Episode #7: Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (Transcript)
Quinn: Welcome to Important Not Important, my name is Quinn Emmett.
Brian: I am Brian Colbert Kennedy.
Quinn: Today’s guest is Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. She is the smartest and coolest person on the planet. She is saving the ocean with her own bare hands, and she is often the only person of color in the room, which should surprise no one but should continue to be infuriating because it's 2018. I think it's pretty fair to say, Brian, we had a pretty good day today, a pretty awesome conversation with the doctor.
Brian: Awesome conversation. I was [inaudible 00:00:42] unsure of what it might be like, and then it was the best, and I love her.
Quinn: I think it's fair to say, it's pretty shared. I don’t know if that’s how it feels from her end, as most of our conversations go.
Brian: No, she was into it.
Quinn: I think so.
Brian: Yeah. I think she had a good time. Maybe her perception was the same. Maybe she's like, “Who are these [gimoks 00:01:02],” and then she was like, “Oh no, like their fair. They're pretty cool guys.” It was a wonderful conversation. I feel like I learned a lot and I just ... I just like her a lot.
Quinn: I think everybody out there has learned a lot from this, both contextually, with regard to ocean conservation, but also really specific actionable steps you can take to both talk to your law makers, your representatives but also to take yourself, including the one piece of seafood you're never allowed eating.
Brian: Get ready for that.
Quinn: One correction, before I do forget, I mentioned that Dr. Johnson has her own foundation, not surprisingly I'm wrong.
Brian: I mean ...
Quinn: Standard, one a day, or 12. She's got a consulting company; it's called Ocean Collective. They work on ocean conservation strategy and they are grounded in social justice, because why not? She's that good. If you're a company or a human who wants to help save the ocean, you can hype them and they will help point you in the right direction. We’ll put the link for that in the show notes, along with everything else we talked about-
Brian: There'll be lots of notes.
Quinn: ... today on our website that I hate.
Brian: It has already gotten better. If you haven't seen the website today, go to it. It already looks even better. It's not as bad as you think.
Quinn: This is going to come out a month later, but hopefully will have noticed by then.
Brian: Yeah, that’s true. Go to our website.
Quinn: You wanted to add something.
Brian: Yeah. Dr. Ayana Johnson ... Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, clearly a ocean conservationist, one of the things that we do get into during this conversation is how much fucking plastic is in the ocean destroying everything, and it got me thinking about how something that I just learned ... I work at a bar and restaurant with some very fine folks who own it, and I just found out that they are working with a professor at UCLA-
Quinn: What's the restaurant, call it up.
Brian: The restaurant is called Bludsoe's.
Quinn: What do they serve?
Brian: We serve Texas barbecue. If you are a meat eater, it is delicious.
Quinn: I'm not.
Brian: I know. Sorry. If you, the listeners, are meat eaters is what I meant, it is delicious. I also make cocktails over there. They are joining a study that this Doctor, this professor ... I'm not going to say his name because I don’t know how to pronounce it, but his name is Peter. I know how to pronounce Peter, Peter K. No, but apparently our smoke master, our pit master appreciates this and respects this doctor, or this professor a lot.
Brian: He's going to come in and work with us to try to find economically viable solutions to improving sustainability in the restaurant business in general; what are the most destructive things coming out of a restaurant, like what are we doing worse than anything, and then how can we fix it; what are the most sustainable solutions. Obviously it has to make fiscal sense for the restaurant too, but also be better for the environment in order to help large scale change, hopefully.
Quinn: What do we think are those things, the bad, bad things?
Brian: The thing I've noticed in every restaurant I've ever worked at is the take home shit, what do you put in your leftover-
Quinn: ... yeah, it's a nightmare.
Brian: I've worked in so many restaurants, where it's Styrofoam, all the plastic ... We use paper bags at Bludsoe's, that’s cool, but there's a lot of ...
Quinn: Styrofoam is bad news. Did you see Dunkin Donuts is doing away with their legendary Styrofoam cups-
Brian: That’s great.
Quinn: Going to double wall paper?
Brian: Those cups are ... I can't even believe that people use Styrofoam still.
Quinn: It's incredible ...
Brian: We've done at Bludsoe's, to be fair, but ...
Quinn: I've got a pretty decent inside source that they’ve been working on it four years to get this right, just because of the scale of Dunkin Donuts and the coffee is fucking hot and nobody wants to be the McDonalds thing.
Brian: Yeah, of course.
Quinn: Yet it's still 2018, let's go.
Brian: Yeah, let's go. That’s just one, I guess they're going to look at just everything that a restaurant does across the board that could possibly be improved and hopefully also save money.
Quinn: Like hiring?
Brian: Sure. Anyway, I think that’s pretty cool. It'd be cool to not add to the existing problem of [crosstalk 00:05:11]-
Quinn: Sure, even if you're not making it better, try not to make it worse.
Brian: Yeah, at least. That would be cool, we’ll see.
Quinn: Well done.
Brian: There's some crazy ... We’ll get into it, but just the stats about how much trash is in the ocean, our oceans ...
Quinn: I thought I had a pretty good grasp on it. I did not.
Brian: No, I don’t think we do. She pointed out ... It is true, you don’t ... People I feel like just don’t think about the ocean.
Quinn: No, “It's fine, it's the ocean.”
Brian: It's so weird. It's literally on the [crosstalk 00:05:40]
Quinn: That’s it, that’s what we got, and it's not great Bob. You were more involved today. Everybody can look forward to that.
Brian: Yes. Thank you for bringing that out
Quinn: We are only seven episodes in. I think this is a big step. She still can't hear you on the microphone, but-
Brian: Right, there's a technical issue.
Quinn: ... everybody else can.
Brian: I'm getting more comfortable. I very much enjoy the people we speak with and I'm finding my voice, or trying to at least.
Quinn: Marijuana helps.
Brian: I will not be smoking marijuana before any of these episodes. Is that what you're saying?
Quinn: I don’t know.
Brian: It is legal. I could walk out outside and smoke it right now and nobody can do anything, but I won't.
Quinn: There's 12 high end dispensaries within a block of here.
Brian: She was great. It helps me when they're wonderful, not that all of guests haven't been, but you know.
Quinn: Sure. She's pretty A team. Well, listen ...
Brian: How's everything with you?
Quinn: It's great. Let's get to it. Nobody wants to hear about me. All right, everybody let's go talk to Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Our guest today has been called the most influential marine biologist of our time. She's a policy expert, a professor, she's been published in the New York Times, The Guardian, she's got a TED talk, she's worked for the NOAA and the EPA. She's got her own foundation, and I'm pretty sure at some point she just said, “Fuck it,” and designed her own fish net, I think. She's better than us in every conceivable way, and now I'm just starting to wonder why she's here.
Quinn: Her name is Dr. Ayana Johnson, and we’re going to get to the bottom of all that, but also and most importantly how we can use the ocean without using it up. Let's finally go ahead and find out who she is. Dr. Johnson, welcome.
Dr. Ayana: Hello. It's great to be with you.
Brian: Thank you so much for being here.
Quinn: Don’t mumble Brian, she can't hear you.
Brian: I was very clear.
Quinn: Okay. Listen, Dr. Johnson, Ayana, however you prefer to be called by such lowly folks as ourselves-
Brian: AJ, can we call you AJ? I like that.
Dr. Ayana: Ayana works just fine.
Brian: Ayana is fine. Ayana is fine, Quinn.
Quinn: Here's the context and tone we go for in these things. We are big believers in questions, but questions that don’t provoke action or basically just philosophy, which is great, but these times call for action and that’s where we’re trying to go, or we’re trying to provoke here on every level, from the hyper local to the federal.
Quinn: What we want to do is we’re going to get some context from you; who you are and what you do, and the changes and challenges facing our listeners, and your areas of expertise, and then we’ll progress to some actionable steps that our listeners can actually take, something that will inspire them to get to work at whatever level, whatever party they subscribe to. Does that sound good?
Dr. Ayana: Sounds great.
Quinn: Awesome. Ayana, two questions for you; the first one, instead of who are you we like to ask kind of a ridiculous question, but we do think it is important, and it's why are you vital to the survival of the species.
Brian: Oh my God!
Quinn: That’s right ... I know. Listen to me, Outside Magazine said you're the most influential marine biologist of our times. I want you to-
Dr. Ayana: ... [inaudible 00:08:54] I'm the only marine biologist they talked to in that article.
Quinn: ... well, there you go, whatever. Be bold, be honest. You're here for a reason, and I don’t just mean on this podcast, I mean on this planet.
Brian: On earth.
Quinn: Tell us why you're saving us.
