An exclusive interview with Sea Shepherd Captain and CEO Alex Cornelissen
As part of our highlight on Sea Shepherd we share the personal story of Sea Shepherd Captain and CEO Alex Cornelissen. Captain Cornelissen was born in a small town in Holland, The Netherlands. His interest in the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society began when a friend became a crew member on the Ocean Warrior. Alex Cornelissen was a scuba diver and a vegetarian, someone who was interested in animal rights but who had not considered moving out of graphic design into another career. Read on to see how his life changed and he became CEO of one of the most prominent marine conservation organizations.
Can you tell us a bit about your life before Sea Shepherd and how you got involved in Sea Shepherd?
I was working for a publishing house in Amsterdam when I first heard about Sea Shepherd. A friend of mine joined the crew to make a documentary about their work. I was so impressed by the organization that a year later I quit my job, sold my apartment and joined the crew for what was supposed to be a sabbatical. That was 2002 and I am still here.
You are currently a Captain and CEO at Sea Shepherd. How did your career path evolve within the company?
I first joined the crew in the Galapagos and started as chief cook. In that position I served on our first ever campaign against Japanese whaling in the Antarctic. In 2003 I worked my way up to the bridge as second mate and was promoted first mate in 2004. After the second Antarctica campaign that ended in February 2006, Captain Watson gave me command of the Farley Mowat, our flag ship at the time. Unfortunately the vessel was held for four months in Capetown under a politically motivated detention. My first act as captain was to sail out of the harbor without permission under cover of darkness. Since then I have commanded nearly all vessels in our fleet. At the end of 2007 I moved to the Galapagos Islands where I was in charge of our ongoing campaign for six years. At the end of 2013 I took the role of CEO. I still try to go on campaign as captain but obviously that is more difficult these days.
How does a day at work look like at Sea Shepherd?
When I am in Amsterdam, it is non-stop emailing, meetings and calls. When Europe slows down, the US starts and then Australia. Things never really come to a stop for Sea Shepherd Global. Furthermore I need to make frequent trips all over the world. Having the office in Amsterdam is a lot of fun, we have a great team. Also having the Sea Shepherd Shop is a great way to reach new people that are interested in supporting us.
Sea Shepherd's founder Paul Watson is currently living in exile with arrest warrants against him from Costa Rica (for violation of maritime traffic) and Japan (for his actions against whale hunting). How do you deal with economic and political forces trying to intimidate your actions?
This is part of the process of change, first we were ignored, then ridiculed, now they are trying to stop us. As with all changes in history, these are the steps you have to take to get to the ultimate goal: we will achieve what we set out to do. Look at Japanese whaling in the Antarctic, it has been shut down by the International Court of Justice thanks to Sea Shepherd’s actions. Same goes for many of our actions in the past.
It is sad though that Captain Watson is limited in his actions due to this but I know that it only made him more determined to accomplish our mission and I feel the same about it. We are actually thankful to the Japanese whaling industry because their actions against us have generated an unprecedented growth within Sea Shepherd. People are fed up with their constant violation of international law and it shows in their support for Sea Shepherd. Obviously the recent allocation of funds from the Dutch Postcode Lottery is a clear example of that support.
What can we, as individuals, do against the pollution and destruction of our Oceans?
Take responsibility for your actions, avoid plastic and be aware that the fish populations worldwide our dropping dramatically. We have to change the way we look at the oceans. For centuries people were told that it was an infinite source of food but for the last decade we are realizing that we are in fact fishing all life out of the oceans. If we continue at our current rate, there will be no life left in less than 40 years.
Any last words?
Join Sea Shepherd, we need your support to continue our work worldwide. Unfortunately our vessels are more needed around the world than ever before. We need funds to fuel our ships and pay for repairs, we currently have eight ships working around the world and a ninth is about to be built. Direct financial support is great and there are other ways to contribute. You can also help us by buying our merchandise, all the profits go to Sea Shepherd’s missions.