Dana Miller | Director of Strategic Initiatives | Oceana StaffTell us about your background. When and why did you first become interested in ocean conservation? Growing up on the prairies in Canada, I was fascinated with the ocean from a very early age. The ocean was something I only encountered on special occasions, while visiting family or on holidays, and invoked a feeling of joy and wonder. Later in life when I studied marine biology as a university student, that fascination became overshadowed by concern. The more I learned about the ocean, the more I realized how threatened it is, and that solutions are urgently needed to protect it and all the magnificent creatures that call it home. I don’t think it’s possible to study marine biology these days without reaching this conclusion – and that started me on a path to find, develop and promote solutions that could help conserve the oceans that I love so deeply. Can you share some of your favorite memories or milestones from your career thus far? Before I started working with Oceana, I was an academic and earned my PhD at University College Dublin, in Ireland. One of the most exciting moments in my career was when I published my first manuscript in an academic journal. The study revealed that seafood fraud— the practice of misleading consumers about their seafood in order to increase profits—was rife in Ireland. My research showed that about one quarter of ‘cod’ sold in Ireland was something completely different, often even caught from a different part of the world than as indicated on the label. My study attracted attention from all major media outlets in Ireland and even the New York Times, triggering an investigation led by the Irish Government. A new Irish ‘Food Fraud Task Force’ was then established that used DNA testing to detect mislabeling, and subsequently uncovered a European-wide horse meat mislabeling scandal in 2013. I was very fortunate that my research garnered this attention, but this experience left a lasting impression on me of how powerful science can be in bringing issues to the attention of the public and driving policy change. What does a typical day look like for you? I try to start each day by spending some time outside. I live in the north part of Dublin close to the sea and if the weather allows for it, I like to cycle down to the water and watch the birds starting their day before I start mine. My workday is then usually spent on the computer, writing emails and reports or on Zoom calls. I also spend time strategizing and doing research, to inform and develop my campaign plans, which are focused on tackling marine plastic pollution through pressuring companies to reduce their reliance on single-use plastic packaging. What do you think our most urgent global policy needs are in regard to ocean conservation? Climate change and ocean acidification are two of the biggest threats currently facing the oceans and concerted efforts are needed across all governments and companies to adopt and implement policies and programs that eliminate or deter further greenhouse gas emissions. Subsidies that incentivize fossil fuel extraction or other activities that are harmful to the oceans must be eliminated immediately. Policies that ban the production and use of single-use plastic are also essential, as are programs that incentivize reusable and refillable packaging alternatives. Finally, policies that protect areas of the ocean and prevent overfishing and illegal fishing are vitally important for conserving marine biodiversity and maintaining the ocean’s resilience in the face of so many threats. What individual actions can people take to help protect our oceans? One of the most important things people can do to protect our oceans is to vote for politicians that are informed about environmental issues and that champion policies which prioritize the future of our planet over short-term economic gain. People can also vote with their wallets and their forks. We should stop buying things we don’t need, but when we do, think carefully about the companies we buy from and the food that we eat. Buy locally and support brands that are making efforts to reduce their impact on the planet through for example, limiting the amount of packaging they use and cutting their carbon emissions. What’s something you wish more people knew about the oceans? I wish that more people knew just how important the oceans are to all life on earth. The oceans regulate our climate, mediating temperature and driving global weather patterns. They are also the world’s largest store of carbon and are responsible for 50% of primary production on Earth, sustaining our food systems. As the oceans are also significantly threatened, these services they provide are also at risk. I also wish more people knew about the urgent threat of ocean acidification, which is a change in the chemistry of the oceans that is being brought about by rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The potential consequences of this are poorly understood but potentially catastrophic and irreversible. What would you tell someone interested in pursuing a career similar to yours? The oceans need all the help they can get. Start learning about them and follow your specific interests, which will lead you to likeminded people and organizations that you might want to work with in the future. Learn about what they are doing and deepen your knowledge further on these topics however you can – through education or reading online from reputable science-backed resources. Where you can, participate in community efforts to protect the environment and follow the organizations you support online, to learn about employment opportunities or other ways that you can get involved with the work that they do. Is there anything else you’d like us to share or think we should know? Whenever you can, try to find time to get outside and connect with nature. We are part of nature, but often forget this, spending so much time online and inside, looking at and sharing pictures of nature rather than experiencing it in person. There is a famous quote by Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer, that says “we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” So get outside, experience and learn more about the ocean, understand it until you love it, and then please help us protect it.
In honor of Earth Day, we talked to four Oceana team members to learn more about their work, ocean conservation, and how we can all do our part to help. You can read other interviews from the series here, here, and here.