Dr. Ayana: Well, why and how are two totally different questions, but I think on the how side-
Quinn: ... give me the short version of what [crosstalk 00:09:14]-
Dr. Ayana: ... yeah, is I have an interesting perspective on the ocean because I've done a lot of community work. I grew up in Brooklyn and have also done a lot of science and policy. I'm really trying to help people connect the dots between science and policy and communication and think about ocean conservation as a social justice issue that really affects our food security, our health, our economies, our cultures. I think a lot of people think of the ocean as this just big blue thing that they're not sure what to do with it or why it matters, and so I'm trying to help folks understand the crazy puzzle that is ocean conservation and actually solve it.
Quinn: It sounds like a small goal.
Dr. Ayana: Tiny. I have a lot of free time.
Brian: What, you haven't accomplished this yet?
Quinn: Well, that’s pretty damn compelling. Tell me, let's back up. You're from Brooklyn. What's your story? How did you go from Brooklyn to the mean streets of the Pacific Ocean?
Dr. Ayana: Well, I went to Key West, Florida when I was five and learnt to swim and saw my first coral reef. This was on a glass bottom boat and feeding cheese popcorn to the fish, which is not a thing that we do anymore-
Brian: Oh, dear Jesus! Wait, you're part of the problem.
Quinn: Hold on.
Dr. Ayana: I've been making up for it for my entire life. I'm super allergic to cheese, so I'm covered in hives by the time my mother catches on to this fun activity-
Quinn: Well, oh my God! Maybe you deserve that for giving it to the fish.
Dr. Ayana: Maybe. They were all coming up to the surface, these beautiful parrot fish and snappers and surgeon fish, and I was totally enamored by them and being able to see all this through a glass bottom boat was just so stunning. It was this other world that I never imagined existed.
Dr. Ayana: Going from there to an aquarium and holding sea urchins and starfish in my hand and feeling their thousands of tube feet just crawling across my hand, I just wanted to understand how it all worked, and so I decided at five to become a marine biologist and then-
Brian: ... at five?
Quinn: ... at five.
Dr. Ayana: ... [promptly 00:11:28] forgot about that for like the next 20 years, wanting to be a civil rights lawyer, wanting to be a park ranger and getting paid to go hiking all day, wanting to become an environmental lawyer and then realizing that ocean conservation was actually a way to do all of that; to think about protected areas, to think about protecting our leaders, to think about the legal structure behind all of it and to integrate the science. It's a journey that makes sense in hindsight but at the time there were plenty of moments where I had no idea what I was going to be when I grew up.
Brian: Like all of us. What if I still don’t know, is that okay?
Dr. Ayana: I think it's fine, as long as you're doing something.
Brian: Thanks AJ.
Quinn: It seems like through all of those job ideas, it seems like there's a bit of an underlying theme of justice in some way, whether it's for the ocean, or the fish you poisoned, or civil rights, or things like that.
Dr. Ayana: Some combination between justice and nature and understanding that humans are the problem but we’re also the solution, and so figuring out how we can be a little less problematic for the planet.
Brian: We've got some fun numbers for our listeners here-
Quinn: ... and please correct all of these.
Brian: ... yeah, I'm sure that you know much better than us. We've already established that you're better than us in every way. Here's some fun stuff; 91% of the billions, literally billions of tons of plastic produced in the past several decades is not recycled. There are an estimated over five trillion pieces of plastic floating around in our oceans, 80% of which the marine pollution globally comes from agricultural runoff, discharge of nutrients and pesticides, untreated sewage, including plastics of course. Coral reefs are home to 25% of all marine life and by 2030, in just over 10 years, 70% of all of them will be damaged.
Quinn: That number actually feels low to me, considering some of the news I feel like I've been seeing recently.
Dr. Ayana: The number that I'm familiar with on coral reefs is that they’ll essentially be gone as we know them by 2050.
Brian: Gone. Fuck!
Dr. Ayana: If we do not change our ways. That’s assuming we let things continue.
Quinn: In a minute I want you to explain to folks the coral reefs are important, but I’ll let Brian continue his report here.
Brian: We are getting close to the end here. This I think is pretty cool. The value of the ecosystem services that coral reefs provide, which will be gone in 30 years, in terms of shoreline protection, tourism, fisheries is estimated to be $375 billion annually. We just shared something about this on our newsletter, there are millions of climate refugees across the world-
Quinn: ... already.
Brian: ... already. By the end of the century, in the US alone, it's estimated that there’ll be 13 million ... And that’s just the US.
Quinn: ... which feels pretty low.
Brian: Yeah, honestly. I read some other stuff that was putting that number much, much higher globally.
Quinn: I guess what we’re trying to do is paint a little bit of a picture for our readers, who again, our listeners, they're progressive, they’ve probably taken more action this year than they ever have, whether it's through Flippable, or 5calls.org, or Swing Left or something like that, or just protesting in the streets for women or science or both, but like you said it's easy to look at the ocean and think it's this big blue thing and it goes on forever and we are fine. Your-
Dr. Ayana: ... we’re not fine, just for the record.
Brian: Yeah, we’re definitely not fine.
Quinn: ... no. To be clear, we’re not fine. What we just wanted to do there is provide some context. Now I want to focus on our question and topic of the week which is something, from what I understand you have talked about quite a bit, which is how do we use the ocean, because we need to, without using it up, because it is as you said not fine. Talk to us about that. Where do we start?
Dr. Ayana: First to take a step back on those numbers-
Quinn: ... yes, correct all of them.
Dr. Ayana: ... I don’t have time to Google all of them and I don’t have all memorized, but I will say that on the plastic front I spent a bunch of time last year doing some calculations with other scientists on that and it looks like there's approximately one ton of plastic that enters the ocean every four seconds, a ton.
Brian: What! I was curious where that-
Dr. Ayana: ... that’s like every second of the day every day of the year, not just like some seconds.
Quinn: God! I was curious where that statistic was going to go, what the punchline was on that, and that was not what I was expecting. That’s ...
Dr. Ayana: What were you expecting?
Quinn: I don’t know, like day-
Brian: ... yeah, four seconds? Dear God!
Quinn: ... or a week. Four seconds just feels strong.
Dr. Ayana: Yeah, it's wild. I don’t know what percent of plastic that’s produced is recycled or not, but there are some really interesting conversations happening right now about the roles for corporations and re-designing their product to make things at least 100 ... To make things 100% recyclable because there's so much plastic that’s produced that can't be recycled as it is now.
Quinn: Is it mostly industrial or is it mostly consumer, or is it ... How is that one ton split? Do we have any idea?
Dr. Ayana: That’s a good question. I don’t know off the top of my head. The goal is for plastics to have 100% of the plastic produced be recyclable and ideally also 100% of it be from recycled material, so starting to close that loop.
Brian: That’s such a great first step obviously, and then a lot of stuff I was reading was-
Dr. Ayana: ... or [inaudible 00:17:32] less plastic.
Brian: ... well, yeah, less plastic; great. If there's going to be plastic let's hope it's recyclable.
Dr. Ayana: Part of the challenge is more cultural than anything. For me, I think a lot about how our modern urban American lifestyles have created these problems. When we think about plastics, we all work so many hours that we’re taking everything to go, and so it's very uncivilized but it's also very wasteful that we’re not just sitting down and having a meal.
Dr. Ayana: You walk into a coffee shop and you don’t just have a mug with coffee in it and sit there and drink it and then leave, because of all of the cultural reasons that we’re running around like headless chickens all the time. I think a lot about sort of the behind the scenes structural causes for the convenience society that’s been built up that leads to all of these disposable products.
Quinn: Even the not disposable stuff; I have a flock of young children and they break shit, whether intentionally most of the time, or unintentionally, and so of course you start off as a pioneer like, “That’s it, we’re only getting wooden toys from recycled,” fill in the blank, and that goes by the wayside quickly and then you're like, “All right, you know what, like strictly BPA free plastic, that’s what we’re going with,” because whether it's eating utensils or cutlery or bowls and plates and toys because obviously they're not going to get lead poisoning anymore, we did away with that, so we don’t want them to get whatever plastic gives off, except for the fact that we’re still buying a shitload of plastic and it's not necessarily disposable but it's the market there, the industry for that is just enormous.
Dr. Ayana: I have some bad news for you. It's not just BPA that you should be worried about in plastic.
Quinn: I'm sure.
Dr. Ayana: You really ... And the last thing anyone should do is put plastic in the microwave because then all of the chemicals are leeching out into your food. We could have a much longer conversation about the infrastructure needed for a child in the modern age, but I think ... I don’t have children, but I wouldn’t serve them food in a plastic.
Quinn: Yeah, I know, it's a hard one. It's a hard one because we really shouldn’t, and we definitely don’t put it in the microwave, most of the time, ever, but it's still just ... Again, you're fighting for convenience or you're fighting to win the easiest battle, which is just not have all your shit break all the time but at the same time you look around and you go, “Where did all this plastic come from.”
