Long before Tricia and Michael Berns got involved with Oceana, they were avid divers and ocean conservationists.
Twenty years ago, the couple went on a scuba diving excursion near the island of Rangiroa in Tahiti. During one dive they counted an astounding 132 gray reef sharks visible at one time, ranging from four to seven feet in length.
Just over a decade later, they returned to the same dive site and did exactly the same drift dive. This time they rarely saw more than 12 or 15 gray reef sharks in a single dive, and their sizes had shrunk to just 2 to 3 feet in length.
Later that same night they saw a commercial longline vessel – most likely one cause of the declining shark population.
“Since a great many of our vacations are actually live-aboard dive boat trips, we could tell you many other similar sad stories – listening to the sound of pristine reefs being dynamited, maneuvering our boat around drift nets, seeing abandoned fish traps filled with dead fish, and seeing shark fins hanging from the lines of fishing boats,” Michael Berns said.
So when they learned about Oceana’s first SeaChange benefit in Southern California in 2008, they were ready to lend their support on the spot.
“We had to be the easiest people to recruit in the history of Oceana,” said Tricia Berns.
They have been underwriters of the event every year since, and at this year’s SeaChange, the Berns were honored as Ocean Champions.
“We were delighted and very honored to be named Ocean Champions,” Tricia said. “We are very excited by the great progress being made by Oceana to protect the world's oceans, and we want to be a part of it forever.”
Michael took up underwater photography nearly 30 years ago and has since logged more than a thousand dives around the world and has captured many more undersea photos of sea animals and habitat. Tricia learned to scuba dive more than 20 years ago and has been Michael's constant guide and companion ever since. The couple particularly loves diving in the Galapagos Islands, where they explain, “it’s possible to dive with sea lions on the first dive, a large school of hammerhead sharks on the second, and have a 40-foot whale shark swim five feet away from you on the third.”
In addition to their passion for diving, the Berns have become dedicated advocates for protecting the world’s wild seafood.
“For us, the most important conservation issue is the safeguarding of the world's fisheries,” Michael said. “We believe that the bounty of the ocean belongs not only to our generation but for all generations in the future.”