The Importance of Ocean Health

Glaciers and ice melting in the North, satellite image showing the environmental situation in the Northern region, global warming. contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data

Seychellois national Sheena Talma is a 30-year-old up and coming conservationist, Nekton Foundation Science Programme Manager and is now on board as an Extreme E environmental advisor. Ahead of her imminent trip to the Ocean X Prix in Senegal where she will be sharing her knowledge, Sheena talks to us about her love for the sea and why she believes that we all need to treat the oceans like we would our own back yard.

We started by asking Sheena how her nautical passions began.

Sheena says: “The sea is part of my life. I grew up surrounded by it as I am from a small island state (or large ocean nation), the republic of Seychelles. This archipelago is made up of 115 islands of both coralline and granitic origins. Ironically, as a child, I was actually really fascinated by outer space!  But when I learned to snorkel and dive at 17, I became captivated by the ocean and knew I wanted to make it my sole focus and study it.

“I have had the privilege of living in Seychelles, Kenya and South Africa, and each of these countries have shaped my interest in marine science as well as equitable science practices. Thanks to fantastic support from my family and awarded scholarship, I had the privilege to go to university and now have a postgraduate degree in fisheries management.”

Although she’s still young, Sheena has already been instrumental in a range of different studies and programme installations to promote ocean health. From piloting a fishery initiative that will give customers the power to choose what fish to buy based on its sustainability, to her consultancy work with Nekton as a science and knowledge exchange Programme Manager, Sheena has covered numerous bases all with the shared goal of improving ocean health and the wellbeing of the life within it.

So, what do we need to know about our oceans and why are they are in trouble?

Sheena explains: “Apart from the things that we can see, like plastic pollution which is obviously a problem - there’s also a myriad of issues that are less obvious but have an equally negative impact such as overfishing, rise in sea levels and acidification plus global climate change - these are the things that we also need to help to fix.

“Overall temperature rise due to carbon emissions in our atmosphere makes sea levels rise, these high oceanic temperatures can cause more extreme weather conditions. This obviously has an effect on all of us, not just the sea dwellers. We’ve all seen images of melting ice caps leading to flooding and damage to land life but a rise in sea temperature also plays havoc by causing things like more and stronger hurricane events, droughts and heatwaves..”

To expand and for the science lovers amongst us – about 90 per cent of the excess heat trapped by atmospheric gases is eventually soaked up by the world’s oceans. Because oceans are so big, the temperature change to the seawater can seem small but a rise of as little as 0.5 degrees centigrade can cause disruption and overall warming.  

Although it all sounds grim and, in some ways already a lost cause, actually not so. In fact, Sheena believes, as do many other experts in this field, that we can lessen CO2 emissions with a few lifestyle tweaks such as switching to renewable energies and utilising more efficient appliances, by eating locally and consuming more plant-based food coupled with not throwing away so much food. We can all try to walk more and drive less and/or use public transport and simply, just buy less stuff!

Extreme E has worked with Count Us In to set up its very own Challenge and the series’ work supporting UN Climate Change policies very much underline Sheena’s ethos i.e., that we all, in our own ways, can make a positive difference by simply making small changes to our day to day lives and electing governments that will put policies in place for a healthier earth.

When asked about her new role as an Extreme E advisor and her imminent trip (and first-time visit) to Senegal, Sheena is clearly looking forward to embarking on this epic adventure.

She enthuses: “I have been lucky to live in three African countries (South Africa, Kenya and Seychelles) and have had the privilege of visiting other countries on the continent, but West Africa has been a mystery to me, and Senegal is going to be the first West African country that I will have a chance to visit and experience. I am looking forward to visiting the country itself and understanding how Seychelles and Senegal whilst far away from each other, have similar challenges as well as great opportunities.”

Her link with Extreme E came about through her colleague and mentor, Dr. Lucy Woodall – one of the founding scientific advisors on the Extreme E board. The two have been working closely together to finalise the science aspects of Extreme E’s Ocean X Prix and Lucy has nominated Sheena to take the reins for the event.

“I’m hugely excited,” says Sheena. “It is a privilege and an honour as well as a great opportunity to share my own experiences and knowledge with the Extreme E team in Senegal. I cannot wait to get there and get stuck in!

“The work that the series does is fantastic and the idea of unifying racing with meaningful communications and science, is actually perfect. I feel that we need more initiatives globally that will link our natural world with our daily lives whether that’s through health, science and especially through sport.”

We also asked Sheena if she thinks that sport ultimately has the power to drive change?

Emphatically, she responds: “Of course!  As humans, we admire the discipline, determination and competitive spirit that exists in sport. I think we all wish we were athletes without having to put in the hard work. So, linking our need as humans for entertainment and play which sports represent to the environment is really key, as not only does it show the need for us to work together to ensure a healthy planet, it also provides a platform for bringing a host of different people together from scientists to politicians, to athletes to accountants. This provides the perfect platform to push global environmental change.”

Extreme E’s Ocean X Prix takes place from 29-30 May across the shores of Lac Rose, Senegal.