Dr. Ayana: Yeah. I think it's part of this larger challenge, which is should it be the responsibility of the consumer to do all this research into is this toxic or not, or should that be the job of the government and regulatory agencies to not put toxic things on the shelves. I tend to think that it’s ridiculous to expect every consumer to do all this research, whether it's from the health impacts of plastic to is this seafood sustainable. Who has time to research which kind of tuna it is and how it was caught and in what seas and was there slavery involved in that supply chain, and all of this stuff.
Dr. Ayana: It's just, I think, the broader conversation around what is the role of the individual and the consumer versus what is the regulatory role of government and then how are corporations lobbying to influence that in ways that don’t protect our health and wellbeing and the resources that we depend on versus corporations having the corporations having the potential to be incredible leaders in this space.
Dr. Ayana: Whether it's plastics or seafood or endangered species, or any of that, I think that’s a big challenge because there's so much that individuals can do but we’re also asking way too much of individuals who are so busy that they can't have their coffee to stay.
Quinn: Sure. By the way, I've even got ... Hell, I don’t have my phone on me, unlike Brian. I even have the app; it's Santa Monica seafood, I can't remember, that tells me-
Dr. Ayana: Seafood Watch, yeah, from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Quinn: ... yes, Seafood Watch. It's great.
Brian: What does it do?
Quinn: It basically tells you ... It tracks your location, because everything does; you're fucked, but it says like, “Hey, this is the seafood across the border, don’t eat anymore,” whether it's mackerel because there's no more of it left, and then it's also specific for your location, but even then again I try to be pretty conscious, but it's like can I do that every [inaudible 00:22:28] 10 seconds. I try to feed my children just whole foods and good stuff and wild caught and all that, but it's just how do I know the store is taking advantage and then you see these ... There's a study in Los Angeles a couple of years ago and it said something like 75% of the seafood in restaurants is mislabeled.
Dr. Ayana: It's insane the [inaudible 00:22:47] supply chain is astronomical.
Quinn: If they'd said 30%, 40% it'd been like, “Well, that’s a big number,” and then they're like, “No, it's like 75%, 80%,” and then like, “Well, so then all of it basically.”
Dr. Ayana: Yeah, so you're doing all this work to find out if something is sustainable and healthy, and then there's like a two in three chance that it's not what you want.
Brian: Yeah, then they're lying to you anyway.
Quinn: By the way, you're doing the work, if you know that a tool like that exists, if you think to use it every time, most people don’t know that it even exists. Like you said ...
Dr. Ayana: I don’t think you should have to.
Quinn: Well, that’s the question, is like you said, and I'm curious to hear your bold take on where it should fall, from the Federal to the State, which is a little more responsible for each of their offshore zones to the consumer. Where do you feel that breakdown should be when it comes to ... Let's stick with seafood?
Dr. Ayana: I think we need to start treating and thinking about the ocean in a more similar way to land. For example, if you saw lion shanks at your butcher and panther chops you'd be like, “What the hell is this, that’s not sustainable-”
Quinn: ... wait, that can't be right.
Dr. Ayana: “... how could that possibly be legit,” but we still think of blue fin tuna and sword fish as legitimate things to eat, and orange roughy, which doesn’t reproduce until it's like 50 years old, how could that keep up with how fast we kill them. It's this mindset of ocean animals are wild animals; we would not expect to be able to sustain eight billion people based on eating wild animals on land. We have farms.
Dr. Ayana: I think there's a really interesting disconnect between the way we think about nature no land and the way we think or don’t think about it in the ocean, and there's obviously enormous consequences there. We don’t know, as a public, enough about different ocean species to say like, “Wow, that shouldn’t even be in the supermarket,” because it's still so new to us and because there are new species that are popping up in supermarkets, for both good reasons and bad reasons.
Dr. Ayana: The bad reason is we've already eaten so many of the things that we've heard about that were fishing down the food chain towards smaller and weirder species. On the flipside, there's also a movement towards sustainability that says we can't all just eat tuna and salmon and shrimp. It doesn’t make any sense. There's thousand species, we have to diversify. It's a real challenge for consumers, and I don’t think that we should expect that much of individuals.
Dr. Ayana: I'm a big advocate for policy there, and I think that the US is actually a leader in sustainability of our fisheries because of the Magnuson-Stevens Act which requires fisheries to be fished at a sustainable level and to be rebuilt to a sustainable level and that among the long list of legislation right now is potentially up for grabs again.
Dr. Ayana: There's going to be an opportunity for the public to say, “No, we actually do want sustainable fisheries, and we had a system that was working, it can be improved upon, but don’t tear apart the fundamental goals of that legislation.”
Quinn: When does that legislation come back up?
Dr. Ayana: That’s a good question. I think the timeline for that is still fuzzy.
Quinn: Maybe after November?
Dr. Ayana: Yeah, stay tuned.
Quinn: That would be great. You feel the US is currently a leader on that. Are there any-
Dr. Ayana: ... the US have been doing a pretty good job. Yeah.
Quinn: ... which is you can only say that sense about a few things. What countries are blowing it? Who is not holding up their end of the deal?
Dr. Ayana: I mean, most countries, for one reason or another. I think another part of it is that the countries that started fishing sooner they fished out their waters and started going and taking other people’s fish, and so then you have problems like you see offshore in Somalia where people have heard a lot in recent years about the piracy that’s happening there. There are still pirates but what we don’t hear is why there are pirates there all of a sudden, and it's because foreign fishermen have come in, fished their fish, and the fishermen no longer can make a good living, but they had boats and they knew the waters super well, so they became pirates to feed their families.
Dr. Ayana: Things are connected in this really interesting way where national security and sustainable management of natural resources are super intertwined. It's the same story that you hear with droughts leading to migrations, leading to refugees, and the potential of climate change only exacerbating all of that. I think we just need to think about the interconnectedness of a lot of these challenges too, but there are ... Gosh, there's plenty of blame to spread around amongst all these countries for who is doing it wrong.
Quinn: Where do you feel corporations fall on this scale? You see places like Wholefoods adopt the Monterey Bay standards and I know there's a couple other standards that are out there, what's their role in your ... I don’t want to say perfect world, because that’s not going to happen, in your aspirational world?
Dr. Ayana: One of the interesting things about the Monterey Bay’s program is they’ve just released, in addition to, is this seafood sustainable and not contaminated with mercury, et cetera, they’ve released a new metric which is around labor rights, because there's actually a lot of labor abuse in the seafood supply chain; there is slavery-
Quinn: ... talk to us about that.
Dr. Ayana: ... in the seafood supply chain. If you're eating cheap shrimp, it was probably peeled by slaves in Thailand.
Dr. Ayana: I don’t want to support that when I'm eating dinner. There's no way that you would know that because there's very little information, and so the Monterey Bay aquarium has just released a sort of likeliness index that there were labor abuses associated with any particular type of seafood. The goal is for that to influence the purchasing decisions of supermarkets and restaurants more so than as a tool for individual consumers, so trying to move the needle on that.
Dr. Ayana: If there's one seafood that you give up, it should be shrimp, because basically everything is wrong with that as a seafood, with very few exceptions. The labor associated with it, the labor practices are terrible. It's extremely bad for the environment, whether it's caught in a net, it's caught in nets that are enormous and dragged across the bottom of the sea floor catching everything and often 90% of what's caught is not shrimp and is thrown back dead and wasted, and you’ve bulldozed the sea floor in the process so the habitat is damaged, so there's no home for all those things to come back to when the populations do recover, or it's farmed in coastal ponds in southeast Asia where they’ve bulldozed mangroves to grow shrimp in high densities, pumping these ponds full of antibiotics.
Dr. Ayana: Having just high density farming of animals produces tons of waste, so you’ve got all these feces and antibiotics and chemicals getting into the ecosystem and the law ... And you move down the coast and bulldoze the next area once that area get too polluted. It's very similar to farming of cattle in the rainforest, for example-
Brian: ... that’s what it's making me think of right now.
Dr. Ayana: ... when you’ve used up sequentially each place, and then you’ve taken out all the mangroves which are the protection from storms and the filtration of pollution from land and the nursery habitat for all of the wild fish. The places after the tsunami in Indonesia that had no mangroves there, those were the places that really got pummeled by the waves, because we had ... They had no natural protection left. Shrimp is the most popular seafood in America and it's one of the most destructive, whether you care about people or ecosystems or ideally both, because they're super laden. That's my rant about shrimp.
Brian: Good to know-
Quinn: No, that’s a hell of-
Brian: Thank you.
Quinn: ... that’s a comprehensive assessment. That’s exactly what we’re looking for. Again, I think that folks will respond to, is something veritable and actionable and I hope people walk away from this and go, “I guess I'm not eating fucking shrimp anymore.”
Dr. Ayana: The challenge is there are some people doing it right. There are fishermen off the coast of Oregon that have these traps that they use that don’t have a lot of waste associated with it, they're not dragging a net across the bottom, but those shrimp will cost a lot more. You'll know if you're buying that shrimp, because it will be five times the price, or something.
