Ocean Soul ~ Emily Bourke
It regulates temperatures, influences weather patterns, and ultimately supports all living things. Throughout history, the ocean has been a vital source of sustenance, transport, commerce, growth, and inspiration.
I have always loved the natural world, and from a young age I had an especially strong gravitation towards the ocean. Diving into the water always felt like I was coming home. I can recall my mum telling me a story about the moment my obsession with water begun. She recalls that I was 18 months when I fell into our pool and sank like a stone. No struggle, no movement, just stillness. And I guess that’s where it all started.
As a young teenager, my relationship with the sea changed, it deepened, and it broadened. The sea became my refuge, my addiction, my reference, my source of happiness and inspiration. A place where I can contemplate, rest, dream, play - but most importantly, a beautiful environment where I can learn from Mother Nature, humility.
When I was in high school, Sylvia Earle became one of my heroes when I read her book Sea Change: A message of the Oceans. The book stirred so many emotions in me it was almost overwhelming. Anger and dismay that the oceans were being ravaged by overfishing and pollution. I viewed the oceans as beautiful and magically invulnerable to damage. The more I read and learned, the more I envisioned a gurgling stew of algae. Hypoxia. Drifting garbage. I was outraged and scared. But then there were parts of the book where Dr. Earle describes her encounters with marine life and her evolution as one of the worlds’s leading ocean explorers if not the leading ocean explorer and I felt joy and reverent admiration for her courage and determination.
Most of all I was inspired. The impact of the book and of Sylvia Earles work, words and experiences motivated me to do something. I enrolled in a Bachelor of Marine Science and have since fallen deeper in love with the ocean. I have become more motivated than ever to use the knowledge attained from my degree to contribute to a better world.
You must adventure to some pretty amazing locations, what is your fave beach in Australia, and why?
The natural beauty of Australia will always surprise me!
A special spot that holds some of my fondest summer memories is a beach in NSW close to home, called Redhead beach. Growing up, I would spend countless summer days there. Eating fresh fruit, dancing in the sunshine, floating with the waves. I will always treasure the happy echoes of the past and the endless golden summers spent running down to the beach. The texture of the sand, the tides, the currents, the calm, the rhythm. It just feels like magic. Even now you’ll find me there any chance I can get!
Another fav of mine is Wategos beach in Byron Bay. Last time I went I casually saw a turtle swimming in the waves! I learnt to surf at wategos a couple of years ago on my birthday and it’s a memory I’ll never forget.
What are three essentials you need to pack for an adventure at sea?
A good reef friendly sunscreen, a comfy pair of Salté swimmers and some anti fog gel - there’s nothing worse than hopping in the water and then continuously having to clear your mask!
What are some of the main priorities for a Marine Biologist?
We know that the Earth’s coastal seas and oceans are deteriorating. Among the serious threats are habitat destruction and alteration, coral bleaching, overfishing, global warming, waste and contamination and ocean acidification.
Currently, there is a challenge for the science community to observe chemical and biological characteristics over physical ones. For example, water quality, levels of pollution, health of ecosystems, abundance of fish stocks, and marine biodiversity. These are all just as important to society and thus there is a common need for research, data collection, assessments, monitoring and the development of operational observations in the coastal oceans. Understanding these ocean issues is a huge priority for today’s Marine Biologist.
You’ve tagged us in some incredible images. My jaw literally touched the ground when I saw you casually swimming with sharks and stingrays. Talk us through what it feels like to be beneath the surface with these animals.
Ahh, it is dreamy.
It was my first time encountering these rays in the wild whilst in Tahiti a few weeks ago and it was AMAZING. Generational feeding has bought the rays to this spot in Moorea over and over since the 60’s, but is now used for ecotourism and research. You hop off the boat into the water and suddenly there’s these adorable sea flaps, sharks and huuuge trevally dancing all around you. Everywhere you look there’s marine life. In one direction you’ve got the shy, inquisitive and beautiful blacktip reef shark, and then next minute you’re greeted with a huge pink whip ray charging at you with its courageous personality. There are no words to explain it other than pure magic.
It’s breathtaking to be in the presence of these animals. Personally, there are so many things I find enchanting about sharks, but most of all, I think they are strikingly beautiful. When you watch them gracefully and effortlessly glide through the water with their glistening skin and piercing eyes, I don’t know how it’s possible to not think these animals have an inherent beauty. I am also struck by the dichotomy of how robust and powerful sharks look, yet in reality they are incredibly fragile.
