José Truda Palazzo Jr is an environmental activist, writer and explorer who has dedicated himself to the environmental cause continuously for almost forty years. In the 1970´s, when Brazil was still under a military dictatorship, he became one of Brazil’s leading voices against Japanese whaling in its waters and led a research and conservation project which ensured the recovery of a breeding population of Southern Right Whales in Southern Brazil.
Currently he serves as member of the International Committee on Marine Mammals and Protected Areas and in the IUCN Marine Mammals and Protected Areas Task Force and Tourism and Protected Areas Specialists Group. He is also an elected Life Member of the Australian Conservation Foundation and continuously participates in international campaigning for conservation initiatives in Australia, especially related to the marine environment and cofounded Divers for Sharks, now a 160,000+ strong international campaign working to halt the global decline of shark populations and restrict international trade in shark fins.
He is a keen diver with dives logged around the world but especially in his beloved Yap, Micronesia where he acts as Global Ambassador in promoting Yap’s unique natural and cultural heritage.
Welcome José, we are very proud to welcome you to Stormbird Press.
José, who is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, English, and reads in French and Italian has published fourteen books, including the first guide to the marine mammals of Brazil in 1988 and the Portuguese/English Amazônia – Paraíso das Águas / Amazon – A Paradise of Waters.
José, Thanks so much for letting me interview you. I have been looking at your website, and see that you are not just a writer, environmental activist, and explorer but a certified advanced open water diver, with dives logged around the world. Is it this love of diving that inspired you to cofound Divers for Sharks?
Thank you for your interest! I am a late diver actually; although I’ve been working with ocean conservation for 39 out of my 54 years, I was VERY afraid of water and would panic at the thought of being out in any place deeper than my shoulders. It all changed when a friend gave me a diving course for Christmas in 1999, and I took it – out of embarrassment mostly. But then it opened up a whole new world for me, a world where you could be surrounded by wildlife which wasn’t afraid of your presence. Thanks to my work with international treaties I was then able to either extend my stay in “diveable” places or use acquired mileage to reach dive destinations around the world. And I saw both pristine environments and degraded ones, and finally learned about the vertical decline in sharks around the world – animals which are essential both for maintaining ocean health and generating jobs and income to communities around the world through shark-watching dive operations. Their situation is actually much, much worse than that of most whales, and after a life dedicated to whale conservation I thought it was time to try and help sharks too!
uestion: You’ve accomplished an enormous victory in helping to save the whales. How solvable do you think most of our current crises are, if only we can work together to address them?
That is a challenging question. Surely one is heartened by the success we had in reversing the path towards extinction which threatened large whales; but on the other hand the threats to the natural world have become so diverse and wide-ranging that many younger people look at you with great dismay and a sense of hopelessness in their faces when you talk about these. However, the ONLY force that can defeat these threats lies within individual resolve and collective action. Climate change, overfishing, deforestation – issues that look like insurmountable threats when you look at the effects in the most politically and economically vulnerable countries – all have a root in consumer patterns, political action or inaction, and the certainty the mafias that profit from it have that they can get away with it. It is up to us to prove them wrong, by taking a personal pledge to do something today, by finding the internal strength and the right community links to channel collective action for the environment. The good news is, Nature is exquisitely resilient, able to rebound and restore balance if only we let it, and there is still time to prevent the worst – IF we all do our part.
Your life seems so full that I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with your travels. You were born and live in Brazil but you have spent a lot of time in Yap where you act as Global Ambassador. Where is Yap and what led you to there?