Quinn: What should people be eating? I'm a pretty pescetarian I guess, I think is the word I'm labeled with, so what should I ... I'm sure my app could tell me this, but again most people don’t download apps; that’s been tested. Assuming they don’t, they will link to that one anyways, because it's so great. If I'm out to eat or I'm at a Wholefoods or even a Trader Joe’s, let's assume something is labeled correctly, what should I be looking for?
Dr. Ayana: Actually the things that you should be eating are the most likely to be labeled correctly, because they're kind of hard to take. One of the big frameworks for this is eat lower on the food chain. Just like we wouldn't eat lions on land, because they're just aren't that many of them, we don’t want to be eating tuna all the time because it's higher on the food chain. We want to be-
Quinn: Sorry to interrupt. Did you hear about the poacher this week?
Dr. Ayana: The cod father?
Brian: Cod father?
Quinn: No, I meant the lion poacher. Did you hear about this?
Dr. Ayana: I thought you meant ... Because there's someone in New England who has been ...
Brian: We need to talk about that.
Dr. Ayana: ... for a decade faking his records and catching more fish than he was supposed to, and he's nicknamed the cod father and he's finally going to jail.
Quinn: That’s incredible. That is not what I was talking about ...
Dr. Ayana: It's like a whole mafia story that had years of investigation to take him down.
Quinn: I couldn’t be more excited about the pod father.
Brian: This is insane.
Dr. Ayana: Cod, like cod fish.
Quinn: Cod, fuck ... Damn it, not pod. Cod father. That’s incredible. No, I just ... You kept talking about lions and I suddenly remembered this week a guy went out to poach lions in Africa and a heard of lions just killed him and ate him.
Brian: Oh my God!
Quinn: Everyone was like, “Yeah, well, you know, don’t go poach lions,” because then you're walking into the food chain and sometimes it doesn’t go your way. I wish fish could do that.
Dr. Ayana: All I will say about that is that I think that last point about walking into the food chain is really important because we often see ourselves, as humans, as separate from nature-
Quinn: Yeah, removed from it.
Dr. Ayana: ... we’re actually a really important part of it. We are the most influential species on the planet but we are connected to all these other things, it's just we've managed to build all this infrastructure that insulates us from that fact. Then when you have hurricane Sandy hitting New York City or you have mercury poisoning from eating too much sushi, you suddenly realize that in fact it is still connected.
Quinn: Right, sure. What is, again assuming everything is labeled correctly, which ...
Dr. Ayana: You want to eat lower on the food chain, and the best options for that are farmed shellfish, so oysters, clams, mussels, you can basically eat those as many as you want with impunity because they're grown ... They just filter nutrients out of the water. They don’t need a lot of food, they don’t need any feed that’s fed to them. They just eat water essentially.
Quinn: I don’t think people realize how valuable shellfish are to the ecosystem. Again, I think we mentioned this before we started recording, is I spent a lot of time on the Chesapeake and the earliest accounts of ... There's even an amazing book I've got somewhere here called, The Island in the Middle of the World, about the first, the Dutch coming over to New York for the first time and how the bays were so clear you could see dolphins jumping around below and the Chesapeake used to be the same way because they just cleaned the water.
Dr. Ayana: Yeah, they're critical to water quality. They also ... Oysters can create reefs; they create a lot of habitat for other species, and that’s a buffer from storms. Oyster reefs used to be enormous structures that would slow down the impact of waves, reduce the strength of waves coming to shore.
Dr. Ayana: One of the most exciting things happening in New York City is something called the billion oyster project which has the goal of replanting a billion oysters in New York harbor where there used to be several many billions of oysters in New York harbor creating all these reefs and structures that protected the city from storms.
Dr. Ayana: Oysters are obviously super easy to catch. They don’t run away. They don’t stand a chance unless there's a good management plan in place. This program is replanting all of these oysters. Now, the water is not good enough that you want to be eating them yet, but New York City’s waters are actually cleaner than they’ve been in 100 years. We have whales in New York harbor; you can go whale watching in New York harbor with some real certainty that you'll see a whale within a few miles of the city.
Quinn: That’s awesome.
Dr. Ayana: There's seahorses living under piers in the Hudson River. It's amazing. New York City is actually a story of the boring slog of policy reform and waste water treatment plants being put into place over all these decades that actually is bearing fruit.
Quinn: Right. It's not sexy, but it does matter. It works.
Dr. Ayana: Yeah. People always ask me, “Well, you're a marine biologist, what are you doing in New York City,” and I say, “Well, New York City is-”
Quinn: ... it's an island and surrounded by water.
Dr. Ayana: “... is over 500 miles of coastline. It's an archipelago.” One of the things that I really am passionate about is urban ocean conservation. The majority of the world’s population in a few years will be living both on the coast and in cities, and so what does it look like to do conservation in those places. It's not about remote tropical islands; it's about the places also where lots of people live.
Quinn: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Dr. Ayana: Although the more tropical islands are also lovely.
Brian: A little bit of both.
Dr. Ayana: No shade [inaudible 00:38:33] tropical islands.
Brian: Here's the deal, we want to know what you're running into, what constant problems and obstacles you're running into while you're working on science based community driven ocean policy. What are your walls and how are you knocking them down?
Dr. Ayana: I think one of the challenges is that there are so many problems right now and people don’t understand why they should care about ocean conservation in this moment in history when everything is a problem. I get that. After the last election I was almost like, “I'm going to standing rock, forget it,” I need to be on the frontline of this things and what does that mean for me. My mother talked me down saying, “Your best use is not in jail,” but I totally appreciate all of the people who are willing to do that, “But think about how to best use-”
Quinn: ... yeah, but you can't do all of the things.
Dr. Ayana: “... your skills to make a difference.” What I've really been focusing on is helping people understand that whatever issues that they care about at the foundation it probably depends on having a healthy ecosystem. When we think about foot deserts in New York City, when we think about seal level rise and how that’s impacting foreign minority communities on the coast, and pollution impacting them as well, when we think about the tourism economy depending on healthy coral reefs and clean beaches and water that’s safe enough to swim in, all of those jobs ... Coastal tourism is an enormous industry and so many people’s livelihoods depend on that, and those jobs depend on having a thing that people want to go to.
Dr. Ayana: I think there's a lot of work to be done in reminding people that nature is actually foundational to whether it's thinking about human migrations and the reasons for that, thinking about national security, thinking about food security, thinking about our health, and thinking about culture which is often left out of the equation. If grandparents can't teach their grandkids to fish or people can't have a fish fry on the beach, or whatever it is, then we've lost something incredible and valuable there.
Quinn: Sure. Well, it's the same, nobody knows how to grow their own food anymore, because we have, like you said, missed a couple of generations at that point, who is going to teach you. At some point-
Dr. Ayana: Well, my mom retired from being a high school English teacher and taught herself to be a farmer. We need to talk about that another time, but-
Quinn: Maybe I’ll just talk to your mom. This is amazing.
Dr. Ayana: Oh my God! Please interview my mother. She's brilliant.
Brian: Can you hit her up about getting us on a podcast?
Quinn: We’ll come back to that. That sounds amazing. Despite the complexities that were already happening before a year and a half ago, I'm assuming like you said, you were like, “That's it, fuck it. I'm going to standing rock,” things have become relatively more difficult in the last year and a half because of these morons, or you're just keeping on because it was already a mess?
Dr. Ayana: The best advice I ever got from my dad was to choose your battles, and so that gets harder and harder when there are more and more battles to choose from. For me, this idea of where ocean conservation and social justice meet, there's lifetimes of work to do.
Dr. Ayana: At the Federal level, things are really scary right now in the fact that all of our national monuments on land seem to be up for grabs and for sale, has really caught the public’s imagination, but the same is true for our marine sanctuaries. Those are all recommended to be considered for opening to oil and gas drilling, and we know how that-
Quinn: Except Florida.
Dr. Ayana: ... well, I think ... That’s a great point. The governor, the Republican governor of Florida said, “Absolutely not. We've seen how this plays out and we lost and entire season of tourism. Our economy is based on coastal tourism. We cannot have this here,” and they were like, “Oh, okay. Well, exception for you,” which was a great opportunity for him to look like a hero, and maybe it was set up that way, but I think the challenge to read that a little less cynically, ocean conservation was never a partisan issue until the last decade. You had George Bush declare the northwest Hawaiian islands as a national monument and Obama expanding the boundaries of that; the Papahanamokuakea National Marine sanctuary. That’s-
Quinn: ... I'm so glad you pronounced that name there.
Dr. Ayana: ... that’s a great way to think about the ocean. It's not something that should be Republicans versus Democrats. It should be beyond and above that, as it should most of these issues. That one is something that’s more recently been veered towards partisanship, and I think we’re not so down that path that we can't go back. That’s something that I really care about, is how do we revert to ocean conservation not being a partisan issue.
