D: Growing up in New England with a Dad who was a bit of a cross between Henry David Thoreau and Jack Kerouac definitely fostered a strong relationship with nature and travel from very early on in life! While most families were vacationing at touristy theme parks, we would head “off the beaten track” on camping and hiking trips to simply enjoy the great outdoors and the local wildlife. When I was about 9 years old, we visited the Yunque Rainforest in Puerto Rico and being exposed to so many different types of exotic plants and animals and all the vibrant sights, smells and sounds further sparked my interest in the natural world. That trip has had a lasting impact as I have been actively involved with the protection of endangered species and habitats ever since and have worked with some amazing organizations who are carrying out critical work to protect and defend some of the last wild places left on Earth including: Amazon Watch, The Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest2Reef, The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Conservation International. Ultimately respect and appreciation for nature is essentially what I think being “eco” is all about- reverence for the balance and harmony of the Earth’s natural systems and rhythms and I am grateful for the experiences that I had during those formative years and for the examples that my parents set for my sisters and I.
T: What advice do you give people who want to become more active in protecting the planet?
D: Well, I became a vegetarian when I was twelve after stumbling across some PETA literature which was a pivotal turning point in my own “eco-activist” journey. At that time it was really an ethical decision based on the premise of animal rights, but given current research by the UN indicating that the factory farming industry omits more greenhouse gases than all SUVs, cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined, these days it is clearly an environmental one as well. Whenever people ask me what they can do to become a “greener” citizen, I tell them that a good place to start is by accessing what is on their dinner plate and also how far it travelled to get there- I’m an avid “buy local and organic” kind of gal and it just blows my mind that the average meal travels close to 2,000 miles in the United States! I find it completely unacceptable and unnecessary as well, especially for those of us lucky enough to live in such an abundant Mecca as California!
T: What do you do in your daily life?
D: Funny you should ask! The most common question I get is, “Ok, where in the world are you this week?” I guess I have become so accustomed to traveling as part of the freelance lifestyle that it is second nature to me at this point, so daily routine is often times non-existant. I basically go with the flow as every day depends on the scope, nature and time frame of the project I am working on. For example, one year I went from protesting and documenting the dolphin slaughters in Taiji, Japan to volunteering at an orphanage outside of Machu Pichu to filming jaguars in Mexico’s Selva Maya rainforest all in a span of just a few months. As a matter of fact I started answering this interview in Cannes, France while writing a piece on the Bluefin tuna crisis and I am now finishing it in Indonesia where I have been researching and writing about a local sea turtle sanctuary. It can be a whirlwind sometimes and not always as glamorous people may think. Little things like lack of electricity and food poisoning can be a real bummer, but it does add authenticity to the experience! I am really looking forward to settling down a bit back in California and getting back into the flow of a daily routine and look forward to planting my first garden and maybe rescuing a dog from one of the high kill LA shelters. That is not to say that there is a 9-5 schedule anywhere in the near future- I’m just not the office type although I’ve been known to fake it from time to time.
T: What type of people do you work with on your projects?
D: I’ve been very fortunate to work directly with so many amazing and passionate individuals who care deeply about the health and survival of the planet. While working alongside environmental icons and personal heros like Captain Paul Watson and Ric O’barry is certainly gratifying, I find it equally rewarding and humbling to work with indigenous groups like the Achuar peoples of Peru (Amazon Watch) and the Dine people of Arizona (Save the Peaks Coalition) for whom I also have a tremendous amount of respect and intrigue. This past week I met with a guy here in Indonesia who, without pay or recognition, is single handedly responsible day in and day out for the protection and preservation of the critically threatened species of Loggerhead turtles on his small, impoverished island. It’s unsung heroes like this that inspire me the most to keep using my voice to share the stories that may otherwise not find a venue to be told. For that reason I have started blogging recently for Take Part.com and The Huffington Post. (Not to mention the need to ween myself off of Facebook a bit!) Social media networking sites have certainly revolutionized the entire journalism field, for better or worse.
I am also currently working on a project called “Sea Voices” that highlights the work and achievements of several key individuals that are focused on giving voice to the world’s Oceans. I am honored to work with all the men and women involved with this particular endeavor including one of my all time heroines, Dr. Jane Goodall and other favorite eco gal pals like: Daryl Hannah, Isabel Lucas, Q’orianka Kilcher, Atossa Soltani and Shannon Mann. I’ve had the pleasure of working with all of these epic women firsthand on past endeavors and I’m really thrilled to be able showcase their efforts and achievements in one compilation. Please be sure to keep your eye out for these eco-divas and the coffee table book coming out later this summer!
T: What funny stories can you tell from behind the scenes?
D: Probably too many to count and probably some that are best kept to myself! Well, let’s just say that if Discovery network is looking for fresh content, the may wish to focus on the daily dramas that occur behind the scenes at their local non-profit organizations. When I first got into this realm several years ago I sort of envisioned everyone sitting around singing kumbaya and hugging trees on lunch break with my co-workers. Wow, that veil was lifted pretty quickly! There seems to be this eco-warrior vs. ego-warrior happening in today’s environmental movement and I have found that laughter and a light heart is usually the best remedy, because the work at hand is too important to let other people’s “stuff” get in the way. It’s no surprise I took up a serious yoga practice around the same time I got into the non-profit world and if I ran my own organization there would certainly be some staff yoga retreats and sweat lodges happening on a regular basis!
T: When did your interests in environmentalism turn to activism?
D: Well, the two are pretty much synonymous. Activism in my opinion does not always have to be putting oneself in the line of danger but rather taking a stand on an issue and staying true to one’s own convictions for the duration. If you can harness support or inspire others to take action, however grand or small, then change begins to occur. As my dear friend and activist musician Michael Franti once said to me, “If you wish to affect positive change, first you have to get those you are trying to influence to fall in love with you; No one likes being told they are wrong.” I’ve taken those words to heart, although of course I think that there is a time and place when more radical direct action approach is needed- every person has their line in the sand. For me, that moment came when I learned of the annual dolphin slaughters that claim 25,000 innocent lives every year. A group of international surfers and I paddled into the notorious killing cove as a symbolic gesture of what one of the original Eco-divas, Dr. Margaret Mead eluded to in her famous, “Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” With the recent success of the Oscar award winning film, The Cove, and the growing numbers of supporters around the world, we are heading in the right direction for shutting this horrific operation down forever. This to me is a true example of activism. It’s about not compromising your own truth and staying the course at any cost. We’ll be back in Taiji this September to do just that.
A strong passion for environmental activism with a focus upon Ocean and Rainforest conservation, Deborah has worked directly through the years with such organizations as The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Amazon Watch, Rainforest2Reef, Global Green USA, The Clinton Global Initiative and The Rainforest Action Network. Through photojournalism, documentary film and social networking, Deborah is dedicated to raising awareness and funding for critical social and environmental related projects. Her work has been featured in Surfer Magazine, FreeSurf, NEED, Yoga Journal, YogiTimes, Peace Magazine, The Progressive, Patagonia’s Wild and Scenic Film Festival and throughout numerous website blogs and on-line publications. A graduate of The Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, Deborah is fluent in French and Spanish and currently works as a consultant for various environmental organizations and projects around the world.