In 2019 I traveled to Indonesia to learn more about the roots of the finning industry, and the communities that are affected by this trade. Project Hiu, founded by Madison Stewart, is an initiative to provide an alternative income to fishermen in one of the largest shark fisheries in Indonesia. Whilst there, we visited the Tanjung Luar shark market of Lombok. Among the dead animals at my feet were tigers, illegal sized baby makos, hammerheads, grey nurse, guitarfish, blind sharks.. sharks that I have never seen in the wild. This trip gave me more of an appreciation for these beautiful animals and so now when I get to swim with them I know to embrace the moment and to never take advantage of what it feels like to be in their presence.
In one of Rob Stewart’s most-quoted lines from his film ‘Sharkwater’ he explains his epiphany; “You’re told your whole life since you were a kid, sharks are dangerous. You’re warned not to go adventuring too far out into the ocean, but then finally, you see the thing you were taught your whole life to fear, and it’s perfect, and it doesn’t want to hurt you, and it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen... and your whole world changes.” And I think this perfectly sums up what it feels like to be beneath the surface with these incredible creatures.
In your opinion… Shark Nets? Yay or Nay?
A definitive NAY.
One of the bigger issues with the nets is the non-selectivity of this fishing method. Hundreds of other species of marine animals are also caught and killed by shark nets, including sea birds, whales, dolphins, a wide variety of fish and rays, marine turtles and even crocodiles. Sadly, most of the animals entangled in nets drown, while others may suffer severe and lethal injuries.
Ultimately, shark net technology is really out-dated.
The efficacy of these nets is highly questionable, whereas the excessive mortalities they cause is obvious. More so, it is clear that having the nets in place during major annual migrations, like humpbacks passing through Australian waters, can lead to unjustifiable animal mortality.
I recently finished reading a book called ‘Sharks: a history of fear in Australia’ by Callum Denness, which has a section explaining that some beaches, several hundred metres long, 400 metres from shore have shark nets that are 6 metres deep but set in at least 12 metres of water. Compared to the beaches they’re ‘protecting’, they’re tiny but deadly sheets of flypaper, allowing animals (including sharks) to swim around or under them, but ensnaring anything that lands on them.
We do our very best to minimise single use plastic and have recently made the switch to using recycled fabrics for our swimwear. (Made from plastic waste) Do you have any advice as to how we can protect our marine life and keep our oceans beautiful and clean?
- Reduce your plastic waste - Wherever you live, the easiest and most direct way that you can contribute to keeping our oceans clean is by reducing your own use of single-use plastics. Single-use plastics include plastic bags, water bottles, straws, cups, utensils, dry cleaning bags, take-out containers, and any other plastic items that are used once and then discarded.
- Keep Beaches and Waterways Clean: All waterways lead to the ocean. Marine debris usually originates on land. Even if you live far from the coast, litter from your area can end up in the sea because it washes downstream with rivers.
- Recycle properly: At present, just 9% of plastic is recycled worldwide. Recycling helps keep plastics out of the ocean and reduces the amount of “new” plastic in circulation.
- Participate In a Beach Cleanup: Help remove plastics from the ocean and prevent them from getting there in the first place by participating in a clean up of your local beach. This is another one of the most direct and rewarding ways to fight ocean plastic pollution!
- Avoid Products Containing Microbeads: Microbeads are found in some face scrubs, toothpastes, and bodywashes, and they readily enter our oceans and waterways through our sewer systems, and affect hundreds of marine species. Avoid products containing plastic microbeads by looking for ‘polythelene’ and ‘polypropylene’ on the ingredient labels of your cosmetic products.
Small things make big things happen and I truly believe that if we each do something little everyday we will be contributing to a better Earth.
You purchased the Stevie Surf Top + Stevie High Bottoms in Bluebell.
Was this an easy choice?
The easiest! I fell in love as soon as I saw them. Spending lots of time in the water can mean some pretty nasty sunburns, so for me the surf top is perfect. Plus when all my fav colours are mixed into one, how could I say no?
Do you have an ultimate beach vibe playlist on Spotify? Link us!
For sure! Click Here