Quinn: Hopefully things like ... The fact that renewables are becoming in many areas of the world, including parts of the US, cheaper and business and industry is starting to come around to that. While there is obviously still a push from many of these companies to support these new drilling efforts, or at least exploratory drilling efforts, I think a lot of industry is looking at the situation and looking at it from a purely capitalistic standpoint which is, “I might not care about the planet but I do care about my bottom line.”
Quinn: Whether it's natural gas, which is not perfect by any stretch, or actual renewables they're becoming cheaper. Hopefully that lessens that furious initiative to open up all these waters, as opposed to 15 years ago. I think I would be fucking terrified of them doing this.
Dr. Ayana: Yeah, we’ll see.
Quinn: Yeah, oh shit! Well, listen, it's not all negative though.
Dr. Ayana: No, not at all. In the same line as what you were saying about alternative energy, renewable energies, we’re seeing the same thing happen with aquaculture, with fish farming. It's a very new industry and technology in the US and figuring out how to do that right is really critical. It's happening; it's just new, figuring out which species we should be growing.
Dr. Ayana: We don’t want to be growing big carnivorous species we have to catch wild fish to feed the farmed fish. There is a lot of science right now on better feeds that are maybe based on insects and algae instead of catching wild fish, and developing the ways that we grow fish as farming. There's been a lot of mistakes along the way and a lot of unsustainable practices, but that industry is evolving really quickly now and I think that’s a positive thing. I'm excited about that.
Quinn: You wrote in a couple of articles recently, one of them was about fundingtheocean.org, sounds pretty revolutionary. It sounds like it was a hell of a lot of work. Can you tell us about that a little bit?
Dr. Ayana: I didn’t do the work but I'm really excited that it was done.
Quinn: You were pretty clear in your article, “Holy shit, I thought about doing this and it would have taken years. I'm glad somebody else did.”
Dr. Ayana: The foundation center, which is an amazing resource for anyone seeking funding or giving funding; they're wonderful, they created fundingtheocean.org, which is essentially a global map of all grants to ocean conservation projects so you can know who is giving the money, who is getting the money, what are they working on.
Dr. Ayana: For me, it's really a tool to democratize philanthropy because it's so hard to figure out who even funds the stuff I work on if you're, especially if you're a small NGO without a whole fundraising development team. At the same time, it's really hard to for people who are new to philanthropy to learn about what's going on in smaller NGOs beyond the big conservation groups that we always hear about.
Dr. Ayana: There's this opportunity for people to have this all laid out on a highly searchable map where you can even look at networks of how these different organizations and funders are connected and start to see where you fit in, who might fund you, who you might collaborate with, who you might want to support. I think it's a model for philanthropy across the board but very critical for oceans where it's obviously a global issue; it's all connected by currents, and it's also ocean philanthropy is one of the smallest areas in terms of funding.
Quinn: Give us that statistic.
Dr. Ayana: It's less than 1% of funding for all the sustainability development goals out of the UN. Less than 1% of that funding goes to the ocean which is over 70%of the planet. It's ... which is one thing when you think ocean conservation is about hugging dolphins.
Quinn: I want to hug a dolphin.
Dr. Ayana: That’s fine. You do not have my support on that, but that’s okay. It's one thing when you think it's about, “Oh, we should save nature because it's so cool,” and I believe that in my heart, that species going extinct on our watch is a moral tragedy but I also I'm worried about our food security, our health and wellbeing depends on a healthy ocean. I really worry-
Quinn: ... and like you said, it's all connected.
Dr. Ayana: Yeah, it's all connected. The fact that we have so much trouble getting funding for these issues is a real problem. I'm hopeful that this fundingtheocean.org tool can really help inspire more philanthropy as well as make sure that we as a community are better networked and understand what's happening in different places.
Quinn: I would love to see ... And I need to explore more and it feels like one of those things I could spend hours digging into, I would love to see that sort of cross reference with something like Charity Navigator to also see what is and has been the most effective, not to cut anything out but ... You hope that it just ... Tasks like that make everything a little more effective.
Dr. Ayana: Especially now that Charity Navigator is starting to publish diversity results, which I find very interesting.
Quinn: Yes, agreed.
Dr. Ayana: I'm in the working group for a group called Green 2.0 which is trying to diversify the environmental movement. Right now staff in environmental groups is about 16% people of color compared to 30 something percent of the American population, and then when it comes to board seats it's like less than 5%.
Dr. Ayana: That’s a problem not just because diversity is a beautiful thing in theory but because you don’t have representatives of these different communities, you don’t have a diversity of ideas coming into the room, so we’re just missing out on all these great solutions because there's no diversity of thought which comes with diversity and background and perspectives.
Dr. Ayana: I think that it's great that the environmental community in particular is being pushed to think about what that means to break this pattern of thought where when we picture an environmentalist we picture a white dude hiking in a Patagonia fleece. Believe me, I'm a huge fan of the Patagonia police and Patagonia has stepped up in a stunning way-
Quinn: ... this year has been pretty awesome, yeah, but I also imagine-
Dr. Ayana: ... but I think that’s a challenge, this trope of who that is, where the reality is that communities of color, when you do a poll, especially the Latino community, they are much stronger advocates for conservation policy than their white counterparts; black and Latino communities, because they understand that their health is dependent on clean air, clean water, or healthy food in a way that they can't necessarily always buy their way out of that connection. We’re missing-
Quinn: ... right, right. They can't just go to a Wholefoods.
Dr. Ayana: ... yeah. We’re missing an opportunity to engage some of the strongest activists who could help us come up with better solutions. Hopefully that is starting to shift as well.
Quinn: Do you ... I imagine, due to that horrendous statistic, you often find yourself as one of the only people of color in a room like that. Has that presented any obstacles to you, anything specific to report that is not ... I don’t know, is better than expected, which is doubtful?
Dr. Ayana: Has anything better than expected? I think people are starting to realize and acknowledge the problem. I certainly-
Quinn: Have you run into anything specifically?
Dr. Ayana: ... get invited into a lot of rooms, but the fact that I'm invited to so many things means that there aren't enough of me. I shouldn’t be given all the opportunities. I should have ... There should be a million other people-
Quinn: It seems awesome for a while until you look around and go, “Why is it always me.”
Dr. Ayana: ... with a similar background. Yeah. My role is often pointing out the ratio in the room, “Great that I'm here, I don’t actually speak for all people of color. These are all the communities that need to be represented in this room.” Going to a workshop on coral reef conservation strategy with some of the largest funders, with some of the top scientists coming up with really big ideas, I'm the only person of color in the room and we’re talking about strategy for Pacific island communities and there's no Pacific islanders in the room. I'm happy to be the one that says, “This is ridiculous. The communities are being hit with these problems have thought a lot about how to solve them, so it's really foolish not to include them in-”
Brian: ... not have them there.
Quinn: This is going to be a ridiculous analogy, but I've-
Brian: ... I'm very excited to hear this one.
Quinn: ... just easy [crosstalk 00:53:53]. No, it’s not.
Quinn: It is about Moana ...
Dr. Ayana: I have not seen this film.
Quinn: You haven't seen Moana yet? All right. Well ...
Dr. Ayana: I've seen very few films. I've seen [inaudible 00:54:06] and two of them were Caddyshack.
Brian: You're the best [crosstalk 00:54:09].
Quinn: By the way, we should have a whole secondary podcast about Caddyshack too. My three kids are obsessed with two things, which I think you'll be excited about, one of them which you haven't seen is Moana and the other one is Blue Planet 2. Every time a new episode comes out they freak out. I try not to be too much of a downer and be like, “This is all going away kids. You’ve got to save the world.” Like you were saying about you show up in a room talking about the issues affecting Pacific islanders and you're the only person of color, and this is an audio podcast, but you're not a Pacific islander. Moana is a wonderful-
Dr. Ayana: I'm a black person, for all the listeners out there.
Quinn: Right. The point is, is again color doesn’t just mean color; it doesn’t apply to everyone. Moana is this wonderful story and it does have a lot of really awesome female empowerment stuff, and it's well told, and her lessons are wonderful, and you're impressed by it. My wife, who is a writer and an awesome feminist leader, was watching some behind the scenes thing and it's 20 white guys sitting around the table talking about the lessons Moana should learn and you're like, “But what the hell’s going on here,” like; A, there's no women in the room; B, there's no actual people of Pacific Island descent in any way.
Quinn: There has to have been in some capacity because they actually have songs in there, specific languages and a lot of cultural stuff that you couldn’t just get form Wikipedia, but again it's that sort of ignorance at this point in 2018 clearly applies everywhere, whether it's these rooms you're going into or something like Moana. My kids are never going to watch dorky behind the scenes videos, but I kind of want to make them watch them and say, like, “This is not the way it should be.”
