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Oceana Magazine Summer 2009: Ocean Advocate: Susan Cohn Rockefeller

Oceana welcomes writer and filmmaker Susan Cohn Rockefeller as the new chair of the Ocean Council, a group of global ambassadors for Oceana.

When Susan Cohn Rockefeller and her husband David circumnavigated the Mediterranean Sea several years ago, they noticed the conspicuous absence of one marine mainstay: birds. “They have nothing to feed on,” she said. “Eighty percent of the fish are no longer in the Mediterranean. What we saw were jellyfish everywhere. We saw a sea that’s stressed.”

Since then, Rockefeller has become increasingly concerned about the health of the oceans, and in May, she became the chair of the Ocean Council, a group of academic, business, policy and philanthropic leaders who serve as global ambassadors for Oceana. A writer and documentary filmmaker, she co-produced the 2008 seminal film about ocean acidification, “A Sea Change.”

Another ocean wake-up call came when she read Elizabeth Kolbert’s 2006 New Yorker article about ocean acidification, “The Darkening Sea.” “It left me saying, ‘how could we not know about this?’” she said. “Ocean acidification is one of the most important issues of our time. It’s threatening to ravage the chemistry of the oceans. From the bottom up, we are destroying the food web, starting with the pteropod.”

Her work on the film only heightened her sense of urgency. “When I started working on ‘A Sea Change’ and saw the enormity of problems associated with ocean acidification and global warming, I not only was depressed for a year, but I thought, ‘I need to get directly involved with ocean advocacy,’” she said.

As chair of the Ocean Council, Rockefeller is starting a new initiative: quarterly teleconferences featuring several scientists or policy experts discussing a specific ocean issue. Members of the council will be able to call in and ask questions of the experts.

She also has a new ocean-themed jewelry line coming out soon, with everything  from fish charm bracelets and freshwaterpearls to funky dog tags with conservation messages. And as if that weren’t keeping her busy, she also works on strategic marketing for www.jimirock.com, a kids’ website about ocean conservation.

Rockefeller’s connection with the oceans runs deep, right down to the name of her daughter, Annabel, named after Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and her kingdom by the sea.

But her brand of conservation has a humanitarian bent, as do her films. “By preserving the ocean’s sea life we’re preserving ourselves,” she said.