An Interview with Claire Nouvian

Image © Goldman Environmental Prize

By |2019-12-09T15:56:58+00:00August 28th, 2019|Fish, Fisheries, Interviews, Ocean|Comments Off on An Interview with Claire Nouvian

In 2018, Claire Nouvian, Founder and Chair of BLOOM Association (BLOOM), was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize (Europe) for her tireless campaigning on vital and urgent marine conservation issues. Synchronicity Earth has been supporting BLOOM for over five years, so we were delighted and proud to see Claire and her team recognised as such an inspiration to so many others involved in conservation. I caught up with Claire to hear about her dreams of the deep sea, the role of social science in conservation and how, when it comes to conservation organisations, small is beautiful.

What does BLOOM do?

We focus on marine conservation issues. We know that solutions to the disaster we are witnessing in our oceans today are out there, but very few of them make it into discussions and even fewer are actually implemented. We are particularly interested in public policy: there’s nothing more public than a fish which is free, swimming out there in the ocean and doesn’t belong to anyone. We know that there are solutions which could make a huge difference, but we are fighting against the fact that policy-makers generally don’t follow scientific knowledge. Instead, they tend to bow to political pressure or think very short-term with a view to getting re-elected, making decisions for which there are global consequences which affect us all.

How did you first become interested in ocean conservation and the deep sea?

I really stumbled upon marine issues quite by chance. I think, at heart, I would have ended up fighting injustice whatever I chose to do, and it was just a set of random encounters and circumstances that led to me working to protect wildlife more than humans.

In 2000, I was working on the movie ‘Les nuits sauvages’, filmed in tropical forests of Africa and South America, and I caught two tropical diseases, one after the other. I had them both simultaneously although I contracted them in separate places, one in Africa and one in South America. I got very sick and couldn’t work – I was sleeping all the time. But, for the few hours I was awake every day, I was developing a million ideas for things I wanted to do. I had time to think about some personal projects, one of which involved the deep sea.

Image © Goldman Environmental Prize

I had recently discovered the deep-sea environment at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium in California. There was an exhibition called Mysteries of the Deep showing the most incredible images and films – the whole thing was just mind-blowing! I couldn’t get the deep ocean out of my mind, I was thinking about it night and day. Even as I was going to bed I was thinking of all the creatures down there in the dark as I was falling asleep… It was such a revelation to me that so much life existed down there that was simply ignored. Nobody seemed to respect or even acknowledge the fact that this life was being destroyed day after day.

While I was convalescing, I had time to do some writing and research and to put all this into an idea, which was to write a book and do an exhibition, both of which I did. I ended up focusing on marine environments rather than forests or other ecosystems because I felt that people were more aware of what is happening on land. For oceans, people are generally unaware of what is happening, simply because so much of what happens in them is out of sight.

What do you think is people’s most common misconception about the deep sea?

I would find it difficult to pinpoint people’s misconceptions about the deep sea specifically, when I find that there are so many misconceptions out there about pretty much everything. For me, when people have beliefs instead of knowledge, that is something I simply can’t relate to. That’s probably why I have such difficult relations with people! I’m very happy to engage with people in a work context, but socially I find it difficult to talk to anyone who is not engaged with knowledge at all. I fight my own ignorance all day long and I guess I have that expectation about others.

At BLOOM, we are fighting against this lack of knowledge. Typically, if we talk about either deep-sea bottom trawling or electric fishing, then we are trying to shine a light on a topic which is almost completely unknown. We take difficult topics – things which often aren’t on the radar of the media – and bring them out.

To give an example, a number of NGOs have managed to put Glyphosate (the active ingredient in many weed-killers) on our radar. Very few people knew that word before. So, like other NGOs, we try to make sure that there is a public debate about some of the destructive realities that are happening in the world, often out of sight and without our knowledge. In that sense, we do fight ignorance, but I really couldn’t tell you what the public think about the deep sea!

BLOOM creates very strong campaigns to try to influence consumers and therefore the behaviour of corporations. What do you put the success of these campaigns down to?

For our campaigns on deep-sea bottom trawling and the vote on electric fishing in the European parliament, one of the most important things was taking lessons from social sciences and bringing them to the field of conservation. For example, typically we refer a lot to Jennifer Jacquet’s work on shame. She wrote an excellent book called ‘Is Shame Necessary’, and I think it deserves to be quoted because a lot of what we do is based on her understanding of how shame works.

We also use Simon Baron-Cohen’s work – he’s a British psychologist and he works on empathy. His ‘Zero Degrees of Empathy’ is a crucially important book which explains the real world, how people function, and their dysfunction. I think once you have read that, whether it’s a campaign, an interaction or anything else, it is very difficult to shape anything in the same way as before you read it.

So, we take lessons from the social sciences into how we draft campaigns. For me, it is unsurprising that this leads to success. When we shape a campaign, we base it on – of course – political strategy, that goes without saying, but we also incorporate social sciences. Remarkably, I find that few organisations engage in that way i.e. I don’t see them drafting campaigns based on a much broader cultural corpus. There is so much out there to read, to be inspired by and to take into consideration when making choices.

We try to create the best recipes for success, and sometimes they don’t work but when they do, it is really quite logical: if we follow our plan – and we do – there’s nothing magical about it, it is more about how much work people can put into our campaigns that really leaves me speechless.

Ego is something I cannot deal with – and I don’t – so that’s why I feel much closer to small organisations. I love working with smaller NGOs. Larger NGOs always seem to have some internal politics, which I have no patience for – even as an outside collaborator I find it difficult and challenging. I love the reactivity that smaller structures allow, and the fact that, in all the smaller groups that I work with (and there are so many, dozens, hundreds even) I find the same passion, whatever the topic. Whether it’s for street children, for conservation in Madagascar, or anything else: I find that I completely relate to the sincerity that I find in smaller organisations.

At the end of the day, you want your work to lead to change, you want to see results and we have little time. The tasks we face and the objectives we set ourselves are huge, and there is not enough time, money or people, so we really cannot afford to deal with the huge diplomatic internal issues that many of these larger groups have.

The people I work with at BLOOM really are irreplaceable. They are so driven and the amount of heart, passion and energy they put into the w