Quinn: In the father of two white boys, but I've also got a little white girl and I want her to understand that, “Yeah, you should be in that room, other people should be in that room,” and I want them to do what you do, which is walk in and say, “What the hell.”
Brian: Yeah, what the hell!
Quinn: Anyway, that’s my tangent.
Dr. Ayana: Anyone who walks into a room and notices that should say something, anyone.
Quinn: Yes, that’s a great point.
Dr. Ayana: You should say that. You should never agree to be on a panel that’s all white dudes. That just shouldn’t be a thing anymore.
Quinn: No, it's insane.
Dr. Ayana: Yeah, and it is ... It's an interesting challenge, because there is a generational shift happening, and in ocean conservation in particular it's been such a white field for so long. We are finally at the stage where there's a lot of incredible female leadership across all of the major NGOs.
Dr. Ayana: The balance there is actually quite good, but on a racial level it's still like, “Who thinks that marine biology is a legitimate career path when you're a kid growing up in Brooklyn, unless you have these amazing childhood experiences and parents that are just super supportive.
Quinn: I will say, it's funny we take our kids down to the science center all the time, and they love that, but just ... They go down the beach and when we’re on the east coast we go to the ocean and we talk about the bay, but just watching something like Blue Planet alone has been so influential on them, and even watching things like ... I'm going to throw another dad thing out here for you guys.
Quinn: You're welcome. There's a show called The Octonauts ...
Dr. Ayana: I've heard of that.
Brian: It's a children show?
Quinn: It's amazing. It's a children show, but you would benefit Brian. You should check it out.
Brian: What does that mean?
Quinn: Yeah. It's on PBS kids. It's a bunch of non-ocean animals in amazing scuba gear with super cool submarines, and every episode is saving some ocean entity, or animal, or mangroves. There's one all about the mangroves that are in danger.
Dr. Ayana: Those are very important.
Quinn: They learn ... My kids should be on this podcast with you right now, because they would school me in ocean knowledge because of what they learn.
Dr. Ayana: That would be awesome.
Quinn: What they have learned from that is so far ... And again, this is sort of the stuff that Blue Planet they’ve done over the past 10 years to make this next edition just didn’t exist when we were kids, but like you said having those early influences makes such difference.
Brian: We had Captain Planet.
Dr. Ayana: A lot of kids who live near the coast, like kids who grow up in Compton or in Brooklyn never go to the beach, never learn to swim even though it's just a few miles away. That’s a real challenge because why would you care about something that you’ve never seen. Blue Planet is great, but there's nothing like going there yourself. That’s a real challenge, is helping people to feel that sense of connection.
Brian: One of our main goals, Ayana, is to shine a light on where we need to go as a people. What are the big actionable questions that myself and Quinn and everybody listening, everybody, should be asking our representatives if we want to be a positive part of this movement and we want to make sure the people repping us are taking action and paying attention and listening to us?
Dr. Ayana: Are you against offshore drilling, and if not, why not, because you should be.
Brian: Love it.
Dr. Ayana: Especially in our marine sanctuary areas. A second question is, what are you doing to help us get from about 10% of our United States ocean protected to the 30% to 50% that scientists recommend is needed in order to actually have sustainable and healthy ecosystems.
Brian: It's currently 10%?
Dr. Ayana: Currently around 10%. The United States I think has the fifth or sixth largest ocean jurisdiction in the world, our economic zone. If anybody can, we can afford to set aside that percent. Another one is on plastics. Obviously a huge portion of plastics that’s created ends up in the ocean. That’s problematic. Although to be fair that’s much more of a problem in, for example the ... In Southeast Asia where the waste management infrastructure hasn’t kept up with the disposability of products.
Dr. Ayana: A fourth question is, what are you doing to prevent climate change from running completely out of control, because a thing that we often don’t talk about is the connection between the ocean and the atmosphere. The ocean has actually absorbed about 90% of the excess heat that’s been trapped by greenhouse gases. Just imagine how much hotter this planet would be if the ocean weren't doing us a real solid and absorbing the majority of that heat.
Quinn: Thanks, ocean.
Dr. Ayana: Then all of the carbon that’s being absorbed by the ocean is changing the ocean’s chemistry. We are actually ... We have already changed the entire chemistry of the ocean. It's getting more acidic.
Quinn: Just feels like at some point that’s going to bite us in the ass real bad.
Brian: Yeah, it is.
Dr. Ayana: It's already biting us in the ass. You can't grow a shell in acid, and so people who are doing this great work of figuring out how to farm oysters and mussels and clams are actually having a lot of trouble getting them past their baby stage when they're delicate because-
Quinn: ... because the ocean is different than it used to be?
Dr. Ayana: ... yeah, because the ocean is more acidic now, so it's like melting the shells of these animals. Coral is another thing that’s in that same category. It needs the ocean chemistry to be stable; otherwise it will be weakened and eroded by this acidifying water.
Dr. Ayana: When we think about maintaining a habitable planet, climate is obviously a really big one. Addressing that will solve a lot-
Quinn: ... maybe the biggest.
Dr. Ayana: ... of ocean challenges too. Sea level rise is connected to melting glaciers and the thermal expansion that water undergoes when it's heated. The storms that hit the coast, hurting communities and ecosystems and therefore the food that’s those ecosystems can produce, are exacerbated by climate change, by warming water, warming ... It's just a mess.
Dr. Ayana: What are you doing to deal with climate change, and what are ... And the fifth thing is, just like we talked about at the beginning, what are you doing to ensure our seafood is sustainable and there to keep feeding us. The US has, again, one of the largest ocean jurisdictions in the world but we import over 90% of our seafood, which is bonkers. No matter what side-
Quinn: We import 90% of our seafood?
Dr. Ayana: I think it's 94%, it's crazy-
Brian: ... I would have never guessed that.
Dr. Ayana: ... especially ... Whether you think about that from-
Quinn: ... from where? Is it mostly Southeast Asia?
Dr. Ayana: Yeah, all over. I think the challenge there is even if you just care about a trade deficit in a very conservative mindset, you should care about this issue. If you just care about health you should be worried, because a lot of this is being processed through places that have very different standards. We only inspect, I don’t know, I think it's like 0.1% of our seafood imports are inspected, and of what's inspected the majority of it has some problem with it.
Quinn: How does this shit happen?
Dr. Ayana: Whether you care about health, or trade deficits, or sustainability, or labor rights in the supply chain we should all be keeping encouraging our representatives to keep a much stronger eye on how fishing is managed.
Dr. Ayana: There's plenty of work to go around.
Quinn: Yeah, clearly, clearly. We are glad you're the one doing it. Listen-
Dr. Ayana: ... and there's lots of individual actions too, right? Those are the things we should be asking our governments to do. Obviously, who you vote for matters. Reducing your carbon footprint matters. Using less plastics matters. Choosing sustainable seafood matters. Participating in beach cleanups is great. Choosing your tourism, vacations based on resorts that have better practices in place matters. Obviously, donating to these different ocean causes matters.
Dr. Ayana: I like to think of what can you do as falling into a few different categories; obviously, how do you use your vote is a really critical one. How do you use your time? A lot of times people want to have it be like an easy tweet, but we’re beyond that being enough.
Dr. Ayana: We do that, but also think about how you can use more of your time towards these different issues. How you use your dollars obviously really matters too, and then how you use your platform and your network, not just your virtual social media network but your actual spirit of influence and the people that you know.
Dr. Ayana: This is a philosophy that goes across any issue, from immigration rights to climate to oceans. That’s how I think about a lot of, is what can I do, is how using your vote, your dollars, your time, and your influence, and then of course what are you good at.
Dr. Ayana: If you're a graphic designer, or a musician, or a lawyer there are very different ways that you can be useful. Just thinking about what skills you have to leverage is an interesting one that I think people under think about; you just want to do whatever people recommend but the deeper question, of how can you be most useful, is one that I think would be great.
Dr. Ayana: I have a friend who realized that as a lawyer she could be really helpful, when the airport protests were going on and going to the airports and helping these people who were getting turned back, dealing with the legal system. She had never found a way to plug in before besides retweeting stuff and sharing things and donating money, but she realized that she could make a huge difference by leveraging.
Quinn: That’s got to be so exciting in that moment, to be like, “Wait a minute, I can do this. This is me.”
Dr. Ayana: Everybody has something like that. Now is the moment where everything is on the table. There is a way to use your skills.
Quinn: Well, and that’s what this, the podcast is about; it's about ... We want to provide those steps and at least, if we can't provide the concrete steps, which we do, I think these five questions provide such a good personal audit for folks to ... When there's so much, like you said, there is enough work for a lifetime for every person on this planet that actually does want to make change, but to ask, like, “How do I use my vote, how do I use my time, how do I use my dollars, my network,” and finally, “What am I good at,” I think those really do make a difference.
