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The 800 Pound Gorilla in the Room - Really

Posted by: Maureen Wilmot

With just twelve days to go before the election, I thought I would write today about Mountain Gorillas in Africa and an eel that missed her bartender.

“What does this have to do with oceans and the races of our ocean champions?”

“Plenty”, I say.

Last week I had the good fortune to hear Dr. Lucy Spelman speak at the University of California at Santa Cruz Long Marine Lab public lecture series.

Dr. Spelman is the former director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington DC and is currently the Regional Veterinary Manager for the

She has just written a book with Dr. Ted Mashima called, It is a collection of real-life stories of some of the most unusual cases taken on by zoological vets. It is not just about cutting edge procedures and life and death incidences, for the animals as well as the doctors; it is also about this amazing bond we humans have with animals. (Such as the eel that got too big for her tank at a bar so she was given to a public aquarium. The eel would not eat until her old bartender came to see her at the aquarium.)

But what really made me sit up and take notice was when Dr. Spelman talked about her current work with the remaining 750 Mountain Gorillas on this planet. She and her team of other vets, technicians and trackers work to monitor the health of these animals. She noted that gorillas and humans share 98% of the same DNA. Therefore, the gorillas are susceptible to the diseases and infections of humans. This led Dr. Spelman to expand her health care beyond the gorillas to include the surrounding villagers and their livestock. In order to prevent gorillas from being exposed the diseases, they need to keep the villagers healthy.

Dr. Spelman’s mantra is “It takes healthy people to protect wildlife.”

The more I thought of this, the more I realized this also so true about protecting the oceans.

It takes healthy people to protect the oceans.

And I am talking not just about exposing sea life to coughs and colds of humans. I am also talking about healthy, vibrant human communities.

We are more likely to have the financial resources needed to clean up coastal waters if the local economy is healthy and thriving. And you can understand how communities in the Northeast, whose economies are already wiped out because of plummeting fish stocks, are reluctant to support a law that in the long run will bring back the fish populations, but in the short run limit the amount of fish they can take.

With the oceans it goes both ways though. Healthy oceans means healthy humans – abundant fish stocks for food, clean water that does not carry diseases that infect humans and we need humans to be healthy so be able to know that their basic needs of food, shelter and health are met and then they can look outward to care for their environment.

So, as we hunker down for the homestretch in the 2008 election, think about why we need our ocean champions in Congress to ensure healthy oceans to ensure healthy citizens that will ensure healthy oceans in a wonderful feedback loop.

Date Posted: October 23, 2008 @ 2:45 pm


  1. “It takes healthy people to protect the oceans.”

    I now have a new motto. This will replace my old one, “WWBD?( What would Bono do?” Which replaced my older motto, “It wasn’t me.” Sadly it is me and the rest of us. It seems when times are good we’re having too much fun to do what’s right and when times are bad we’re too worried to do what’s right. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go work on my abs for the abalone.

    Comment by Mike — October 24, 2008 @ 4:35 pm
  2. Mike: your comment reminds of another voter demographic - Joe Six Pack Abs - the average guy in really, really great shape.

    Comment by Maureen — October 25, 2008 @ 8:14 am
  3. Dear Maureen,
    Thank you for the wonderful blog about RHINO and our work with the mountain gorillas here in Rwanda. What you’ve written reminds me of a second part to the motto, or maybe it really means the same thing: I often say, “We’re all in this together when it comes to health.”

    The work of everyone at Ocean Champions shows this to be true over and over again.


    Comment by Dr. Lucy — October 26, 2008 @ 10:32 pm

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