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Oceana Magazine Summer 2011: Donor Profile: Heather Stevens

Oceana’s newest board member is a psychologist and professor whose affinity for the oceans began at a young age, growing up in the United Kingdom.

Heather Stevens has always had a strong connection to the water. Like all young Britons growing up in the 1960s, she remembers learning about the Beaufort scale of wind in school, and was riveted by Jacques Cousteau’s television show on Sunday evenings.

One of her fondest memories revolves around something fairly mundane: the weather forecast. She recalls listening to the shipping forecast, a daily BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports for the seas around the British Isles, which are divided into 32 areas with distinctive names such as “Viking,” “Dogger” and “Lundy.”

“Nowhere in Britain is more than 200 miles from the sea. The world of sea and the world of land are very integrated,” Stevens said.

Last September, Stevens joined Oceana’s Board of Directors. She is a trustee of the Waterloo Foundation, a supporter of Oceana’s work and one of the biggest environmental funders in the United Kingdom.

In addition to funding projects in global development and child development, the Foundation has supported ocean conservation work, including campaigns to increase marine protected areas and combat illegal fishing. Stevens says that Waterloo considered funding other marine conservation organizations but was especially drawn to Oceana’s approach, particularly in reducing overfishing.

“It was very smart thinking to go to the World Trade Organization and tackle the overfishing issue by tackling the economics and the trade rules on fish catch,” she said, referring to Oceana’s campaign to curb fisheries subsidies. “I thought it was smart to use a bureaucratic tactic to make a worldwide impact.”

She is also passionate about limiting the  wasteful amount of bycatch in the fishing industry.

“I feel morally indignant about that as a practice. Nobody would countenance that with cows,” she said. “No other business practice is like that. It can’t be sensible for fishermen, and it’s certainly not sensible for the rest of us.”

A psychologist by discipline, she is also a visiting professor at University of Cardiff in Wales, where she is involved with research in to childhood disorders such as autism, dyslexia and epilepsy. She says there’s a surprising synergy between her psychology work and her ocean conservation work.

Stevens believes that fish oils are vital to the proper development of the human brain. “There’s a groundswell among psychologists that the shift to meat in our diet and to vegetable oils is actually not doing our development any good.”

She and her husband have three teenaged children, and the whole family loves to spend time in the ocean. Most recently they traveled to Oman, where they swam with sea turtles, and they vacation regularly in the Maldives, where they once spotted a six-foot long Napoleon wrasse while snorkeling.

“I’m on the side of the fish,” said Stevens. “The scales are deeply unbalanced, and eventually it will backfire on all of us not to redress that balance between the hunter and the hunted. We’ll take them all before we realize we ought to stop. That’s why I find supporting the work of Oceana so important.”