The Voice of the Voiceless

Sea Shepherd fights to conserve marine wildlife.

Story and Photos By Kelly Currington

As I stand here in the Turks & Caicos Islands gazing out over the beautiful, pristine turquoise sea, I am hoping I can preserve this moment in my heart and mind. These memories may be the only place to see such scenes in the future if the human race does not change its ways.
Most of us are aware that the oceans, and the creatures that live in them, have been under siege for decades. We, as a species, are very quickly eradicating their health and existence by both legal and illegal practices.

The oceans are crucial for our very existence and survival—sustaining all life on Earth either directly or indirectly. Covering almost 75% of our planet, they hold 97% of its water. Over half of the oxygen in the atmosphere is produced by the oceans, as well as absorbing the most carbon dioxide from it.
The delicate ecosystems in our oceans must contain all their components to function efficiently and effectively. Every time a piece of the puzzle is removed, the network breaks down a little, and eventually it will stop functioning, affecting everything and everyone on Earth.
This is where Sea Shepherd comes in. They are an organization of mostly volunteers who get the “big picture” and are on the front lines, fighting to save our planet.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization. It was spawned from the Earthforce Envi-ronment Society in Vancouver, Canada, which was created in 1977 by Paul Watson, a former member of Greenpeace.
All over the world, innocent creatures and natural resources are being destroyed at the hands of humans. Captain Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd stepped up to the challenge of fighting these wrongs and protecting those who cannot protect themselves. Their fleet of battleships and crew around the world fight for the innocent victims of unfounded beliefs and traditions, overfishing by bottom trawling, long lines and ghost nets, and media-fed misconceptions.
In addition to frontline fighting of poaching, nets and illegal practices, Sea Shepherd also goes ashore and does conservation and educational work with communities to help promote eco-friendly living and the reduction of single-use plastic. Whether shore-based or on a vessel at sea, all of the volunteers play a critical role in the fight.

Sea Shepherd’s MV John Paul DeJoria visited the Turks & Caicos Islands in May 2018 as part of Operation Good Pirates.

A project Sea Shepherd started in 2017 is Operation Good Pirates. In a nutshell, it means having a ship standing by in the event an island is hit by a hurricane so they can be deployed and arrive in just a couple of days. They partner with UNICEF, the Red Cross, other non-government organizations and UN-based agencies. This is what brought the Sea Shepherd’s MV John Paul DeJoria (MV JPD) to the Turks & Caicos Islands in 2018.
The TCI was directly hit by category 5 Hurricane Irma on September 7, 2017 and two weeks later by category 3 Hurricane Maria. Parts of the country were without power for nearly two months, and those who have cisterns were without direct access to potable water for just as long. Just knowing that there is a readied ship on call if such a tragedy strikes again offers a sense of security for the people.
I was thrilled when I found out the Sea Shepherd group was here and that I could go onboard the MV JPD and talk to the crew. To stand in their presence and hear their stories and tales of what they’ve encountered in their journeys is humbling. Each crew member has their own reason as to why they joined Sea Shepherd, but all have a common thread—the desire to be a part of something much bigger than themselves.
They’ve left their “normal” lives behind and traded them in for a life of hard work in what is sometimes very harsh conditions, long hours reaching into the night, isolation from loved ones and seeing tragedy and heartache on a daily basis. But that only seems to push them to keep fighting and protect the voiceless even more.

Each crew member has their own reason as to why they joined Sea Shepherd, but all have a common thread—the desire to be a part of something much bigger than themselves.

