Last Thursday I had the privilege of listening to 17-year-old Leona Plaisier’s presentation before the Board of Inquiry hearing the NZ King Salmon proposal. NZ King Salmon, who sells salmon in New Zealand under the Regal and Southern Ocean brands, aims to establish another nine salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds in addition to the six it currently operates in the area. Leona, who was born, raised, home schooled and now works in the Outer Perlorus on the Tui Nature Reserve, explained to the Board why there should be no new salmon farms in the Sounds:

I find the risk of something toxic entering our waterways a disturbing revelation. Every summer we spend much of our time transporting visitors to the area to the reserve, and on tours out to the King Shag colony on Duffers Reef (Forsyth Island). I have often witnessed children and even adults, coming from big cities all over the world, see a dolphin for their first time or catch their first fish. It’s moments like these people cherish for the rest of their lives. I know I sure will, even if I have grown up, like many New Zealanders, around these privileges. What I may take for granted, however, is the fact we are in such a clean and pure environment. The full presentation can be read here.

Leona works for the Tui Nature Reserve, the Reserve’s charitable trust, and a family run company called Wildlife Protection Services in the Outer Perlorus. Acknowledging her work on the Reserve, the Department of Conservation named her this month’s ‘Conservationist Champion’. Although she may live and work in one of the most isolated parts of the world, she has proven how connected she is to the world and how committed she is to looking after her own backyard.  What I found so very interesting was not ‘why’ but ‘how’ she approached this challenge:

Leona brought ‘the world’ to the Board. She has created on online petition, called Leona’s petition using a Community Petitions web platform called Avaaz, which means ‘voice’ in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages. Her petition currently has 10,500 signatures. I had never heard of Avaaz before but it is well worth a look; especially if you are interested in understanding how an online community can channel broad public concern into a specific, targeted campaign. It is one of several online tools for circulating community petitions – and ipetitions are other examples. I have just started reading Tom Chatfied’s book, How to Thrive in the Digital Age. Here he notes that ‘ahead of us lie new forms of collaboration whose outlines we are, perhaps, [only] beginning to glimpse’ (page 3). Leona’s petition provided me this glimpse into the future.

Leona also brought ‘her world’ to the Board. Leona and her brother took three sea-floor samples using a homemade dredge made from an old kitchen sink. Samples were taken from near two NZ King Salmon farms and a third from a site where NZ King Salmon wishes to build an additional farm. During the presentation the samples were passed to the members of the Board. On opening the first two samples, a sulphurous stench pervaded the room, as indicated by the Board member’s faces. The third, by contrast, was odour-free; Leona’s message was heard without her even raising her voice.

She closed by saying ‘the choice you make for today is the future for our tomorrow.’

A link to Leona’s petition can be found here. A link to her ‘Conservation Champion’ profile can be found here.

Photo: Marlborough Express

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