LISBON (Reuters) – Aboriginal Australian activist Theresa Ardler travelled halfway across the world to tell leaders at the U.N. Ocean Conference in Portugal that they are failing to protect her fishing community back home.
Ardler, 50, fears the humpback whales that travel through the deep blue waters surrounding her aboriginal village of Wreck Bay, on the east coast of Australia, will suffer if authorities do not act fast enough.
“The ocean is what we call ‘Our Mother’ and it’s thousands of years old – just like my ancestors,” she said as she joined hundreds of other activists outside the conference venue in Lisbon on Wednesday in a ‘blue march’ to save the world’s seas.
“I will do everything to protect my whales,” she said.
About 7,000 people are in Lisbon for the conference, including heads of state, scientists and NGOs, to assess progress in implementing a U.N. directive to protect marine life.
In the first row of the protest and as others behind her played drums and shouted “Keep it in the ground”, Ardler held a sign asking authorities everywhere to halt their plans to mine the deep sea.
There is growing interest in deep-sea mining, which would involve using heavy machinery to suck up off the ocean floor potato-sized rocks or nodules that contain cobalt, manganese, and other rare metals mostly used in batteries.
Also at the protest, 38-year-old Laura Meller, from Greenpeace, urged leaders to get their act together and reach an agreement on the long-awaited treaty to shield open seas against exploitation beyond national jurisdictions.
“What I see and what I hear is lots of talk and little action,” Meller said. “What we need … from world leaders right now is action to get ocean protection done.”
Amid the crowd, some activists dressed up as mermaids, others were wrapped in fishing nets and some were wearing shark suits to raise awareness of the various threats faced by these ocean creatures.
“The biggest threat right now is overfishing because so many sharks end up in bycatch nets,” said 27-year-old Tina Reiterer, from Sharkproject International. “They just don’t have protection at all … Something has to change right now.”
(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Miguel Pereira and Pedro Nunes in Lisbon; Editing by Sandra Maler)