Green Prophet interviews Andreas Weil, director of EcoOcean.
Tell us a little about who you are and what you do.
My name is Andreas Weil and I am the co-founder and acting director of the Israeli marine environmental nonprofit organization EcoOcean. I live for environmental issues and education. The sea is my passion and EcoOcean was a dream of mine since a very young age.
How did you find yourself underwater filming whales?
As a known nature lover, I was approached by the Israeli underwater cameraman and nature photographer Gil Arbel. Gil told me about his project to make a film for Israeli television about the humpback whales in Tonga that he has been working on for almost ten years. Gil was looking for money for another trip to Tonga. I was very impressed by his work and asked if I could join him on his next trip to work as his assistant.
I ended up swimming so close to the whales that I could clearly see their eyes and that they were looking at me. It was as though they followed my movements and were trying to understand me. It was a euphoric feeling.
The experience was life-changing for you. Can you explain why?
It was not exactly life changing such that I can describe the difference in my life before and after swimming with the whales, but I was greatly affected by the tranquility of these great animals. I was also taken by how the whales don’t see people as a threat even to their young, because they cannot understand why someone would want to hurt or kill them. This affected me because it made me much stronger in my belief that the whales can not be allowed to be slaughtered by humans, even if the people killing them claim it’s within their tradition to hunt and eat whale meat.
The whales are much too intelligent to be seen as a source of food. Killing them is like killing and eating your own pet. Swimming so close to the whales and being in the same medium as them made the whole experience very powerful. Swimming with a mother whale and her calf and the mother allowing us to be so close to the calf was very emotional. The whole trip to the whales in Tonga has made me understand how much I love wild animals and wildlife encounters.
I now know that I find that the most beautiful thing on this earth is its great wildlife.
It has made me see that there are so many wonderful things in nature that I want to see and experience in my lifetime.
Has this experience affected your goals to protect marine life? How so?
This experience has definitely made me understand how important nature protection and education is. These whales are being hunted for their meat, and their future existence is dependent on that us all understanding that the whale population is very small and can easily disappear completely if whaling is allowed to continue. I now feel even more strongly about my goal to make people aware of the problems facing the world’s oceans and seas, and getting people to understand that we must protect these fragile ecosystems.
How can people get involved?
People can get involved by learning more about the problems facing the Mediterranean. One of EcoOcean’s main goals is to raise awareness of these problems. EcoOcean offers many ways to learn about it. We run a marine ecological educational center for children, we offer free lectures and run many awareness-raising projects.
What are the biggest threats to bodies of water in the Middle East region?
The two main threats are chemical and solid waste pollution, and over-fishing. Still today in 2008, in many countries around the Mediterranean, large amounts of sewage are released into the sea, including chemical effluents. Over-fishing not only threatens the ecological balance of the seas but also affects the people living around the Mediterranean.
Andreas was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden. He has been living in Israel since 2000. Andreas has studied environmental education and Marine Sciences at the Arava institute in Israel and in the U.S.