Giving the Ocean the Recognition it Deserves | An Interview with James Nikitine
“We come from the Ocean; we are all 80% water”.
James Nikitine’s passion and determination to protect the world’s oceans can be traced right back to childhood.
It began with family holidays in Corsica: scrambling down craggy rocks, bare legs scratched by dense scrub, the intense heat of the Mediterranean sun beating down, all the while carrying his scuba equipment. This was at the age of 8 years old.
James admits that he was initially less than enthusiastic about these expeditions – the brainchild of his father – but once in the water that all changed. He remembers being overcome with emotion while perceiving the underwater world.
This feeling has been harnessed and converted into action.
Today, James Nikitine consults on marine science and policy communication helping clients to decomplexify the challenges blue spaces are facing. He has guided the communication of some key players in marine conservation such as the IUCN, WWF, Pew, Ocean Acidification Alliance and not to mention both the UK and French Governments.
By this point, you may be thinking that to work with such esteemed organisations, a long and arduous process of academia and study awaits. The truth is James wasn’t “good enough” to do science subjects at school. This led him to initially explore and understand the marine environment via different means, as a filmmaker and diver.
Diving into it
After obtaining a Bachelor’s in film, James took a trip in his early 20s which would prove the catalyst of his journey into marine conservation. It was in the Cook Islands when James first laid eyes on coral reefs and was blown away. A local man acknowledged his enthusiasm and suggested he become a “Dive Master”.
And so he did… Between the island of Samoa and the Great Barrier Reef, James not only learned to guide underwater adventures but began educating guests on marine biology, ecosystem function and species diversity. This deepened his understanding of the marine environment and the threats it faced, so by the time he returned home to Geneva he was determined to be part of the solution.
Back to school
At 28 years of age, James enrolled in an interdisciplinary Master of Science program at the University of Edinburgh. The course focused on marine ecology, policy and built systems. He also furthered his dive skills adding scientific diver and videographer accolades to his bow.
After obtaining his degree, James created his own Marine Communications consultancy firm which included a branch dedicated to the production of educational film and media content: Manaia Productions. This led to new connections and opportunities to join a range of ocean-related expeditions, one of which was submarine-based! A particularly poignant moment came in 2017 when James was filming for IUCN on the Great Barrier Reef. He saw the ecosystem which first inspired him, once vibrant and bursting with life, now devastated by the effects of coral bleaching. This further motivated him to get the importance of the ocean acknowledged before it is too late.
Now based in Christchurch, New Zealand, this sentiment is carried into James’s latest project: Blue Cradle, ahead of the UN Decade of Ocean Science which begins in 2021.
Blue Cradle is a social enterprise that aims to widely communicate the importance of the ocean through science, education and digital outreach via a sustainable research vessel. James has identified a gap in ocean research resources particularly around the South Pacific, Pacific Islands and Aotearoa New Zealand. The research vessel will facilitate the collection of educational information while the voyages themselves will make for engaging digital content to aid community connection to the ocean.
James, a strong advocate for Marine Protected Areas and Reserves, collaborated with Sting on a film “30×30”: 30% protection of the oceans by 2030.
James strongly believes that the stigma of the ocean being some large, unknown expanse needs to be broken. We know more about Mars than the seafloor!
A further drive behind Blue Cradle’s facilitation of more marine research and ocean literacy is to excite younger generations and effectively equip them with the tools to be powerful ocean advocates. Having a son of his own, and one on the way, James recognises that ocean issues are intergenerational. It is important to share values and pass on information so that the assets and wonder of the marine ecosystem can be enjoyed for many generations to come.
Words of wisdom
“Let’s make the ocean great again”, webinars are an accessible way to build up your marine conservation knowledge
James’s advice for budding marine conservationists out there, that want to step up and make a change, is quite simple: arm yourself with knowledge and connect with the movement. Approach your local MP, Council or University and see what they are doing. Internet research is a good place to start with online webinars aplenty these days and free online University courses and podcasts widely available. Volunteer with local marine conservation charities, take part in beach cleans. Visit local aquariums and museums. Ahead of the United Nations Ocean Decade in 2021, there has never been a better time to get involved!