Quinn: One of my best friends died of cancer about nine years ago, out of nowhere, and when he was in his last few months I was sitting there thinking, “Boy, I would sure love to be a cancer scientist of some sort, something ... How can I physically change this situation, what can I do,” and I was like, “I am not smart enough to do those things. What I am capable of is running really far for a long time, and seemingly not paying attention to pain, so I'm just going to raise a fuck ton of money and donate it all to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society,” and it made me feel like I was doing something even though I wasn’t helping his specific situation, but it's the same thing.
Brian: It's bigger than that.
Quinn: Like you said, you can apply it to any cause and say like, “What am I good at,” and I imagine for your friend looking at those TV broadcasts of the people at the airport and thinking, “Holy shit, I can literally personally go there and stand up for that person, because I have put in the time and the schooling and I'm qualified to do this,” must have been really revelatory, and that can happen all over. Like you said, it could be a graphical design person.
Dr. Ayana: We certainly need help making all of this work more beautiful and appealing.
Quinn: Sure, sure. Listen, we have abused enough of your time, but we are going to do some closing stuff here, which I think some of it we've tackled, but we’ll summarize ...
Dr. Ayana: Wait, do I get a final word?
Quinn: Yeah. No, no, we are not done. You're not getting off the phone yet-
Brian: That’s how it ends actually, it's ...
Quinn: You say, goodbye. No. Listen, who are you allies? Who else should we ... Or farther than that, who else should we talk to? Who else do you find most interesting doing good work? It doesn’t have to be ocean. It can be air. It can be space, it can be anything.
Brian: You already said your mom, so we've got her on the list.
Quinn: Your mom is definitely there.
Dr. Ayana: My mom is [rad 01:09:12].
Dr. Ayana: Along those lines more broadly I think people do care about what they eat. There is this obsession with what we put in our bodies. It's seen as a luxury thing but everybody cares. People want to be healthy. I think there's a lot of really important conversations around our food system that need to happen, and what does that mean to have healthy food for people, how do we create a totally new system, because our industrial agriculture system is really unhealthy for us and for the planet, not to mention. I don’t know who would be the best people to talk to about that. There's a woman named Keren Washington-
Quinn: ... you can get back to us.
Dr. Ayana: ... who does great work. She's a black farmer who is growing food up State New York and delivering it to poor communities in New York City, fresh healthy produce.
Quinn: That’s awesome.
Dr. Ayana: There's a lot of great work around that.
Quinn: What's her organization called, do you know?
Dr. Ayana: Rise and Root Farm maybe.
Quinn: We’ll figure that and put it in the show notes-
Dr. Ayana: ... and she's kind and a good lovely human being.
Dr. Ayana: I think there's a lot of conversations that need to be had around our food system in America. It's crazy unhealthy-
Quinn: ... yeah, absolutely, all the way down to the soil, it's ...
Dr. Ayana: Absolutely down to the soil. The health of our soil is the health of the food is the health of us. The fact that you'd have to eat five apples now to equal the nutritional equivalent of one apple grown in the ‘60s-
Quinn: ... five apples?
Dr. Ayana: ... just because the nutrients are so depleted. Who has time to eat five apples!
Brian: It's all about apples. Nobody.
Quinn: Everyone wants to talk about GMOs, and it's like, “Uh, sort story; it's been happening forever and all we've been doing is basically breeding things that taste good and that aren't nutritious.” It's a nightmare.
Dr. Ayana: There's a little part of the GMO conversation-
Quinn: ... no, there is, but the point is everybody thinks that the food they’ve been eating for 100 years is just what comes off a tree by circumstance and it's nowhere near the case.
Dr. Ayana: Yeah. I think the important distinction there is there's a big difference between interbreeding different types of apples to get the ideal apple and like reading fish genes into apples that could never get there otherwise to make them more [resistant 01:11:35] or whatever, or breeding pesticides into every single cell of a pair of corn, different ... It's a very different thing to me.
Dr. Ayana: I think figuring out how we feed ourselves to be healthy enough to take on all the rest of these challenges and all of the injustices around access to healthy food I think are really important to think through. On the seafood front, [Niaz Dori 01:12:04] who leads something called NAMA, the Northwest Atlantic Marine Association, their motto is “Who fishes matters.”
Quinn: I like that, “Who fishes matters.”
Dr. Ayana: You have to think about who are our farmers, who are our fishers, who gets access to what is grown and caught. It's a real challenge.
Quinn: That makes sense.
Dr. Ayana: There's lots of conversations there.
Quinn: Sure, all right. What we should do, let's summarize ... And I think we really already went over this and it seems to be sort of two prongs today, which is action our listeners can take. The first one is, no more shrimp. Shrimp is bad news.
Brian: Don’t eat shrimp, and eat five apples a day.
Quinn: Five apples ... 12 apples a day keeps the doctor away! No more shrimp. Eat lower on the food chain. Check out the marine-
Dr. Ayana: ... it's oysters, mussels, clams; those, but also sardines and anchovies are in that-
Quinn: ... sardines and anchovies, awesome.
Dr. Ayana: ... in that category. They're super high in omega threes, and because they're low on the food chain they're super low in mercury and other toxins.
Quinn: Oysters, mussels ... Say it again.
Dr. Ayana: Oysters, mussels, clams, sardines, anchovies.
Brian: What if you grew up in a suburb of Chicago and you hate seafood?
Dr. Ayana: That’s also fine.
Quinn: Well, you're not making the problems worse, I guess.
Dr. Ayana: Then you don’t need an app [crosstalk 01:13:24].
Quinn: When we’re talking to our reps, it's no more offshore drilling, and it's what are you doing to get to 30% to 50% of the ocean being protected, up from 10%, what are you doing to prevent plastics from going into the ocean, and what are you doing to ensure our seafood is sustainable knowing that 94% of US seafood is imported.
Dr. Ayana: Some of what we catch in US waters is exported to China for processing and we import it, which is-
Brian: ... doesn’t make sense-
Quinn: ... I can't even ... I don’t even ... You know what, I don’t have the time, I don’t have the energy.
Dr. Ayana: You shouldn’t have to.
Quinn: Then the personal audit, which I think is so awesome, I'm going to hold on to this and put it on a fucking poster; how you use your vote, how you use your time, how you use your dollars, how you use your network, and what are you good at. If you can ask yourself those five questions I think it seems like folks should get a much better idea of going from, “I marched with all these folks,” which is awesome, no one had done that before in 40 years, certainly most white folks hadn't; how do I go from making calls, which again most people hadn't done before, to really specifically applying my skill set to help a specific cause, because like you said, there is enough to go around; it seems like everybody should be able to find something. Does that feel like a pretty good summary?
Dr. Ayana: Yeah, that feels like a great summary. The only thing I would add is that because things are so challenging right now, because the trends and the State of our planet are so dire, I honestly spend a bunch of time thinking about triage; we can't save everything right now. We don’t have the time, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the money, we don’t have enough people working on it-
Quinn: ... but also your dad is right, pick your battles.
Dr. Ayana: Yeah, so pick your battles, but what is most needed right now. What is in that danger zone? If you think about triage in an emergency room situation, it's stabilize the people that come in, and then who are going to be okay just put them in a corner and watch them. What's already too far gone that we shouldn’t be worrying about it anymore that we are sinking all our resources in and we just can't save it, and then what is that middle area which is we need to focus all our energy on this right now. This concept of triage and which category do things go in is one that I find to be a really helpful framework for me too. It's scary, scary as hell that we’re at the point where we’re triaging what parts of the planet to save-
Quinn: ... well, it's the same things as folks talking ... There's a lot of talk about how we've moved from prevention to adaptation, when it comes to the climate, because if we’re not going to start to be honest about this with ourselves we’re going to dig an even deeper hole.
Dr. Ayana: Yeah.
Quinn: Last few questions, kind of a lightning round here. First one is a little different from the rest, but like you said, you were in a glass bottom boat and you saw some really amazing fish and you were like, “I'm going to be a marine biologist,” and forgot about it for 20 years, but when was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change, or the power to do something meaningful?
Dr. Ayana: I invented a fish trap that has a little slot in the side that-
Brian: ... no big deal.
Dr. Ayana: ... let's the baby fish out and the skinny fish that people don’t want to eat, like the nemo fish, and it was signed into law by several governments and they ... It's now required; this little slot in the corner of the trap.
Brian: That’s incredible.
Quinn: Who are you?
Dr. Ayana: That was really exciting to me, because the reason that that became a part of policy was not because the science was super exciting; I did like a few hundred scuba dives to test out different designs and make sure that it worked, but the science was actually easy.
