Aquanaut and oceanographic explorer Fabien Cousteau (grandson of famed undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau) is in town this week to attend the International SeaKeepers Society Asia Awards Dinner. But famous as he is, the environmental advocate is but one in a growing contingent of sea-keepers adamant to educate and promote research and conservation in their communities.
One such local hero is yacht industry stalwart and keen boater Julian Chang, the man not only responsible for bringing Cousteau to town, but who also helped establish the Asian arm of the International SeaKeepers Society last year. Founded in 1998 by a group of yacht owners alarmed at the deterioration of our seas, the organisation supports marine conservation by using yachts as platforms for research, educational outreach and for deploying oceanographic instruments — thus helping scientists to allocate their funds to research rather than vessel costs.
In its one short year, SeaKeepers Asia has launched Discovery Yachts, engaged with research scientists and launched five educational outreach programmes that saw participation by more than 70 students and teachers. The society’s plans for 2017 are just ambitious. Two scientific expeditions — including shark tagging in Papua New Guinea with its partner scientists — are in the works, as are five educational outreach programmes, two drifter deployments, two community events and the addition of four extra Discovery Yachts to its fleet.
We caught up with Chang to find out more about his boating passion and commitment to protecting our oceans.
What is your very first memory of the sea?
As a young child growing up and living in the East Coast area close to the sea, beach time leisure activities were the norm. Swimming, picnics, and at that time, foraging for shellfish and various crustaceans on the beach — it was a lovely experience with nature.
Which sea sports do you enjoy?
I scuba dive, water-ski, and fish (deep sea and freshwater). For scuba diving, it is the variety of corals and various life forms in the sea that are incomparable. For water-skiing, the thrills of speed and test of skills appeals to me. Fishing, on the other hand, is a perfect time for contemplation and being at one with Mother Nature.
Where is your own personal favourite cruising ground?
Each cruising ground in the world has its own unique beauty in the eyes of the beholder. For me, the vast span within the Indonesian archipelago is my most memorable – sailing across the Java Sea, Flores Sea, Banda Sea and the Arafura Sea.
You have a life long passion for the sea and have also worked in the yachting industry for a long time. Have you noticed a change in people’s attitudes towards yachting and marine life?
Throughout the years, there were many changes in Asia. As people became more affluent, they became more open to other pursuits and interest in marine related leisure activities flourished. In particular, the younger generation, who today, are veering evermore towards the sea for adventure and new experiences.
Being out on the seas and in nature so often, there must have been times where you’ve come across polluted or deteriorated areas.
I’ve come across corals that have been destroyed by boats that randomly throw down their anchors at their favourite dive spots. This is where we have worked with the government to place buoys for boats to come alongside and hook onto the buoy thus protecting the corals. We have also seen destruction of corals by fishermen using dynamite to catch fish.
How did you get involved in the SeaKeepers Society?
I was firstly a member of The International Seakeepers Society USA, and then, at our annual Seakeepers International event in Monaco, was invited to sit on their board of directors. I then went on to start its Asian arm in 2016.
As part of outreach programmes, the society is known to take school kids out on “floating classrooms”. What do you hope to impart?
Our focus here in Asia is to create a better awareness of the current situation of our oceans especially to and for the next generation, in order to build a sense of appreciation and commitment to protect and conserve as well as when possible, restore. These programmes focus around marine wildlife, plastic pollution, sustainability practices and more. It is always a pleasure to watch the faces of the children when they realise how rich the marine biodiversity in Singapore is. I enjoy watching their budding interest and excitement when they witness the wonders of the sea.
Your wife Sandra and other family members are also passionate about the sea and are active in the SeaKeepers Society. What is it like to be able to share these experiences with them?
Life is made even more interesting and it is most rewarding having my wife share in all these. My daughter Tara, and her husband Chadwyn Tann, are also International Seakeepers Society Asia members and diving and fishing enthusiasts. Likewise, my sister and brother-in-law, Gail and Diederik Brinkman, are also International Seakeepers Society Asia members and are diving and sailing enthusiasts.