Stefan Austermühle – an introduction

If you have read my early posts about how this writing project came about, you may remember me mentioning that Stefan was part of the inspiration behind it. When I emailed him about the possibility of volunteering with his organisation he sent me an essay in return, laying out all the reasons I should not even think about getting involved in conservation. His email prompted me to want to write his, and other conservationists’, stories.

It feels appropriate to quote a small part of that email by way of introduction to Stefan, Mundo Azul and cetacean conservation in South America.

“If you want to learn how an NGO in South America works, then welcome; it can be a terrible struggle against all odds.

To be a real conservationist takes passion and the same energy that at times tears me apart; the drive to do things no matter what because it is just right to do them. If someone wants to prevail in conservation they need to be a person who can bear an enormous amount of frustration on many levels; I know many people who do this work for a few years and then get burned out. I know very few people who have worked for 25 years or more, and believe me some of these people become frustrated and angry personalities.

Sometimes I get disillusioned about what we can achieve. Conservation can be a difficult world to work in as parts of it fall foul to the temptations of becoming a corrupted money making machine. At times I dream of getting out of conservation, finding a calmer life and greater inner peace.. It is a tough life; I work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, to finance the family’s basic needs and provide my children with a good education. I don’t always have time for my family; my children grow and I don’t see enough of them. Conservation generally pays very little while destroying nature pays a lot more. Our work contains some wonderful moments but much of our real life is a struggle.

And then there is the other half of me; I have been and will always be a conservationist. I have done everything: undercover work, activism, political lobbying, directing multimillion dollar NGOs, being grassroots, volunteering and participating in police raids. I have always done what I thought had to be done without caring for the consequences. I will always stay like this. Conservation has become me. I am so full of peace when I am out there at sea with the animals and I enjoy making people happy; I love getting home and seeing the happy faces of people who had a great day with the animals. And there are some wonderful people involved in the conservation world. I want my children to have the same healthy world that I enjoy, so no matter what, there is no choice for me anymore, it is too late to turn around! And maybe I should not complain too much as in the end dolphin conservation made me find the love of my life, my wife Nina; but that´s a story to tell another time…

Right now I want us to become self sufficient; that is the only way that we can have a say in our working conditions. I have had some bad past experiences with other NGOs who see us as hired hands for their own purposes. We always keep a door open for any NGO or person wanting to work with us, but we have learned to become more picky about whom we work with. On the other hand we have just had a visit from Fabian Cousteau and he amazed me with his humbleness and down to earth personality. He is a really nice guy and we definitely hope to work with him in the future. So, I am always looking for people to work with and cooperate with, but I am looking for good people!

What does our daily work look like? Not at all exciting! Often in front of a computer and sometimes doing scientific stuff. When we are at sea it is hard work, you have to be a tough person for this kind of work as we do everything by ourselves; carrying diving equipment, driving the boats, cleaning the boats, diving to clean the hulls, washing the equipment…

You can probably already recognise I am a rather opinionated person! (I think that is the word for somebody that is hard to convince to do things in a different way; you really need to give me very good reasons to convince me of anything). Thank you for the trust you have shown us in evaluating to work with us, at least now you have the option to rethink your plans. Maybe I can cure you from your idea, but in case you are already a lost soul… welcome to Peru!”

Well, this lost soul is now in Peru getting to know Stefan, his wife Nina Pardo and the amazing work of Mundo Azul. There are, of course, a great many stories to tell about their lives, loves and work, and I hope to bring you their stories, from their perspective, in as much detail as they would like, over the coming month.

Next time… Stefan’s life in Germany before he and Nina met, married, and moved to Peru to form Mundo Azul.

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