I had the great pleasure of meeting, diving with, and filming the Coral Restoration Foundation team back in 2013 for our first episode of Wild Kingdom, and was so impressed with what they were doing there that I couldn’t wait to go back. So you can imagine my sheer joy when they invited me to be the Keynote Speaker at their 2015 fundraising gala in Key Largo, Florida! Plus, the Florida keys? Come on! Not too shabby for Steffy. 😉
First of all, meeting world-famous leaders in wildlife conservation such as, divers, underwater photographers, producers, authors, publishers at this gala was a special treat. I was stoked to finally meet shark trainer and cave diver, Cristina Zenato and wildlife artist and conservationist, Wyland. Every person at this event was absolutely inspiring.
Secondly, sharing my coral conservation message to over 200 people at the gala was very surreal. Not gonna lie, I was VERY nervous with the above mentioned in the audience. I am like a toddler in this field compared to each of these wildlife heroes, but they accepted me in with both arms and gave me a standing ovation when I concluded my keynote address; Que the goosebumps.
At the beginning of my address, I shared the stories of unhealthy corals I witnessed while working in Australia, Hawaii, Thailand and Papua New Guinea. Some experts in the crowd already knew the fact that that we have lost over 50% of the world’s coral reefs from habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, ocean acidification and natural disasters. Yup! Sucks, huh? Especially when coral reefs provide a home for 25% of all marine life and provide, oxygen, food, and jobs for humans who depend on a healthy coral reefs to survive. The worst is, they are all used to people (even politicians) saying, “So what! Why do you care? You can’t change the world. Just let it go. The ocean and all of it’s species will eventually adapt. ” Their response back is, “But what about humans? Will the adapt to the changes fast enough? Are you going to help us fix the damage the human species has done to our planet so that future generations can thrive sustainably?” Some scientists, professors, divers, and nonprofits have lost hope.
So, I spoke my truth: I know what is happening; I saw it with my own eyes. I see the big picture and understand how important healthy coral reef ecosystems are to human survival and so do millions of others in my generation. We understand that each of us are inextricably connected to the health of our oceans and planet as a whole. We are not afraid to speak up, sign petitions, volunteer or share viral updates on social media. We are not scared to come up with creative solutions to complex problems. Hey, we have learned from some of the best warriors out there; some were even out in the crowd. I wanted each person in the audience to know that we are here to learn from their expertise and continue their mission full-force, but not without a well-deserved “thank you,” for fighting big corps and politicians to help pave the way. We are the next generation to take over and we will NOT give up.
As you saw in the Wild Kingdom webisode, CRF has come up with a unique way of fragmenting, growing and re-planting corals. They have exceeded the world’s expectations with a growing team of over 1,000 volunteers that have planted over 100,000 branching corals so far in the US. That’s extremely impressive and it’s only getting better. Check it out in the quick show below.
So yes, one person can make a difference if they care enough. Founder, Ken Nedimyer (AKA the “Johnny Appleseed” of the ocean) came up with this creative idea and took action. But he is not alone, oh no, no. Disney Conservation Initiative, Mote Marine Laboratory and thousands of volunteers, including myself, have joined his team and we will do everything we can to restore the planet’s reefs; one coral at a time.
YOU can step up and make change, too! But come up with your own nickname. 😉 I believe in you.
How to help:
2. Intern or Volunteer on your next vacation.
If you are interested in having me speak at your annual fundraiser, then go ahead a connect with me here. I look forward to speaking with you about how I can help share your message.