Artists for Conservation

A Grand Adventure: AFC's Marine Explorers Program

Artists for Conservation

As a group of 8 Artists for Conservation (AFC) artists prepare to convene in Cayman Islands once again under the AFC's Marine Explorers Program. Signature AFC member and explorer, Brent Cooke offers a commentary on the program and his experience.

I was extremely fortunate last year to be invited to the first Artists for Conservation's Marine Explorer's trip conducted on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean last spring. Jeff met with me first to explain the program concept, intent and timeframe for the program and naturally, I couldn't wait to get started.

The idea was to expose artists to a variety of important issues relating to conservation in a particular marine environment so that, through their art, people from all walks of life could appreciate the beauty of marine life and learn about marine conservation issues. The other focus for the trip was to meet and work with Dr. Guy Harvey (an acclaimed artist himself) from the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, who lives and works on Grand Cayman. This first program was intended to establish the groundwork required to create future collaborative programs between our two organizations.

Our initial focus was the plight of the Green Sea Turtle. As the ad states, "Everyone loves Turtles", and we were no exception. We toured a commercial turtle farm and witnessed the process of raising turtles both as food and as a means of bolstering wild stocks. The turtles raised at the farm are released as young adults to rebuild the populations decimated over the last 100 years. The turtles raised, harvested and sold commercially have dramatically reduced the hunting of wild stocks. This, thankfully, means Green Sea Turtles turtles are now showing increased population growth for the first time in decades.

Another conservation issue we were made aware of was that of the Lionfish. This is an introduced species in the Caribbean with no natural predators and whose population is exploding at unprecedented rates. These fish breed very frequently and produce thousands of offspring at a time. The Lionfish eat absolutely every fish species they can swallow. This means the loss of large numbers of fish which normally keep the reefs healthy. We were shown a number of methods being employed all over the Caribbean to try and get the Lionfish under control.

I have been a diver and underwater photographer since 1967, and worked in the Marine Biology Department of the Royal BC Museum for many years before becoming the Director of Exhibitions. All of my diving was concentrated in the waters of British Columbia so this trip was my first real exposure to warm water diving. It won't be my last!

While most of the artists on the trip were inspired to produce work depicting some of the turtles and sting rays we were able to meet "up close and personal", as a sculptor I was more drawn by the playful French angelfish. My sculpture "Underwater Waltz" was based on my observations of two Angelfish circling each other in mid-water.

After a most successful program last year, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and its partners have developed the first in what we hope is to become an annual event in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Artists for Conservation artworks and programs will be featured just as they are each year at the Festival on Grouse Mountain (AFC's main event). Read about the Festival in Vancouver and tour to Fort Lauderdale May 17th - June 16, 2014.

In closing, I offer a personal observation: It seems to me that one of the largest issues facing marine conservation is the fact that most people seem to have no idea how delicate our marine world is. We look out over the water to the horizon and think to ourselves "Well, it looks just the same as it did yesterday", - so - no problems there. Nothing could be further from the truth! My hope is that with the Marine Explorer's Program and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation working together we can, as artists, shed some light on the actions needed now to preserve this incredible world beneath the waves.

Brent Cooke,
View Brent's artwork


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