Mckenzie: Accepting the fact that we can live in harmony with the ocean without endangering it is the first step towards conservation.
Issue XVII Exclusive Feature
Written Interview by Khadija Colombowala
Mckenzie Margarethe (any pronouns) is a marine science communicator with a background in ocean conservation and an admiration for all things marine-related. As a queer person in STEM, they continuously work to increase representation of marginalized communities, particularly in their climate activism. Mckenzie offers thoughtful, intersectional climate solutions to her audience, and commonly discusses topics such as sustainable fishing, the blue economy, corporate accountability, and many more pressing matters. Through providing their viewers with passionate and educational content, Mckenzie strives to make the scientific field more accessible while empowering others to act meaningfully in their own climate activism.
Growing up in Hawaii, which known for its vibrant marine ecosystems, inspired your passion for ocean conservation. Can you share a defining moment or encounter that shaped your perspective?
Mckenzie: I have loved the water for as far back as I can remember, and everyone around me have always been acutely aware of this—my family nicknamed me “Little Fish” growing up because of my obvious passion for the water. So I think that, rather than a single defining moment or encounter, it is that the vast majority of my happy memories or moments growing up were made while I was in the water. Not only is the water where I feel my happiest, but it is always where I have felt most myself. This close connection I have with the water in my life and in my very identity is precisely why I want to honor and give back to it through my work in ocean conservation.
Your work with organisations and the unique experience of working in a submarine with Atlantis must have been incredible. Can you describe an unforgettable underwater adventure that intensified your dedication to protecting our oceans?
Mckenzie: It feels genuinely impossible to pick just one unforgettable adventure; every single underwater adventure I have the pleasure of experiencing is incredibly memorable for its own reason. I’m a person who gets excited by every single fish, eel, coral, and mundane piece of seaweed floating in the distance. Going into the water with me also means you are subjecting yourself to hearing all of the endless fun facts that pop into my brain. I am myself when I am in the water, so I cannot just pick one moment over another—all of them are important to shaping me; they are all interwoven into my very being. Of course, there are moments that are special to me, such as photographing my first whole breach, or when a monk seal chooses my beach and I have to pack up. But, in my heart, those moments are just as important as simply feeling the saltwater wash over my skin on any given day. Any moment I spend in the water is an unforgettable one.
You effectively educate and raise awareness through social media, particularly Instagram. How do you utilize the online world to engage your audience in meaningful conversations about ocean conservation?
Mckenzie: In order to make a true impact in people’s lives and in the general efforts of ocean conservation, I always work hard to put interest, education, and inspiration first. It’s not helpful to merely guilt people or plead with them into caring. I firmly believe that people will only fight the good fight if you give them a reason to do so.
You advocate for diversifying the conservation space and encouraging artists, writers, and creatives to contribute. How do you envision their involvement making a difference? Could you provide examples of impactful creative initiatives for ocean conservation?
Mckenzie: It is absolutely vital to remember that everyone and anyone can make an impact in ocean conservation. For instance, one of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance’s Young Ocean Leaders that I was selected alongside with had actually never seen the ocean firsthand until we got to Panama. Yet, she was, and continues to be, a respected and empowering leader in the ocean conversation movement within her home country. I have also met a young nurse who adores the ocean so dearly that she created an initiative in her busy hospital to reduce waste and increase recycling efforts. Every single person has a role to play in this fight for ocean conservation—this is the epitome of a team project. Even a seemingly ‘small’ act, such as showing up for the ocean advocates that represent you and helping them get a seat at the decision-making table is an incredible help. Creating art through various mediums helps connect everyday people to the issues and the ongoing work in a way that they can appreciate and understand. My background and experience as a scientist means that I tend to say things in a very matter of fact way, which may sometimes seem a bit cold or detached, and people may not always resonate with my scientific way of explaining things. This is exactly what we need storytellers and emotional, empathetic individuals to bridge that gap between the person and the scientific movement.
If you could collaborate with any artist, writer, or singer to create a powerful message about ocean conservation, who would you choose and why?
Mckenzie: Wow, what a question! Honestly, there are so many people I am already connected with on social media that I would love to work with because I have had the pleasure of being introduced to a vast amount of creative people in this industry. But, if I had to put my big dreams out into the universe and manifest it all, I have to say I would love to host a show about ocean advocacy for a large audience, whether that be through a streaming service or on network television. I would use that as a space to explore a wide array of marine conservation topics and discuss how they are being addressed, from individual and small group advocates and activists, to larger, institutional and governmental policies.
Awakening mindfulness and gratitude for the ocean's beauty is crucial. How do you strive to cultivate this appreciation in others, ensuring we never take it for granted?
Mckenzie: Having a deep understanding and appreciation for the fact that we can live harmoniously with the ocean is fundamental to any work in ocean conservation. Different cultures all over the world have historically been sustainably fishing and ‘extracting’ resources from the oceans for centuries, and we ought to honor and respect their knowledge. We can show our gratitude by following some of these cultures’ basic principles, such as not taking too much and ensuring these resources will be available for the future generations too, and leaving certain areas alone so that future generations can access them. At the basis of all work in ocean conservation should be the idea that we must be mindful about the future of our oceans and our relationships with them.
As a queer marine conservationist, have you encountered unique challenges or discrimination? How do you navigate these obstacles and promote inclusivity within the conservation movement?
Mckenzie: As an openly queer person, of course I have experienced discrimination, specifically and uniquely during my time going to a catholic university. I often had coworkers, peers, and faculty members directly tell me they did not support same-sex marriage, something that I was actively fighting for at the time in Hawai’i. As I was the president of my school’s GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance), I was often looked over for research projects because people assumed I just had my “gay club” to focus on. These unique hardships taught me to be more aware of if the people I’m surrounding myself with are truly ‘safe’, or if they are merely claiming to be so. These experiences have also inspired me to make it clearly known that I am a safe person for other folks in the LGBTQ+ community to be around.
Finally, Amidst the challenges facing the ocean, can you share positive developments or success stories that inspire hope for marine conservation? Provide examples that personally inspire you.
Mckenzie: I love talking about the resiliency of the ocean and her creatures because I feel so connected to these stories. For example, the humpback whales have made such an incredible comeback since the introduction of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and other conservation efforts. This recovery was not linear, of course, as some years were much better than others. But, nonetheless, they persevered and have undoubtedly made a comeback. Another example that inspires me is the sheer resiliency of coral. For many years, we were always taught that coral was very fragile and was surely destined to die very quickly. But, through my time working directly with coral, I can now confidently say that this discrediting of coral’s strength is simply not true. Coral in labs and in tanks are far more sensitive than the coral that exists in the wild—coral is actually strong, adaptable, and resilient when in the wild, and it is this very resiliency that gives me hope.