Dr. Ayana: The other easy thing I did though was say, “How does this affect fishermen’s incomes,” so being able to show there was both ... Fishermen wouldn't lose any money, and you had a good conservation benefit, putting those two together was a really compelling argument for a change in policy. For me, that was the moment when I realized how useful science could be, but only if it's integrated with socioeconomic context as well. That was a really big moment for me.
Quinn: That’s a ...
Brian: That sounds huge-
Dr. Ayana: There's a nerdy video about it. I won a prize from National Geographic, and [rare 01:17:57] for that work. Part of the prize was a cartoon explaining how it worked.
Quinn: Amazing. You're going to have to give us the link for that-
Dr. Ayana: ... if people can't picture it ... So, I’ll share the link-
Quinn: ... we’re definitely going to include it.
Brian: Are you in it? Is there a cartoon version of Dr. J in it?
Dr. Ayana: I do not feature in this cartoon, no. I'm yet to be cartooned.
Brian: One day-
Dr. Ayana: 2019 goals.
Brian: Next question. We are curious how you consume your news.
Dr. Ayana: It's a good question. A lot of it comes through Twitter. I think the biggest challenge is not consuming too much news, because there's so much to do I could easily spend all day reading about-
Quinn: ... you know these guys have this newsletter that curates ...
Dr. Ayana: What!
Brian: It's insane. It's insane.
Quinn: They're pretty cool guys.
Dr. Ayana: I am a fan of cool guys who curate things for me.
Brian: I'm waiting for the first guest who will ask that question too, that says, “Oh, well, Important not Important newsletter, of course.” How about this question; what books are you reading right now?
Dr. Ayana: I am reading ... I have it right here at the table; I'm reading Emergent Strategy, by Adrian Murray Brown, which is a fascinating book that I highly recommend.
Brian: Cool, okay.
Dr. Ayana: It's described as radical self-help, society help, and planet help designed to shape the futures we want to live. I think-
Brian: ... that sounds right up our alley.
Dr. Ayana: ... structures, frameworks, and systems, and how we collaborate and get big stuff done. That’s a cool book. I'm also reading Drawdown, by Paul Hawken, which is hundreds of scientists have come together to do an analysis of climate change solutions and rank them and talk about-
Quinn: ... I'm pretty sure we've-
Dr. Ayana: ... you’ve talked about this on your show?
Quinn: Not on the show-
Brian: ... in our newsletter.
Quinn: ... we talked about it when it first came out.
Dr. Ayana: It's amazing, because you feel like, “What even matters, the problem is so big,” but realizing that one of the biggest things you can do is dispose of your air conditioner and refrigerator properly because the greenhouse gases in those things are 100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, so it actually makes a really big deal, things like educating women and girls are high on the list too because of the way that that changes populations as well as farming. Women share their farming secrets in a way that leads to more sustainable food production too it turns out.
Brian: That’s so red.
Quinn: I love it. It's the things that people aren't intuitively thinking about.
Dr. Ayana: I'm also reading, re- reading-
Quinn: ... you're one of these people.
Dr. Ayana: ... The Sellout, which is ... I'm forgetting the author’s name, but it's this amazing sort of farce about a black farming community outside of Los Angeles that re-segregates itself and it's-
Dr. Ayana: It's a fascinating allegory.
Brian: The Sellout, okay.
Quinn: Interesting, okay.
Dr. Ayana: [Inaudible 01:21:00] Paul Beatty is the author of that one.
Brian: Yeah, I just found it, also. I was just going to say that too, not that it's nothing. What do you do outside of work that you enjoy? Any hobbies?
Dr. Ayana: What do you do for fun?
Brian: Is that a way of ... What do you do for fun? We are interested.
Dr. Ayana: Come here often.
Quinn: Great. Good work, Brian.
Dr. Ayana: I am ... That’s a weirdly hard question for me to answer. I think probably one of my last breakups was the result of me not having hobbies. I was like, “You don’t have any hobbies. That’s weird.”
Quinn: Designing fish traps, that’s not the conversation starter you use?
Dr. Ayana: No. I don’t have hobbies as they would be defined. I just hang out with really great people and try to eat and cook good food with them. I endeavor to spend more time in nature as a hobby. I go up to my family farm a lot and help out around there.
Quinn: Awesome. I can't let you go without quickly discussing one of the very first things we emailed about were you ... I knew I was going to enjoy this conversation because you immediately told me I was wrong about something, which is we've talked a lot about cow farts, and-
Quinn: ... our position is basically, “Hey, look people, you should read this thing about cow farts, isn't it funny,” and then it's actually really bad. You, not surprisingly, told me how we solve cow farts, and how is that?
Dr. Ayana: Obviously the ocean is the answer to everything.
Quinn: Of course.
Dr. Ayana: The answer is there's a certain type of algae that you can put in, mix in with the cow’s food that reduces the methane in their farts. Methane is 30 times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It can reduce the methane in their farts by like 80 plus percent, which makes ... Or ...
Quinn: Wait, you just solved the whole thing.
Brian: Is there a lot of this algae? Why aren't we doing this?
Dr. Ayana: We are just not good at unconventional solutions and bringing them to scale, but we should definitely be feeding more seaweed to cows and sheep.
Brian: Does this help humans with flatulence issues?
Quinn: Brian, not now!
Dr. Ayana: I actually think it probably does. Seaweeds are super helpful. Seaweed also makes great fertilizer for soil.
Brian: It's the solution to everything.
Dr. Ayana: When in doubt, the ocean is the answer.
Quinn: I love it.
Brian: Before, when we started to say goodbye to you, you interrupted us to make sure that you had the time to say something, your last big thing. This is it. How would you like to speak truth to power right now, something, whatever you want to say on this podcast?
Dr. Ayana: I think ... What I was thinking at that time was triage, but since I mentioned that I’ll say a lot ... When we think about how we manage land it's pretty well accepted that zoning is a useful thing to do; have a place for agriculture, a place for industry, a place to live, a place to work, protected areas that are parks, but that philosophy has sort of stopped at the coast, which is really unfortunate because there are all these different uses of the ocean that need their own separate areas. Where are we going to have our wind farms, where are we going to have our wild fishing, where are we going to have our aquaculture, where are we going to have our protected areas, our shipping lanes, our tourism zones?
Dr. Ayana: Just like zoning on land, there's a real value in thinking about how we zone the ocean. When I think about how do we use the ocean without using it up, part of it is just creating a plan to make that outcome more likely. For me, zoning is a really useful policy framework that’s, thankfully, finally starting to catch on around the world. Hopefully the US will embrace that more too. It also helps businesses, industry people to develop with more certainty because you know that certain areas are already vetted as acceptable for certain things.
Dr. Ayana: That’s ... Let's zone the ocean, but in a way that engages communities in that process so it's not just, again, a bunch of white dudes deciding the future or who gets what.
Quinn: Right, which has kind of been the history of things.
Dr. Ayana: Hasn’t worked out super well.
Quinn: Not super great, not super great. Well, this has been awesome.
Brian: So wonderful.
Quinn: You're the best. We really appreciate your time and everything you do in the world.
Dr. Ayana: My pleasure. Thanks for good questions.
Quinn: If you had hobbies the world would be in worse shape.
Dr. Ayana: I might take up singing again. That was my hobby for a long time.
Quinn: That’s a good one.
Brian: Definitely do that.
Quinn: When you're ready we’ll have you back on and we’ll do some singing. You'll sing.
Dr. Ayana: Record release party?
Quinn: Yeah, exactly. Where can our listeners find you online?
Dr. Ayana: You can find me at Ocean Collectiv, with no E at the end, because that’s the name of the [inaudible 01:26:11] in Australia.
Brian: Is that true?
Dr. Ayana: Oceancollectiv.co, and ayanaelizabeth.com, and on Twitter @ayanaeliza.
Quinn: Awesome, awesome. Well, Ayana we really appreciate it again, for all that you do, and we hope you just keep-
Dr. Ayana: ... likewise.
Quinn: ... kicking ass out there.
Brian: Thank you so much.
Dr. Ayana: For having me.
Quinn: We are all depending on you.
Dr. Ayana: No pressure.
Brian: No pressure. You're the one marine biologist.
Quinn: Yeah, you're the one. Awesome.
Dr. Ayana: Thankfully that’s far from true, we've got a pretty good team going over here, Team Ocean.
Quinn: I love it. I love it, awesome. Well, thank you so much, and we’ll talk to you soon.
Dr. Ayana: Sounds good. Take care.
Quinn: All right, thanks.
Brian: Ciao, thank you.
Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute, or awesome workout, or dishwashing, or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.
Brian: You can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter @importantnotimp, just so weird, also on Facebook and Instagram, @importantnotimportant, Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. Check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. Please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like these, and if you're really fucking awesome rate us on Apple podcast. Keep the lights on. Thanks.
Brian: You can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website, importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally most importantly to our moms for making us. Have a great day.
Brian: Thanks guys.