Reno resident Marnee Benson was one of two applicants
chosen (from a pool of 6,000 people throughout the world) to embark on a trip
to Iceland with Greenpeace last year. The opportunity came when Greenpeace contacted
its cyberactivists, including Benson, and requested they get pledges from people
to consider visiting Iceland if the country stopped whaling. As an incentive,
Greenpeace did something unprecedented within the organization: It offered to
the most deserving candidate a bunk on the Greenpeace ship bound for Iceland.
First, the group picked candidates based on the number of people from whom they
were able to gain pledges. Then, the top 20 finalists answered a set of questions.
Next, Greenpeace members chose the winner from five finalists. In the end, they
picked two, a Nigerian man and Benson. A week later, Benson was in Iceland.
This is her story.
AS THE GREENPEACE SHIP ESPERANZA PULLED INTO THE
TINY ICELANDIC PORT OF HÚSAVIK, I
noticed on the pier a handful of well-dressed people waiting to greet us. Id
been anticipating this day for weeks, knowing this picture-perfect hamlet was
building part of its economy, and its community, on the preservation and appreciation
of nature. Specifically, Húsavik had spent years establishing itself
as a haven for whales and a hotspot for whale watching no trivial feat
for a small town in a proud country with a pro-whaling government and a rich
history of whale exploitation.
Within a few minutes, I was up on the ships bridge
being introduced to Halldor Blöndal, president of Icelands Parliament.
As video cameras rolled and government officials looked on, I tried to keep
my composure and convey to Blöndal my thoughts on Icelands environmental
policies. We spoke briefly about whaling versus nature tourism and the inconsistency
of maintaining one in the face of the other. I made the point that different
people from around the world simply cannot reconcile a love of nature with the
killing of whales. I mentioned that I am from Northern Nevada, where resource
conservation and adventure tourism are making a dent in the conventional wisdom
of development at any cost. Blöndal seemed interested in my ideas and told
me he appreciated my commitment to the cause.
I earned a trip to Iceland by taking part in a global
campaign with Greenpeace to convince the Icelandic government to end all whaling.
The central argument of the campaign was economic: Iceland stands to gain more
from tourism than it does from whaling. I participated by asking people to consider
visiting Iceland if and only if that country stopped killing whales. More than
50,000 people supported our cause by signing a pledge to that effect. But some
of them asked: why does a girl from Nevada care so much about whales in the
The answer is simple: whales make the world a richer
place. I feel the same way about all animals. Go outside and look around. Everything
you see the bugs and the birds, coyotes, and snakes is the product
of a dynamic, age-old process of competition and adaptation. Each living creature
makes a unique contribution to the state of biodiversity, and I do not think
the contribution of mankind should be the elimination of other species.
The environment is the one thing that unites and sustains
us all, and it is vitally important to learn as much as possible about ecological
issues. More to the point, human beings have a unique consciousness among living
things and with that consciousness comes responsibility. It is the responsibility
of those who are fortunate to exercise restraint and to ensure all creatures
especially large animals and predators are not only spared extinction,
but are given a chance to thrive in their natural habitat. The Greenpeace trip
afforded me the opportunity to live for a month with dedicated people who share
my commitment to protecting the natural world.
While on the ship, I kept a Web log. Remember that meeting
with Halldor Blöndal? It was not even the highlight of that one particular
We were cruising along during the whale-watching
expedition when I saw something a bit strange on the horizon. It looked like
a waterspout from a whale, but at that distance it would have had to be 30 feet
high, so I didnt say anything. But there it was again, and pretty soon
the boat was making a beeline for this thing. The guide was speaking German,
so I didnt know what he was saying: I only knew that all the other passengers
were now on high alert. What are you saying? Then he said, in English, that
there had been sightings of a blue whale in the bay that week, the first in
seven years. And you know what? Those were waterspouts I saw, and those
are blue whales.
Blue whales are awe-inspiring creatures. They are
the largest animals ever to have lived on Earth, and they can be up to 33 meters
long. They live to be 90-95 years old when left alone. They were hunted last
century to near extinction. We saw several blue whales on this night. We heard
the soft but powerful poof of their exhalation as it filled the
quiet evening air. We imagined their dive to the depths of the sea and we wondered
about the rest of their world. I will never forget it.
Marnee Benson is a University of Nevada,
Reno graduate student and environmentalist.