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Daniel Villa Sea ShepherdDaniel Villa of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
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Steve Irwin, Sea ShepherdThe Steve Irwin
If you’ve been shopping at Maremagnum recently, you might have spotted Daniel Villa’s second home. He’s one of the 14 volunteer crew currently aboard the 'Steve Irwin'; the flagship of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s fleet (SSCS). An international, non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organisation, their black and white pirate flag is hard to miss on Barcelona’s marina. Natasha Young climbed on board to meet assistant engineer Daniel Villa (31) from Seattle, to ask about life as a volunteer on the high seas.
What exactly do SSCS do?
We use direct-action tactics to expose and confront illegal activities at sea. The organisation has been going for the last 30 years and we’re on the front line, protecting whales from illegal whalers. We’re also been involved in anti-poaching enforcement in the Galapagos and we fight to save seals, dolphins, sharks and all marine wildlife.
So what brought you to Barcelona?
Well, we’ve just finished our first ever campaign in the Mediterranean called Operation Blue Rage. We’ve been trying to protect the endangered bluefin tuna. Due to over-fishing, scientists say that if we continue to catch the tuna at this rate, they’re going to be extinct in 2 to 3 years so this is one of the most important campaigns we’ve ever done in terms of survival of a species. We cut open the nets of an illegal fishing vessel in Libya and released over 800 tuna.
Here in Barcelona we’re on an awareness campaign, telling people about our work and encouraging people to pressurise their governments. Our local Spanish branch managed to secure this fantastic public location for us where we can invite people aboard and teach them about protecting the oceans.
How and why did you personally get involved with the organisation?
When I was little I wanted to buy a helicopter and go round the world stopping poachers so it’s cool I finally got to do it! I became vegetarian and then vegan in my 20’s and got involved with an animal rights group in Pittsburg. I read an article about Sea Shepherd and the idea of going out and actually protecting what was left in the wild really appealed to me. I joined the ship the day after I gave my thesis presentation at grad school.
What’s day to day life like as a volunteer?
When volunteers first start we try to break them in gently as there’s so much to learn. After a tour of the ship they’ll get started on basic chores like cleaning the deck, working on removing the rust on the hull, cooking food in the galley or working in the engine room. During the campaign there are usually about 34 of us on board but it goes down to 14 or so when we’re in port. We work six days out of seven.
Would you recommend doing volunteer work? Don’t you miss the money?
Definitely and no I don’t miss the money. Here on board you have a roof over your head and get fed; you just need to be able to fly to and from wherever the ship is. It’s a free opportunity to do something utterly unique and life-changing. Most volunteers say they’ve never worked harder but they usually want to come back and do it again.
Can anyone get involved or do you need to have experience to become a crew member?
Yes, anyone can get involved as long as they have the time and a passion for conservation. Before I joined the ship, I’d only been on a ferry once before and then I got sea-sick. I never thought I’d get accepted when I applied. I was filling out the form and there were about 20 questions like ‘Can you weld? No. ‘Are you a mechanic?’ No. ‘Do you know how to navigate?’ No. ‘Can you operate radar?’ No. Finally I got to the bottom and it was ‘Do you know how to swim?’ so I was able to check one box at least.
What are the high points?
You see some amazing sights and it’s a buzz when you find the boat you’ve been looking for and the work starts. Most of all, it’s knowing you’re making a difference. In the last year, we’ve saved 527 whales.
.. and the lows?
The seasickness definitely, it’s hard work and of course you miss your family. A real low point for me though was on Operation Musashi in 2008/9 when we lost sight of the whaling fleet we were chasing. For five days we’d been saving whales, throwing stink bombs and prop foulers at their boats and getting in the way, but on the sixth day we lost them and had a collision. It was horrible. We never expected to have them killing whales in front of us.
Why the name Steve Irwin?
The ship was re-named the Steve Irwin in honour of the late Australian conservationist (aka The Crocodile Hunter). The ship is based in Australia and Steve had been planning to come out with us on one of his campaigns.
For people reading this at home, what can we do? Should we be eating another more sustainable fish than tuna for example?
The best thing is just not to eat tuna, well any seafood really. Often, the ‘sustainable’ labels are made by the industries themselves to make people feel better. With 6 million people on the planet, I don’t think there’s any such thing as sustainable fishing.
What if we want to take to the high seas and get involved?
Come along and visit the ship to help out. That way, you can find out more and see if you like it. Otherwise, you could work as on onshore volunteer.
What’s next for you and the crew of the Steve Irwin?
On the 5th September we’re heading back to Australia. It’s a 40 day voyage and once we’re there, we’ll be readying the ship for another trip to Antarctica.
To find out more about the work of Sea Shepherd you can take a free half hour tour of the ship. Guided tours are in various languages and take place between 10am and 6pm. To find them, take the pedestrian bridge over to Maremagnum, follow the path round past the shopping centre and look for the black ship with the pirate flag. Otherwise, head to their website at: www.seashepherd.org