An Interview with Oceana’s Lora Snyder: a Passionate Advocate for Marine Wildlife

The Moore Charitable Foundation is incredibly fortunate to work with Lora Snyder, campaign director at Oceana, as she leads the responsible fishing and shark campaigns. Lora manages a team consisting of scientists, advocates, communications professionals, lawyers, grassroots organizers and others to achieve our campaign goals. This also includes the planning, development, implementation and winning of Oceana’s policy campaigns on bycatch, overfishing, habitat protections and marine wildlife protections.

This month we had the opportunity to interview Lora about her work.

Question: What is fulfilling about your job?

Answer: One thing that I love about my job is that I still get to learn new things every single day, and I have the freedom to be creative about how I want to achieve our campaign goals. Whether it’s flying out actor and Ocean advocate Morgan Freeman to the Hill to help introduce legislation to save sharks, delivering more than 12,500 letters from kids across the country to the White House urging President Obama and Secretary Penny Pritzker to help threatened and endangered sea turtles in U.S. waters, or traveling to Las Vegas to talk to hundreds of divers from across the country at a conference, no day is ever the same.  Each day brings a new challenge and an opportunity to learn something new.

Q: What is challenging?

A: Right now, there are so many different issues in the limelight, and so making sure people are aware of and understand what’s happening in our oceans can be difficult. But my job is to frame our issues in ways that resonate with people, so they do want to get involved and help. For example, when we talk about banning shark fins in the United States, it’s not only because it would help shark populations, but it would help tourism industries in coastal states that generate revenue from shark diving. Finding ways to connect issues with things that affect people’s everyday lives like jobs and the economy is a great way to show that these issues have real effects.

© OCEANA / Carlos Suarez

© OCEANA / Carlos Suarez

Q: What are all the campaigns you are working on?

A: I lead both Oceana’s responsible fishing and shark campaigns in the United States. Our responsible fishing campaign works to minimize bycatch in U.S. fisheries as well as raise awareness of the threats facing marine wildlife like sharks, sea turtles and deep-sea corals. Currently, Oceana’s shark campaign is working to advance the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act in Congress, which would ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States.

Q: What are your goals in your campaign right now? 

A: We are campaigningto pass a bill in Congress to ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States. The Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act was introduced in the House and Senate earlier this year, and we are working to raise public awareness and support for this bill to advance.  The Senate Commerce Committee has already passed the bill out of the committee.  And, as of today, over 145 bipartisan members of Congress have cosponsored the legislation.

Q: What are your proud of with regards to your campaign?

A: As everyone knows, it’s a very difficult political climate right now, especially in regards to conservation work. In an atmosphere where it seems almost impossible for people from different political parties to collaborate and work together, I am proud of the fact that the bill we are working to pass in Congress, the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, is truly a bipartisan effort. What we’ve found with this particular campaign is that oceans are a bipartisan issue – both Democrats and Republicans understand the importance of sharks to our ocean ecosystems and want to help protect them.

Even though there have been many setbacks recently for environmental initiatives, the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act is one conservation effort that will have tangible benefits for shark populations and has a real chance of success.

Q: What is the next best thing that could happen in your campaign?

A: Besides passing the national bill, which is our main goal, it is great to see individual states and private businesses step up to the plate and institute bans on shark fin products. Currently, there are 12 states that have bans on shark fins, as well as more than 40 airlines, 20 shipping companies and seven major corporations. We would love to see even more take action!  We are also working to reduce shark bycatch in our fisheries, so we are tackling two of the greatest threats facing sharks today.

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue a path that has lead you into ocean conservation/protection work? 

A: As a political science major, I have always been interested in politics and knew that I wanted to pursue a job in Washington, DC.  When I first came to DC, I worked on a number of issues for a bipartisan consulting firm.  There was an opportunity at my firm to work on ocean issues, so I begged my boss to give me that portfolio.  I soon realized that even though the oceans make up over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, so few people work on ocean policy.  I felt that not only did I want to help fill important this gap, but ocean issues are extremely diverse and interesting –environment, energy, foreign affairs, commerce, trade, etc.

Q: Can you describe a moment where you knew nature/the environment/the ocean/other was meaningful to you? Did you have an aha! moment or experience along the way that got you to where you are?

A: Some of my favorite times of my life have been the yearly trips my family takes to the beaches of North Carolina.  My favorite place to be in the world is in a beach chair next to or in a tide pool.  The ocean and the beach have been a critical part of my upbringing.  My hope is that the work we do at Oceana will help ensure that my nieces and my own potential future children will still be able to come back to the same spot every year and marvel at the beautiful coastline bursting with sealife.

Q: Did you have role models / mentors / heroes who were formative to where you are today/who inspired you? If so, can you describe who and how?

A: My dad, a former small-town Republican mayor, gave me the best advice when I moved to DC. He told me not to box people into a category and judge them on whether they are a “Democrat” or “Republican.” Instead he encouraged me to have a conversation and an open mind so that I just might find that we really have more in common than what we might have originally thought.  That advice has served me well in Washington. I think about it often and it has helped shape how I tackle policy campaigns.

I also had the privilege to work for former EPA Administrator, Carol Browner, who has rightfully been called a rock-star of the environmental movement.  She is a brilliant strategist and remarkable person.  I consider her to be a significant mentor to me, and what she has achieved throughout her career is inspiring.

Q: Who inspires you now? Why?

A: I am inspired everyday by the passionate and driven people I work with at Oceana. It may sound cliché, but everyone here truly believes in our mission and what we’re trying to do.

Q: What continues to motivate you to keep fighting for ocean protections?

A: I am motivated in the fact that I know what we are doing is right and it is urgent.  Even when the work gets hard, it is worth it.  I feel fortunate that I get to wake up every day, go to work with talented and inspiring colleagues, and fight to protect our oceans and environment.  It also doesn’t hurt that my job sometimes takes me to the ocean.  Being by the water certainly helps motivate me!

Q: What is your “special sauce,” or your “superhero power” when it comes to the work you do? 

A: My husband has asked me in the past if I have an “OFF” button. When there is something I want to achieve, come hell or high water, I work to get it done. I never look at anything as “impossible” to do, if anything, when I am given a tough task, that just means I get to be even more creative about how I get it done.

Q: What’s your favorite body of water? Marine animal?

A: The Atlantic Ocean. I love the sharks, but my favorite marine animal will always be the sea turtle.  Fun fact – the Kemp’s ridley’s sea turtle name in Spanish is “Tortuga Lora,” so I think it is my spirit animal.

Q: If you could advise readers on 3 things to do to help the ocean, what would they be?

A:  Get involved. Whether that’s with your local city politics or making sure you’re contacting your members of Congress and urging them to support ocean initiatives. Make your voice heard. You can start by calling your member of Congress and asking them to support the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act!

Also, become an ocean advocate and member of Oceana. You can sign up to be an Oceana wavemaker at www.oceana.org.

Finally: be a discerning consumer. Before you buy seafood, ask questions about where it came from and how it was caught. Certain types of seafood have higher rates of bycatch – or the accidental catch of animals like sharks, sea turtles and dolphins – associated with it. Make sure you know where your seafood is coming from by supporting local, traceable seafood businesses.

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