If you’ve read ‘How it all began’ and ‘How it all continued’ you’ll know the story so far, except when I say story, I really mean the introduction to the REAL thing.
Now we get to the juicy part… Who are Peggy and Stefan anyway? And didn’t I mention there being three conservationists?
I came across Peggy Stap of Marine Life Studies in California while rounding up whale and dolphin conversation groups to be part of Planet Whale’s report and website. My first memory of her was that she was thrilled I had contacted her. She came across as instantly open, warm and friendly.
In the couple of emails that passed between us she happened to write, “Planet Whale is a grand idea and I look forward to working with you. If you are ever in California it would be great to meet you.” At this time I was looking for people to volunteer with, (you know, to go and wow the Masters course professors with my experience and dedication), so that last sentence leapt out at me.
I sent a casual reply (didn’t want to get my hopes up too much), “Funny you should write that, I want to volunteer with an organisation or two somewhere in the world and you never know, I may end up heading in your direction…” Peggy responded, “That sounds great. If and when you go abroad we would love to have you on-board. Let me know and we will talk then.”
So opened up the possibility of working for the wonderfully-welcoming Peggy Stap of Marine Life Studies.
Stefan Austermühle of Associacion Mundo Azul in Peru was quite a different matter. From the beginning of my time at Planet Whale, Stefan stood out as the most amazingly helpful, co-operative, pro-active person. He jumped straight on board with our report and website, and when initially I was having trouble locating organisations based in South America he sent me a long list of them to get me started. He struck me as quite intense, thorough and helpful; when snowed under his correspondence would be brief but when he had time to spare his emails always contained a wealth of detail.
I figured Stefan would be a good person to ask about volunteering. In no uncertain terms he replied, “If you want to prevail in conservation you will need to be a person that can bear enormous amounts of frustration on all possible levels – I know many people doing this for a few years and then they are just burned out. So my advice is: If you are not 100% sure that your passion for nature is worth paying the price – then don’t even start with it.”
His email contained a long, detailed account of his own life within the conservation field and the challenges, to put it mildly, that he has faced and faces on a daily basis. Now his email did not exactly put me off, I am far too stubborn for that, but it did arrive in my inbox at an interesting moment…
Remember that little intuitive voice? It crept out now and said ‘Hmm, well you could forge a path in the conservation world if you want, but where would that leave your writing, not to mention your psychological interests and philosophical tendencies? Isn’t writing the thread that links all these things together?’
So, I made another unexpected choice. I chose to work for Peggy and Stefan but not with a view to training in conservation. Instead, Stefan’s passionate, human, gripping, intense email inspired a desire to write about his and Peggy’s lives; both the conservation side and the human one.
There is one final missing piece to this nearly complete jigsaw. Aren’t there supposed to be three conservationists involved in all this? Yes there are. You see, I have a thing about the number three, I prefer it to two, it feels more rounded. I decided that if I was going to write about two people, I may as well round it up to three.
But who? It had to be on the American continent, my budget would not stretch around the world. I love Canada, so for the love of Canada I decided it had to be there. But I did not have such a close relationship with any individuals in Canada… Except, I did remember one comment from a woman called Laurie Murison of Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station. When I was chasing up information for Planet Whale she sent an email along the lines of “I don’t think I’ve ever met such a cybernag before in all my life!”
Strangely enough this did not put me off contacting her. And strangely, my persistence did not put her off agreeing to my suggestion of assisting her in her work, and she did not seem at all nervous of a cybernagging stranger writing about her.
And so ends the introduction to ‘Stories about Conservationists’. From where it all began nearly a year ago this is where the REAL thing begins… From now until mid May I’ll be working with and writing about Peggy, from then till the end of June I’ll be with Stefan, and for most of July I’ll be with Laurie.
I hope that over the next few months I’ll be able to give you a through the keyhole glimpse into the life of a cetacean conservationist. In the meantime, if you want to get a head start and read some background information on what their organisations do, check pages 64, 75 and 103 of the Planet Whale Report, or visit their websites (see Links page).