One young woman touched me the most. She is the bosun aboard the MV JPD. Rebecca hails from Canada, is beautiful, confident and knowledgable, but most importantly, passionate about the oceans and the creatures who inhabit them. She carries herself with a quiet strength that is connected to her belief in this ongoing war.
Listening to Rebecca tell me about the fight to save endangered animals brought me to tears more than once. One of the questions I asked her was how she deals with the heartache of retrieving illegal nets where trapped, innocent creatures have already lost their struggle for life. Her response was simple yet powerful, “You cry for the ones who died, but you have to focus on the ones you save.”
Rebecca has been in dangerous situations in attempts to stop illegal fishing and poaching. Her vessel’s been boarded by armed poachers and her tender has been shot at, yet this does not detour her will to stay on the forefront of this fight. She explains that working with the local police and following the laws helps to ensure that Sea Shepherd’s work continues without detainment and provides protection for the crew. I am completely in awe of her strength, fortitude and advocacy for the continued fight to protect and save those most in need.
Crew member Samele is totally a pirate—a good one—both in physical appearance and nature. Originating from Queensland, Australia, he is scruffy and rough and lives his beliefs while working onboard the MV JPD and in his personal life. He is a vegan and advocate for simple, green living in order to reduce his carbon footprint on this planet.
Prior to coming onboard the MV JPD, he worked land-based for Sea Shepherd as their marine debris coordinator for two years. He started as a deck hand on the vessel and has earned his way to assistant bosun and diver. He also helps with vegan meals onboard for the crew. He is completely immersed in the war on the dam-age being done to our planet—both sea and land.
Other crew members told similar stories of how they came to volunteer for Sea Shepherd. All wanted to make a difference in this world and in their own lives while they have the ability to give their time.
Captain Octavio was kind enough to allow the crew to give me a tour of the ship. It was instantly apparent that this is a warship and not designed for comfort or pleasure, but soley for function and battle. Just standing on the dock looking at this vessel you can feel the stories that have permeated its “soul.” The paint job alone gives poachers warning that it means business and will not back down—it is an impressive ship!
One of their most recently won battles was in Peru. Sea Shepherd’s diligence and persistent presence and pressure, working alongside the Peruvian government, shut down the largest fishing vessel in the world. The Damanzaihao, a floating fish factory, was capable of killing and processing 547,000 TONS of fish each year! Peru is committed to combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU), and if successfully convicted under the Peruvian Penal Code, the crew of the Damanzaihao could face three to five years of incarceration and multi-million dollar fines. Sea Shepherd continues to supply support to Peru to help them combat IUU and bring an end to “rampant over-exploitation of the oceans.”
Poaching has directly impacted the Turks & Caicos Islands. Our reefs and ecosystems are treasured both in-country and world-wide. Their health and protection require a constant effort as poachers come to our pristine and rich waters to steal.
In 2015, 28 poachers were detained and tried for removing more than 2,000 pounds of marine products from TCI waters. In that catch were a sea turtle, 1,462 pounds of lobster (including 69 egg-bearing females), and 485 pounds of parrotfish, which are illegal to fish at any time. Fourteen unlicensed vessels were confiscated during this operation. A total of approximately 200 pounds of poached marine catch along with illegal spear guns were confiscated in 2016 as well.
But it was on March 16, 2017 that a devastating blow was delivered to the TCI at the hands of poachers. The Royal Turks & Caicos Marine Police intercepted the Captain Blaze, an illegal Dominican fishing vessel that was completely loaded down with more than 39,000 pounds of poached marine catch, mostly consisting of fish, but including sharks and other vital creatures.
The 80-foot vessel and its crew of 41 Dominican fisherman, along with a number of smaller boats, were towed to Caicos Marina and Shipyard. The marine products were unloaded and reportedly distributed to the people of the TCI. The Captain Blaze still sits in the marina as a constant reminder of the war at hand.
In casual conversation with my boyfriend Josh, I asked him what he thought of the pirate flag that is flown on all Sea Shepherd vessels. (I wanted an unbiased perspective on this.) He said, “It reminds me of the pirate tradition, only reborn for good.” Our oceans are sensitive organs that require close attention to their damage and we need to be hyper-responsible for stopping and reversing our negative footprint.
As scuba divers we are advocates for the sea, and in that sense it affects us directly. Yet the oceans’ health and balance also impacts economies all over the world. Every ocean on this planet needs protection if we are to survive, and a huge part of that protection starts with educating people on what is happening and how to help.
There are so many ways to be a part of this movement to protect the planet and speak for those who cannot speak. The most obvious is donating money, but you can do other things like starting educational projects in your community. Stopping the use of single-use plastic such as straws and water bottles is something we can all do. Speak to your local supermarkets about not using unnecessary packaging like styrofoam, or packaging raw vegetables (as they naturally have their own container). Little changes can have a big impact on our planet.
You can start a local Sea Shepherd chapter in your neighborhood or island where people work together to learn sustainable fishing practices, respect for the ocean and earth, and the importance of reassessing old traditions that serve no purpose other than being a “tradition.”
Participating in peaceful protest against captivity is another way to help. Sea Shepherd is a powerful, yet peaceful, organization which only uses force when absolutely required.
Education is the key to any change. If you would like to learn more about Sea Shepherd and their ongoing projects and how you can help, visit www.seashepherd.org.
I only write about topics that I believe in, and I write from my heart. Sharing this organization’s story is something I am passionate about. I am honored to have had the chance. Sea Shepherd is the true voice of the voiceless!
Thank you for all you do. Defend . . . Conserve . . . Protect!

Leave a Reply


What's Inside The Latest Edition?

On the Cover

Aysha Stephen is Grand Turk’s newest artistic sensation, renowned for her iconic “Cool Donkeys” paintings. Her creations are quite the hit with visitors to TDB Fine Arts Gallery. It recently opened within the Turks & Caicos National Museum on Grand Turk and is dedicated to showcasing art “Made in TCI.

Our Sponsors

  • Fortis
  • Sothebys
  • Turks & Tequila
  • Shore Club
  • Turks and Caicos Real Estate
  • H2O Life Style Resort
  • South Bank
  • Turks & Caicos Banking Co.
  • Projetech
  • Turks and Caicos Tourism
  • Jewels in Paradise
  • TIC
  • Do It Center
  • Landscape
KR LogisticsSWA
jsjohnsonDempsey and Company
Hugh ONeillTwa Marcela Wolf
Parkway Pest SolutionsJohn Redmond
Misick & Stanbrook Caicos Express Air
Island Escapes TCILandfall
Great Bone Fishing Race for the Conch


Lost your password?