Yap is located between Japan and the Philippines, in the Federated States of Micronesia, a large ocean nation encompassing more than 600 islands and spanning some 1,700 miles of tropical waters from East to West. I was first drawn to Yap many years ago to dive with its resident population of manta rays, and fell in love not only with its unique marine life – which is incredibly diverse and still untouched by the curses of overfishing and coral reef degradation – but also with its people, which still live largely according to tradition and are among the kindest I‘ve ever met. Never mind it’s halfway around the world from our home in Brazil; it’s certainly worth the long flights. I and my wife Nalu kept going back and ended up getting married there in 2013, and upon an invitation from our host family which owns Manta Ray Bay Resort & Yap Divers, I became a Volunteer Ambassador to help promote Yap’s nature and culture around the world.
That sounds like a great adventure. Which leads me to my next question. You are writing a book about Yap. What inspired you to write the book?
Basically after my many trips to Yap I started to realize there isn’t yet a good, easy-reading and well-illustrated book about this unique corner of our ocean world that could not only interest visitors to the island, but also help promote it as a top Ecotourism destination. I am working on this book as a way to repay the Yapese people for their hospitality and both me and Brazilian photographers Joao Paulo Krajewski and Roberta Bonaldo, who also fell in love with Yap, agreed to donate our share of the book sales to a local conservation project there.
Your latest book is about [the Amazon]. Please tell us what the inspiration is behind the book.
Like many Brazilians I barely knew about the Amazon, until that changed rather recently. It is a vast wilderness with very complicated logistics, and flights from my home in Southern Brazil to its main cities can be as expensive as flying to Miami or to the Caribbean. Oddly enough it took an invitation from my Yapese family, the Ackers, to an expedition up the Negro and Jauaperi rivers to really awaken my senses about the forest and its conservation challenges. Amazonia – A Paradise of Waters came up from my experiences there and the realization that the Amazonian forest is mostly a water realm, and responsible for the hydrological cycles of the majority of Brazilian territory. No forest – no rain all the way down to the Brazilian Southeast, it’s cruelly simple as that.
Do you think readers are becoming more tuned in to the environment, and are seeking books incorporating the important issues of our time? Or do you think it’s just a trend?
I do think that there is greater interest in environmental issues, yes – and from a younger audience than a decade ago, especially in developing countries. Environmental Education has succeeded in awakening our kids’ interest about what happens to our shared planet, and now it’s up to us who write about the biggest challenges to not only inform, but also mobilize people to effect changes.
Please tell us about your work space when you’re working from home. And how do you do work outside of your office?
[laughter]:-) I actually spend my working time barely divided in half between Southern and Northeastern Brazil. When I’m home in urban Canoas, in our Southernmost State of Rio Grande do Sul, I borrow a desk from my wife’s small insurance brokerage office, and sure enough the most untidy desk, with papers and books and shark and ray toys and two computers is that of the strange environmentalist! But I also work part-time for the Brazilian Humpback Whale Institute, the most important marine conservation NGO in Brazil, at their tree-shaded, bird-surrounded office near the beach in the outskirts of Salvador de Bahia, with lots of forest and wildlife around. Otherwise I’m on the road, some two to three months per year following international meetings or bothering governments here and there, and then I work at hotels and airports from my smartphone and notebook thanks to this ubiquitous two-edged sword called the internet.
After reading Amazonia – A Paradise of Waters, I’m looking forward to reading more of your books. What projects are you currently working on?
Besides the Yap book, I’m working on a review of non-extractive uses of marine biodiversity around the world, the many ways it benefits local communities and conservation, and policy challenges to protect these uses from environmental degradation at national and international levels, based mostly on my own knowledge of activities such as whale watching and shark diving and the resistance of policymakers to acknowledge their importance vis-a-vis fishing and other extractive uses. I am also hoping to publish a book on whale conservation policy at the regional level in Latin America, its global context and lessons to other marine conservation challenges, and together with my daughter Júlia, who’s an artist living and working in Australia, we are considering a series of children’s books on Australian ecosystems and endangered wildlife. If there’s any time left, I still have a book on Brazilian marine environments and their conservation which I would like to write before I retire!
Thank you José for making time to talk to us and for giving readers new insights into some of the most important environmental issues of our time.