Food for thought if you love the ocean, and before you take that beach vacation

Updated: Mar 25

When the weather is hot and the sky is an amazing shade of blue, you daydream and think of trips to the beach.

No? I do. 😁

Unfortunately, we can’t go anywhere at the moment (or anytime soon, I believe, because of COVID-19). But until we do, I’m going to comfort myself with photos of the ocean and marine life… as well as a good conversation with a marine biologist and marine life advocate.

(Because it’s always good to learn something new from other people. And I feel like it would bring me closer to the beach.)

His name is Leslie Braberry, and he’s the person behind @berryoffishialfacts on Instagram. It’s where he gets to share fun trivia and other cool facts about the ocean and its different species.

A quick photo of Leslie with the Linckia laevigata (blue sea star) along the intertidal zone at Heron Island, Australia

His posts make me appreciate the ocean and its elegant creatures even more. They also encourage me to do something to help conserve and protect them. ❤️

“I created an Instagram account to reach out to fellow marine-life friends, and to share my love and knowledge (of the ocean) to others,” he explains.

“I am but one man, but I hope that by doing this, I can help spread awareness, especially about conservation. Mostly, I use this platform to share nuggets of information to those who have yet to discover the many wonders of the ocean and its inhabitants.”

What else makes @berryoffishialfacts special? “To make it more engaging, I also post quizzes and follow up with the answers,” he says.

“I have received questions from people all over the world, which is great feedback. I also follow fellow marine biologists and scientists globally on both Instagram and Facebook, so I can learn from them.”

Important firsts

It must be so cool, studying the ocean and marine life for a living. Leslie’s past and present work includes identifying, monitoring, assessing and caring for zooplankton species, crustaceans, coral reefs, marine ecology and freshwater systems.

Whew. 😊

His memories as a student of Marine Science at the University of Queensland in Australia are just as cool, because it’s where a lot of good things happened.

“Most of my best experiences are from my time in Australia,” Leslie reminisces.

“School assignments typically saw me out in the ocean, collecting data or observing and learning about them.”

One took him to Heron Island. “The only way to collect data was to swim out into the open water during high tide. This also meant bigger fish, and a greater variety of marine life.

“I found myself in the company of blacktip, whitetip and lemon sharks; raccoon butterflyfish; various species of stingray; cowtail ray; black-blotched ray; and my favourite ray, the spotted eagle ray. I loved it,” he admits.

Leslie: "My colleagues and I at the end of the day after data collection. Look at how blue the ocean is!"

“Getting to see these animals up close was an entirely new experience – a bit cliché, but I was awestruck by their size, colours, even the way they moved. It was entirely different from watching Discovery Channel or National Geographic, or even reading about them as a kid.”

It was life-changing too. “It was the very first time in Heron Island that I committed myself to being their voice – to engage people with interesting facts about these animals, to share my passion and allow them to understand these animals a bit more so that hopefully they might think twice before buying that bowl of sharks’ fin, or reaching for a plastic straw,” he states.

“I know these are all very minute actions in our everyday life, but I wholeheartedly believe that everybody has a part to play, and that we all have to start somewhere.

“This is my somewhere.”

A different scenario

Most of Leslie’s posts, photos and stories might paint a rosy picture, but they also contain a solid message – in that we can’t possibly talk about the ocean and marine life without considering how our lifestyles and choices affect them.

That’s why when I think about the ocean and look at the images (some eye-catching, some disturbing), I feel a strange mix of calm (because being out in nature does that to you), guilt (we had something to do with this; what have we done?) and fear (is it too late?).

“I strongly believe that the world will one day look towards sustainability and conservation of the ocean,” he declares.

“There is a huge decline in marine species population throughout the ocean – an example would be sharks, my favourite marine animal (surprise, surprise!). Sixty million sharks are killed every year just for their fins, which have zero health benefits, and worse, cause great harm to these beautiful animals.”

Leslie also believes in the role of education. “It’s the key to success in the conservation and protection of marine life,” he emphasises.

But how and where do we begin? Leslie suggests that we…

#1 Read

“Personally, I love reading and learning more about (marine life’s) physiology, anatomy, behaviour and communications with each other. We’ve only explored just 5% of the ocean, and there are already millions of species discovered. How many more haven’t we found? This is thoroughly intriguing to me.”

#2 Ask

“For about 16 months, I worked at the SEA Aquarium (in Singapore) conducting tours. I saw people’s faces light up when they were surrounded by marine life, or when they excitedly asked me questions – it really made my day!”

#3 Seek out like-minded people

“Working at the Aquarium also meant that I was surrounded by colleagues who were as passionate about marine life as I was. Being in such a niche industry, it was nice to exchange information and learn from each other.”

#4 Relay the knowledge to others

Leslie has his Instagram account, for one. “One of the highlights of my day is thinking about what bite-sized fun fact I can share with my followers.”

My sister once mused: “If we remove the ocean, what do you think we will see in its depths?” I will let your imagination run wild with that.

#5 Raise awareness

“I find that in Asian culture especially, we’re not particularly exposed to such issues. For example, something that really grinds my gears is knowing that there are still fishing vessels breaching governmental laws, catching marine life illegally for trading or sport.”

For details, we can look up Marine Park Zoning in Australia and the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the US, says Leslie.

#6 Reduce plastic

“People will also tell you that I am that annoying friend who goes on and on about plastic! Millions of single-use plastic bottles are found in the ocean. It will pose a major threat in the long run.

“Plastic can actually break down even in water. When they do, microplastics are formed, which sink to the bottom of the ocean, or worse, float into the mouths or gills of fish. These are then consumed by other animals, and later, by us. It proves that everything we do will come back full circle.”

The beach, but in a new light

I did start this post by talking about trips to the beach, and admiring all of that marine life. Because I do want to go, but for now I can only dream. When the restrictions ease, it may be possible for us to enjoy and explore the ocean again (but with a more eco-conscious lifestyle and mindset).

So I want to end it with ideas for our next ocean adventure, even if we don’t exactly know when it’ll be. We now know a bit more about how to help keep the ocean healthy, so I hope our future beach vacations will have more meaning.

As we get inspired by Leslie’s own posts and experiences, maybe these places in Queensland, Australia will make it on your travel list. They impressed Leslie. 😊

#1 Moreton Bay

This was when they followed dugongs for research. “We even spotted a hammerhead shark,” he marvels.

“Being surrounded by these animals, some of which can potentially hurt you, is extremely unnerving yet thrilling.”

#2 North Stradbroke Island

“My then-girlfriend (now wife) and I also used to take weekend trips here, where we would spend hours just staring into the ocean and spotting whales breaching.”

Photo by Carles Rabada on Unsplash

It’s scary to think that photos of the ocean and marine life may have captured some things that we might not see again. But as Leslie says, we do have a choice, and we can choose to act now.

We can struggle through the heat and love the colour of the sky as we do. 😉

Follow Leslie @berryoffishialfacts.