By Hannah Schartmann.
Thilo Maack is a graduate biologist with a focus on marine biology. Since 1999, he has been working for Greenpeace, primarily on fisheries and whale protection campaigns. On several occasions, he led the Greenpeace delegation to the meeting of the International Whaling Commission and represents Greenpeace in fisheries-related political forums.
A warm welcome, Thilo Maack. Can you briefly introduce yourself? How did you get started at Greenpeace?
I am Thilo Maack, 51 years old, marine biologist, passionate diver, husband and father of two wonderful daughters. Furthermore, I am a Greenpeace activist and campaigner for the protection of the High Sea in the Greenpeace team.
Since I am a teenager, I am fascinated by the idea of protecting the nature and I am grateful to be able to do this every day. Clarity, action instead of waiting, the fight against injustice and against the indifference of many people towards the destruction of our nature worldwide are my driving forces to keep doing this job for a long time.
The climate crisis is currently a controversial topic. What are the effects of climate change on the sea?
The effects are diverse: the main factors are the increase of the average temperature and thus a shift in the distribution of numerous animal species, the acidification and the associated inability of many animal and plant species to build calcareous shells and skeletons. Ocean currents are also changing, and with it the availability of food and the migration routes of whales.
The rise in sea level is more a threat to us humans and is due to the melting of the mega glaciers in Greenland and the Antarctic – almost 500 billion tons of ice melt annually and pour into the sea.
What do you think is the greatest threat to the ocean and what can be done?
The greatest threat to the oceans is the climate crisis and in order to solve it, consistent steps have to be taken onshore – we have to get out of burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas. However, the oceans are not only victims, but also our greatest allies in the fight against the climate catastrophe – the biomass of marine animals and, above all, plants bind large amounts of atmospheric CO2.
Where do you see more need for action in politics? Where should politics be active?
The United Nations are currently negotiating an internationally applicable control mechanism to protect the high seas, i.e. the area of the seas beyond national territorial waters. This part of the world’s oceans makes up no less than 43 percent of the planet’s surface, but its management regime regresses back to a legal opinion from 1706 – something urgently needs to happen. National and EU-wide, the requirements of the Natura 2000 legal acts must finally be implemented – Germany is lagging massively behind.
Several marine protected areas have already been established in Germany. What is prohibited in these areas? Can you already see a recovery in these areas?
Even though Germany has designated almost half of its North and Baltic Seas as protected areas, they are only worth as much as the paper they are on. For example, the extremely destructive bottom trawling in German protected areas has not yet been prohibited. In a protected area in the North Sea, the Sylt Outer Reef, sand and gravel can even be dredged on a large scale. Imagine that someone would afford to do this in a protected area on land. In addition, gillnet fishing is still allowed along the German Baltic Sea coast. Many porpoises and thousands of diving seabirds get caught in the nets and drown miserably. A huge problem that urgently needs a solution.
Many fish stocks are declining or are even threatened with extinction. In your opinion, should fish be completely avoided? Are there fish species that are easier to eat than other species?
I personally love fish too much and I know too much about the effects of fishing in order to be able to eat fish with a clear conscience. But everyone should decide for themself. A good approach is to consider fish as a delicacy that only comes on the table on special occasions.
Depending on the condition of the stocks and the fishing method, we can recommend some fish species for consumption more than others, for example hand-fished tuna, carp or breeding species such as trout and salmon from organically certified aquaculture.
What achievement are you particularly proud of?
In summer 2008 we sank 320 tons of boulders in the protected area of the Sylter Outer Reef, thus enlarging an existing stone reef. The subsidence area is even marked on the nautical charts, a warning signal for the fishermen to leave their nets there on board. This is how a real protected area of almost 200 square kilometers was created that we at Greenpeace have achieved. This still makes me chuckling.
Rising sea levels, higher temperatures, endangered species – it is difficult to find positive news. How do you stay motivated with so many negative headlines?
My greatest motivation is the respect for my work, which is often paid to me even by our worst opponents. I am also a father and a hopeless optimist – something is always possible!
Many people want to help and protect the sea. What is your tip on what people can do?
First of all, we should all be much more mindful and attentive to our environment. A clever person once said that there are only two days in our lives when we can’t change anything, the one is yesterday, the other tomorrow. We can all make decisions every day that have a medium or immediate impact on the ocean, starting with the way to college or work and continuing with what we eat. I personally try to bring the greatness of our oceans to my friends and acquaintances – because we only want to protect what we love.