The Story Behind Saving the Ocean’s Forests

The story behind “Saving the Ocean’s Forests” begins with Tom Calvanese. Tom is a scientist and the station manager at the Oregon State University Field Research Station in Port Orford, Oregon. I met him at a bar in Portland, Oregon. It was October of 2019. I had been searching for a bigger conservation story for Wild Human to produce. Erik and Justin, the other members of Wild Human, told me about a kelp restoration project on the southern Oregon coast that involved chefs, tourism, and urchins. Details were slim, but they kept telling me that I just need to meet Tom.

Tom has wild curly hair and a deep voice. His arms are full of tattoos. Sometimes he even says “fuck.” He’s not the poster image of a scientist. Tom laid out the issue of declining kelp forests on the southern Oregon coast and the purple urchins that are eating them. He kept it simple but urgent. He explained the purpose and formation of the Oregon Kelp Alliance (ORKA) and its diverse list of members.

I quickly knew that this was the kind of story I had been looking for. I remember thinking that if more people talked to scientists like Tom over a few beers, things might be a little different. Climate change would still be a massive obstacle and there would still be opposition to science and change. But, things might be a little better. Tom dropped a lot of truth in that conversation. I got a little drunk and my imagination started to run with the idea. I saw a story in my head that gave equal attention to the science of kelp restoration and the humans behind the science. That idea is what carried us throughout the process of making “Saving the Ocean’s Forests.” We wanted to raise awareness for kelp forests, but also introduce you to some of the humans who are working to make a better world for all of us.

One year after that meeting in Portland, with support and funding from the Oregon Coast Visitors Association, the Wild Human crew traveled to Port Orford. We spent several days with members of the Oregon Kelp Alliance shooting stills, video, and recording interviews. But we also cohabitated with these people. We killed hours on Captain Dave Lacey’s boat, the Black Pearl, while divers did their work underwater. At night we ate together and drank whiskey. Freshly caught fish tacos were on the menu. And this was all while the country was living through Covid restrictions. There were always Covid related hoops to jump through to keep everyone safe and healthy. Simply making this story was a lesson in rolling with the many punches of 2020.

I learned a lot from our interviews and time documenting ORKA members but I think it’s all of the moments in between that really inspired this story – at least for me. The small details and interactions are what I remember the most and hold on to. Like Dr. Aaron Galloway’s preferred boat snack between dive locations – fried chicken. How amazing it was to watch the focus and communication between divers as they prepared for their next survey. Eating lunch every day at the Golden Harvest in Port Orford. And waking up every morning to the fantastic view of Battle Rock.

Our team has since made several trips to Port Orford to gather content, but the October 2020 trip was where most of the information came from in the final story. Over the next nine months, we wrote, edited, rewrote, and assembled the story that you see today. We spent hours wrestling with details and language. The kelp restoration science was constantly evolving which also meant that we had to update our content along the way. Even now as you’re reading this, there are probably aspects of the story that are dated. The work is always progressing. But that’s what I find so interesting about this project – ORKA is working on kelp restoration today. This is happening right now in Port Orford and around the world.

We believe in the work that ORKA is doing. It’s hard and thankless. But I think we managed to highlight an aspect of conservation that’s easy to overlook in today’s political and social climates – hope. The video we used at the end of the piece summarizes this better than I ever could. Tom talks about needing hope to work through these enormous problems. He explains that it’s easy to succumb to doom and gloom, but hope is what prevails. Before we decided to use his quote, I played the uncut version for a few close friends. I watched as they listened. Their reactions were moving. I knew that Tom had given us the spark of the story.

There’s a lot of information to digest in “Saving the Ocean’s Forests.” But we hope that you see kelp a little differently the next time you’re at the coast. Kelp forests aren’t sexy or cuddly. But the results of losing them are devastating. I hope you remember that when you read this story. And I hope you think about the people who are trying to save them.

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