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Conservation Interconnection

Thursday, February 18th, 2016
Amy Ippoliti | Conservation Through Interconnection | prAna
(Photography by Taro Smith)

prAna Ambassador Amy Ippoliti Makes The Bigger Connection

“Like many who understand the urgent need to restore health to the ocean, I want to do more to help preserve the diverse and fascinating animals that inhabit the earth’s waters.”

Traditionally, efforts at conservation have focused on documenting the horrors of what’s going on in the world with the hope that others will notice, be shocked, and take action.

While walking down the street in Manhattan recently, I was bombarded by activists holding up gruesome images of tortured animals – something I used to do as a teenager in New York when I knew of no other methods to make a difference. I walked through the gauntlet of poster-sized images, and despite being in total agreement with these activists’ position, I wanted to run in the opposite direction.

Times have changed since my days on the street trying to convince people to help protect the natural world. In fact, times have had to change because the old methods have not been moving the needle.

It has become more challenging to capture people’s time and attention than ever before. In this ‘140 character world’, time and attention are precious commodities.

Before we talk about how to get people enthused about marine conservation, let’s understand what there is to care about. Here are some facts:

  • Studies show that a number of shark species have declined in population by 90% or more in several regions, largely due to “Shark Finning” over the last 50 years (Eg. Scalloped hammerhead and tiger sharks are declining off the Atlantic Coast by more than 97% due to Shark Finning).
  • Manta Rays have recently been listed under CITES as a species that needs protection due to wide scale harvesting of Manta gill rakers under the false assumption that they have medicinal benefits in Chinese medicine. This is a creature that has a lifespan of 40 years.
  • Dolphins, while widely revered for their intelligence and joyful demeanor, are being caught in fishing nets, slaughtered for their meat in Taiji, Japan.
  • The world’s rarest and smallest known subspecies of dolphin, the Maui’s Dolphin, found in the coastal waters of New Zealand’s West Coast North Island, is critically endangered. Only 55 remain.

“We’ve discovered that people only care about that to which they feel connected.
Awe, beauty, and connection inspires people to share and stimulates conversation on the topic. On the other hand, seeing these animals dead and bloody just makes people sad.”

I know, it’s depressing! How do we get people to care? How do we motivate them to stop and pay attention? And most importantly, how do we get them to take action?

To that end, we’ve been working on a new and different way to reach a more widespread, mainstream audience and inspire them to care about marine wildlife. A new genre of conservation imagery is emerging.

We call it “conservation through interconnection,” where human interaction with animals is showcased underwater.

When I first saw photos with models underwater with whalesharks, I was instantly motivated to do my part to catalyze the yoga community (and beyond) in this new method of raising awareness, educating, and galvanizing action. I am an avid swimmer, so I committed to training in order to pose in the water with these animals too.

Amy Ippoliti | prAna
Amy Ippoliti | prAna

A trip was scheduled and I began 8 long months of intense training to test my flexibility underwater, hold my breath for long stints, discover the world of free diving, and increase my strength and cardiovascular capacity.

That said, I survived, and our first round of images were well received, widely shared, and helped to educate thousands of people.

The images went viral through media channels like prAna Stories, Yahoo, and Yoga Journal. People started educating themselves about the animals through the content in the articles as well as the myriad of conversations going on in the comment sections. Conservation through interconnection was working!

Two years later the photos are still being shared regularly on Instagram and in blogs by people we don’t even know.

“When I finally stepped onto the boat, I realized that 8 months of training in Colorado was no match for what it took to spend a full week, eight hours a day free diving over and over in between treading water in the big ocean with these massive animals.”

Our latest images are dedicated to dolphins. This was my first encounter with these creatures. Wild dolphins are on the move and cover a lot of ground, so it was a real treat to share the same frame with them, even if it was fleeting! It took a while to wipe the smile off my face.

People relate to dolphins for their intelligence and smiling faces, yet there are still so many problems between keeping them in captivity in marine parks, to the slaughter in The Cove in Taiji, Japan, to whole species of dolphin being driven to extinction by the fishing industry’s nets.

“We wanted to celebrate these animals in their wild habitat by meeting them where they were, and practicing a little bit of yoga to honor their presence in our seas.”