Activist: Founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Paul Watson. *Photo by Sarah Lagan
Activist: Founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Paul Watson. *Photo by Sarah Lagan
Creative and intellectual thought was abuzz at this weekend’s TEDxBermuda conference. Professors, lawyers, scientists and activists mixed with artists, musicians and poets in the first conference of its kind on the island. Ted is a non-profit organization that began in 1984 dedicated to “ideas worth spreading”. Ted stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and experts in each field make presentations and answer questions from a live audience which are then broadcast for free on the Internet. Organizer John Narraway told us that he planned to organize a second conference in October and hinted that they could become a regular fixture on the island’s community calendar. Sarah Lagan and Amanda Dale attended the conference and reported on the numerous speakers.

Animal rights and environmental activist Paul Watson has never been one for soft tactics — he prefers to take direct action through what he describes as “aggressive non-violence”.

The Canadian founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society told an enthralled audience that over the past 30 years, the group has been responsible for destroying around $40 million worth of equipment that is used to illegally kill marine life. The society — along with the TV reality show Whale Wars, which is based on the actions of the group and is now the number one show on Animal Planet — has come under heavy criticism for its hard line tactics. Quick to silence his critics, Mr Watson said that while he may walk a fine line legally, he never crosses it.

“We have been very controversial but we have never been convicted of a crime, we have never injured anyone, we’ve never had anybody injured and we’ve never been sued. The perception is that we are eco-terrorists. When people started calling us eco-terrorists I thought ‘here we go — the PR agencies are working overtime’ and my response was ‘arrest me or shut up’ because I am sick and tired of being called names by government and corporations who don’t follow it up — we have more respect for the law than they do.”

Mr Watson explained how Sea Shepherd’s “so-called radical approach” is now being courted by many governments. After seven campaigns in the Southern Ocean, the group was instrumental in driving the Japanese whaling vessels out of the water a month early. “They took only 15 per cent of their quota and I don’t believe they will be coming back.” He also explained how Sea Shepherd has signed an agreement with the government of Palau to patrol the world’s first ever shark sanctuary.

He went on to talk of human arrogance, using the analogy of earth as a spaceship with humans as passengers and the rest of the natural world as crew. “We contribute nothing to running this ship, certainly not its life support system. The crew provides the oxygen we breathe, the food we eat — it cleans up our mess and keeps everything running. The problem is the passengers are killing off the crew.”

TEDxBermuda 2011