Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Profile of an OceansWatch Volunteer: Captain Andy Clarkson

“When I was young I always had dreams of adventure. I never imagined myself living in a house and having a ‘normal’ life. I always wanted to travel the world and a boat seemed to be the perfect way to do it” Andy Clarkson explained.

He has created just that with his live-aboard lifestyle and beautiful red cutter named Kai currently in Malaysia waiting for his return from this Mediterranean to New Zealand yacht delivery. The OceansWatch project in the Caribbean is a six week side line that he volunteered for during the delivery, achieved by the owner’s very generous donation of the use of his boat. With almost 100,000 miles of sailing experience, Andy moves about the boat with a symphony of moves and expert handling.
But Andy’s evolution into sailing began first with land travel as a youth. Growing up in England, nowhere near the ocean, his first adventures as a young man were spent like many other European youths; backpacking around, working as jobs came up and moving around as the opportunities…or boredom, directed him.

“I was always fascinated by the TV show, The Undersea World of Jacque Cousteau as a kid, so it was inevitable that I became scuba qualified. Very quickly I became a Dive Master and eventually with more training became a Diving Instructor. For years I worked as both. Many of my Jobs were on live aboard sailboats and this is where I got my first real experience sailing.”

Life took its twists and turns and Andy ended up back in the UK using that time to get his professional captains training and license. It was during this time that he found his boat Kai, a project that needed a lot of work but once that was completed, the ocean became his home and he hasn’t looked back.

“I’m a sea gypsy. But my work with charter companies and yacht deliveries keeps me focused. I met Chris Bone (CEO of OW) this way in New Zealand and began working for him. This was when OceansWatch was still in its very early days, but I saw his passion for it and totally supported it,” Andy said.
“After being based in Grenada, and spending two and a half years in the Caribbean some years back it has been great to return to this area and become involved with this project. We’ve done so much in such a short amount of time it’s all a blur looking back,” he reflected. “The thing is, in the Pacific as well as the environmental concerns, many people still live at a subsistence level without any of the most basic amenities, and having the most basic materials to achieve a primary education really is an issue. But here they mostly have those things covered, so here I believe that it is more about the environment. I just cannot believe how small and few the fish are becoming, and it’s hard to see all the reef damage. As well as the coral bleaching events that occur due to sea temperature rises and acidification, human influence and overfishing alongside bad fishing practices has compounded the problem to a point where if continued the effects could be irreversibly catastrophic.”

Andy was instrumental in talking to dive shops in several of the islands and saw similar concerns with each island.

“The problem is that the different organizations don’t talk to each other. There is no uniting force that communicates and works together as a whole with reefs, conservation and ecological concerns. They are all doing their own thing when really, it is the same waters, the same Caribbean Sea, the same concerns,” Andy said.

“I personally think the answer is Marine Conservation Zones, protected Marine parks withstrict laws and punishments that are enforced, and as has been done in Dominican Republic, the fishermen can be educated in sustainable fishing practices and encouraged to be involved with the parks. Where you have parks you can bring in Coral Gardening and Coral transplanting and let the process renew itself. But this has to happen on every island and education of the fisherman is an essential part of it,” he continued.

“But that is going to take time and a united front. I believe that OceansWatch and its members could be of great assistance helping. Along with the different island organizations and governments we need to work together to create a sustainable marine ecosystem and rescue our reefs before they are gone forever”.
“We found contacts along these islands that are doing things and care,” Andy said after reviewing the list of Island visited. “Other boats must come behind us and continue to follow up with the same people. Projects must be developed or existing ones be announced to members so that they can become involved with them. If not, then we’ve achieved nothing. I just hope it will continue. We got the ball rolling... Don't let it stop.”

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