Katja Walther. Photos: Carolina A Castro
Operation Milagro—it means Operation Miracle. It’s a fitting name for a critical mission by the ocean conservation group, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, to protect fewer than 100 remaining vaquita, a porpoise species on the brink of extinction in the Sea of Cortez.
For Sea Shepherd, miracles come in the form of people like Katja Walther. For the last year, the Capilano University graduate has been a crew member aboard one of the two ships involved in the Operation Milagro II mission.
The days are long. Walther wakes aboard the ship and reports to the bridge for her morning shift as quartermaster. Later, she sets out into shallower waters on a zodiac searching for nets and illegal long lines, hauling them from the water—a process that can take between one and six hours.
“We have freed sharks, critically endangered totoaba bass, a humpback whale, many different types of rays, jellyfish, coral and other sea animals,” says Walther.
When Walther returns to the M/V Farley Mowat, she tends to deckhand tasks and prepares for her nighttime duties.
“During my evening watch, we patrol the Vaquita sanctuary and chase illegal poachers out of the area,” says Walther. “Using our radar and night vision to find them, we illuminate their vessels with our spotlight and chase them out of the area.”
Charting a course
Walther attended Capilano University’s Global Stewardship program from 2012-2014, describing the experience as a key part of a lifelong trajectory—starting at age three when she embraced vegetarianism—towards a meaningful career in animal and environmental protection.
“When I was ten years old, I happened across a documentary outlining some of the greatest threats to our oceans and those who are trying to save them, and Sea Shepherd was mentioned,” says Walther. “I became inspired by the organization’s ability to bridge the gap between what was politically possible and what was environmentally necessary.”
Katja Walther (right), with Survivorman Les Stroud on his recent visit aboard the Farley Mowat.
Since then, it has been Walther’s dream to volunteer for Sea Shepherd and support the organization in any way possible.
“I knew that before I applied to join Sea Shepherd, it was important for me to gather as many tools as possible so I could be an asset to the organization,” says Walther.
Preparing global protectors
“I taught Katja Introduction to Global Studies (GLBS 110), which the students love to call ‘Blame Capitalism’,” says instructor Cam Sylvester. “We examine a range of global problems related to capitalism in its present form, and one of those would have been environment.
“Katja was a vibrant person in class—she had lots of ideas, lots of passion and desire to make change—she didn’t back down,” says Sylvester. “She was willing to take on leadership positions that involved going into the trenches and doing the dirty work.”
“My time at Capilano University presented me with many opportunities to become involved with different organizations and community initiatives,” says Walther. “These experiences gave me a broader understanding of the day-to-day workings of not-for-profits and NGOs. The program not only broadened my understanding of these kinds of organizations, but has made me a more effective and competent volunteer.”
Walther joins the ranks of dozens of other notable Global Stewardship students who have gone on to make a difference around the world, advising governments and working for organizations like Doctors Without Borders.
“What the program is really, really good at is opening doors for students, before they would ever have the doors open in their career,” says Sylvester. “The real challenge is whether they step through that door.”
Walther says her experience with Sea Shepherd has exceeded every expectation.
“Sea Shepherd is my life now. I can’t imagine more fulfilling or important work,” says Walther. “My studies at Capilano University not only left me with a greater understanding of non-governmental organizations and not-for-profits, but also inspired me to follow my passions—no matter where they took me.”
Submitted by Communications & Marketing
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Learn more about the Global Stewardship program at their Information Night on Tuesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. in the Cedar building, room 135.