plans will become reality, by 2030 the North Sea will be a large industrial area with a few small protected areas. We are worried about the size of the wind farms that are planned to be built. We support sustainable energy, but the number of windmill farms and their size will have a great impact on the marine life and the ecosystem of the North Sea. Although the exact impact has not yet been determined, it can’t be good.

 

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

Keep up the good work, together we can raise awareness and inspire change.

All our underwater adventures – from the inquisitive and playful seals to the orcas and shellfish beds – have been life changing experiences for us. We feel privileged being able to explore the underwater world and we encourage you to do the same!

 

And do you have any final tips for our readers about how they can contribute to a healthier ocean in the future?  

Firstly, reject the unnecessary use of plastic. Reusable plastic is still plastic and therefore just as harmful for the marine environment. Ergo, better take any opportunity to avoid it. The same goes for plastics that you can hardly see; buy products free of microplastics.

Another tip would be to eat less meat. This is really one of the best things you can do for the planet and the ocean.

About Melvin

Melvin Redeker is a Dutch explorer and keynote speaker.
He tells stories of the last wild places on our planet through expeditions, speaking engagements and visual storytelling.

As an adventurer, diver and mountaineer he is used to operating on the edge of nature. What those harsh environments taught him, is that we live in an age of unprecedented ecological challenges, and the time to act is now.

Together with his wife Fiona he set up the ‘In de Noordzee’ foundation. Their mission is to make the North Sea healthy and lively again, for us and our future generations. To this end, one of the foundation’s projects is an informative theatre tour of the show De Roep van de Orka. And to educate children, they have an elementary school program that teaches kids about marine life, the food chain and plastic soup. With this program, they have already reached over 20.000 Dutch children.

Their motto: a healthy sea starts in the school yard.

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Melvin

The Netherlands

As an explorer, diver and keynote speaker, Melvin Redeker is committed to exploring, documenting and protecting his beloved North Sea.