Jenny Bortoluzzi


Jenny Bortoluzzi stared at her computer screen as hundreds of dots pinged out a signal off West Africa’s coast. Zooming in, the Gulf of Guinea became a sea of moving dots. The dots represent industrial vessels, all descending on one geographical region off West Africa’s coast. As Jenny satellite tracked these foreign fishing fleets on behalf of the UK-based nonprofit, Environmental Justice Foundation, she became aware of the sheer amount of commercial fishing that occurs globally.

Fishing in Gulf of Guinea, Environmental Justice Foundation 

“One of the most pressing ocean issues of our time is overfishing. I often say: what’s the point in protecting fish from external threats if there are no more fish to protect? How do we end overfishing? Bortolouzzi asked. “I think the way to achieve this is to find ways of limiting by-catch drastically and to ensure management and enforcement around the world, including the high seas.”

Overfishing has been particularly destructive to global shark populations. One hundred million sharks are killed every year, not just by the shark fin trade, but on the high seas where regulation and management are nearly non-existent.

“Overfishing and by-catch of pelagic species is an urgent and pressing matter because we know how important these predators are to healthy oceans. The key to a successful future for marine conservation is communication, collaboration and cooperation between scientists, policy makers, stakeholders and conservationists,” Bortoluzzi said.

Commercial Fishing Vessel        Bycatch photos by Brian Raymond

Jenny is currently embarking on a PhD in Marine Ecology in the Department of Zoology at Trinity College Dublin. She specializes in population ecology of large marine predators and is interested in fisheries management and conservation. Her passion for adventure and shark research has taken her all over the world. One of her favorite field work experiences took place in the shallow seas of the Bahamas with Bimini Biological Field Station (Shark Lab). Working alongside three Principal Investigators studying the sharks of Bimini, Jenny had the opportunity to dive with endangered great hammerhead sharks, track lemon sharks through dense mangroves, and assist in the scientific capture and workup of tiger sharks.

Jenny B - Bimini Great Hammerhead

“At Bimini Shark Lab I realized that I truly want to pursue research as a career, and I want to start leading my own projects,” Bortoluzzi said. “I also realized that I need to focus on more than pure science, I need to know that what I am doing is being applied and is having an impact.”

Jenny’s desire to be on the forefront of global ocean challenges led her to the Philippine island of Bohol, where she witnessed the daily struggles of local fisherman, as global fisheries collapse.

Overfishing has removed at least two-thirds of the large fish in the oceans, and has resulted in the collapse of one in three fish populations since 1950, according to this Science study. “Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean species together as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood,” said study co-author Stephan Palumbi, professor of biological sciences at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station.

Overfishing threatens the food security of hundreds of millions of people who rely on a robust ocean ecosystem to sustain themselves. One factory fishing vessel, which can be the size of a cruise ship, can catch more fish in one haul than hundreds of small-scale boats in a year, reports Greenpeace. The global fishing fleet is currently up to 250 percent larger than it needs to be to catch what the oceans can sustainably produce, according to ocean conservation and advocacy organization Oceana.

After completing her research internship with Bimini Shark Lab, Jenny began working with the non-governmental organization, Large Marine Vertebrates Foundation (LAMAVE). LAMAVE specializes in conservation of marine biodiversity in the Philippines. The scientific data LAMAVE collects is used to advise local governments on conservation policy and legislation, to counsel local and regional authorities on sustainable tourism, and to empower local stakeholders to better protect the unique biodiversity in Philippine waters.

Bohol Fisheries.JPG

Working with Large Marine Vertebrates Foundation showed Jenny how certain communities are entirely dependent on fishing, and that fishing bans can be a matter of life and death.

“These communities are small, artisanal fisheries who rely entirely on their catch to feed their families but are seeing their resources depleted by large commercial vessels who catch in one day what they will catch in a month or a year,” Bortoluzzi said. “This experience strengthened my belief that a balance is needed. We should work to identify sustainable ways for these rural communities to continue to feed their families without causing the disappearance of a species. For me, this trip revealed that cooperation and communication across the board is essential, and sorely lacking within the overfishing debate.”

 In summarizing her hope for the next generation of marine ambassadors, Jenny hopes to continue to collaborate and build upon the efforts of female ocean conservationists who have come before her.

“Sylvia Earle’s generation of ocean explorers brought awareness. Through their inventions and their discoveries, they showed us worlds we’d never seen before, gave us access to depths we’d never gone to. They have also showed us how much of an impact we are having on our oceans and the planet,” Bortoluzzi said. “Sylvia Earle’s famous quote resonates more than ever with our generation “No water, no life. No blue, no green.” I believe that thanks to an ever more connected world, we are able to share successes and learn from each other’s experience more than ever. Communication and collaboration is how today and tomorrow’s conservationists will win their battles.”

Jenny B - Skype Science Class

Reflecting on this year’s World Ocean’s Day theme—“Gender and the Ocean”—Jenny believes that gender diversity is essential for creating a collaborative environment to solve these complex ocean issues.

“I think women are bringing a breath of fresh air to the field of marine conservation and marine exploration. They have a different approach to doing things (different – not necessarily better), take Sedna Epic for example: the ultimate goal of this team of Sea Women, led by Susan Eaton, is to snorkel the Northwest Passage in the Arctic. While many historically male expeditions have focused on the physical challenge at hand, and tried to complete expeditions in record time, the goal for Sedna Epic isn’t the finishing line,” Bortoluzzi described.

“The goal is to exchange ideas with every possible community along the way. The expedition has been repeated multiple years across three Arctic countries with the intent to “bring the ocean to eye level”. This mission will hopefully empower women and young girls from the region to become the next generation of leaders who will help fight climate change, and create citizen scientists in these regions. I am truly humbled to have been chosen to join this team of accomplished and driven women,” she said.

Jenny B and Polar Bear



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