Interview: Rig-to-Reef Explorers Amber Jackson & Emily Callahan

Sea Bottle has partnered with Rig-to-Reef explorers Amber Jackson and Emily Callahan to raise awareness for ocean health and habitat conservation. We recently caught up with this marine science super duo between expeditions to discuss their work and ambitions.

SB: Hi Amber and Emily! Most people think of retired oil rigs as eyesores on the horizon, but these structures can essentially be recycled and serve an important purpose within the ocean habitat. What is your mission as Rig-to-Reef explorers?

Amber: The monolithic oil and gas platforms lining California’s horizon are slowing to a halt, pumping less and less oil up from the wells beneath their legs. Production activities are predicted to come to a complete halt in the next decade. Imagine, a chain of 27 idle steel skeletons, some the size of the empire state building, waiting to be decommissioned or completely removed from the ocean bottom. But there’s a twist. Beneath the surface, these oil and gas platforms are massive, thriving reefs! A recent study published by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that, "...the oil and gas platforms off California are among the most productive habitats globally.”                                  

It's time to think creatively about the resources we have, and proceed forward boldly with radical new tactics for ocean management. As the world’s natural reefs continue to be ravaged by overfishing, trawling, and polluting, we believe that re-purposing these structures as artificial reefs may be the best decision for the future of our oceans. We are marine scientists on a mission to re-purpose offshore oil and gas platforms as artificial reefs around the world.

SB: What kinds of marine life exist on the reefs and why are they important habitats to preserve?

Emily: The ecosystems we find colonizing California’s platforms are a direct reflection of the local ecology. We find thick colonies of mussels and scallops, brilliantly colored sheephead, and massive schools of jacks. Due to the location of these oil platforms, away from near-shore pollution and runoff, and the structure itself, which inhibits any large scale fishing, these platforms have been allowed to grow and flourish, providing habitat to hundreds of species. Many of these platforms are far more pristine than the local ‘natural’ habitats, which only increases their ecological value.

SB: What challenges do you face in convincing the public and governments to preserve retired rigs?”

Amber: The public continues to uphold a long standing distrust of oil companies, a distrust that was born out of devastating oil spills and on-going environmental destructions associated with offshore drilling. This distrust is not unfounded.

However, it’s important to recognize that we are all responsible for the resources we consume. We all drive cars, use plastics, and rely on oil and gas everyday. While we do not advocate for additional offshore drilling, we do advocate for the public to recognize the silver living associated with these structures. They offer a environmental benefit that can endure by decommissioning them through the Rigs-to-Reefs program.

SB: Sea Bottle helps consumers reduce waste by packaging in 100% recyclable glass bottles instead of short-use cycle plastic bottles, and by re-using pumps with refills. Similarly, the Rig-to-Reefs project also advocates resource conservation, in a way, by “recycling” the rig materials and repurposing them as reefs. Can you talk about this theme?

Emily: Our story and our belief in this program, stretches far beyond California’s coastline. Every ocean on the planet is host to offshore oil and gas platforms, and each has been colonized by local marine wildlife in locations as remote as western Australia to the cold and turbulent North Sea. The theme of smarter resource utilization is not reserved for oil platforms alone. It is one we see replicated in various forms around the globe, from the High Line in New York City-- once, an out-of-use railroad trestle, now, a lush public park-- to Sea Bottle producing in recyclable glass bottles rather than throw-away plastic ones. It is our job to connect people to the environment in new and unexpected ways, to add hope to areas of the ocean that are threatened.

SB: What inspired you to dedicate your lives to ocean conservation?

Amber: 70% of our earth is ocean, and much of our very existence depends on it. Ocean drives the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the oxygen cycle, regulates temperature, shapes climate and weather, and otherwise is the cornerstone of Earth's life support system.

Our generation has witnessed drastic changes in the nature of the ocean, serious declines of our coral reefs, a 90 percent loss of many fish and other ocean wildlife, changes in ocean chemistry, rising sea levels and overall warming.

Everyday we get to apply science and seek unique ways to reverse these dramatic declines, and to shed light on areas of the ocean that have been forgotten.

SB: How can everyday people contribute to healthier oceans and marine life?

Emily: It’s difficult to believe that what you can do on your own makes an impact, but that simply isn't true. There are so many simple changes we can make in our everyday lives, including using less plastics, making safe and sustainable seafood choices, or considering participating in a beach clean up. Most importantly, get engaged, get involved, and share with others the knowledge that can help make a difference for the ocean!