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Speech by Prince Hussain Aga Khan at the EAT Forum, Stockhold 2019-06-13

Thursday, 2019, June 13
Prince Hussain speaking at the EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2019
Prince Hussain Aga Khan

Prince Hussain Aga Khan held a beautiful speech on the main stage during EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2019 to bring awareness to the endangered species living in our oceans. Since the age of five, he has been a fan of the ocean and everything connected to it.

At 14, Prince Hussain Aga Khan started scuba diving, and by exploring the deep wide blue he developed a keen interest in conservation. He started traveling to the tropics frequently at secondary school and began taking photographs of fauna and flora on a trip to the Brazilian Amazon in 1996.

Focused On Nature

Hussain Aga Khan established the organization Focused On Nature to share his passion. His mission is to help communicate the urgent need for more research and actionable initiatives on global issues that are negatively impacting the environment.

FON is assisting conservation projects that protect threatened and endangered species, as well as habitat conservation efforts.

"In my photographs, I let the animals and trees speak for themselves and hope other people see the beauty I see" said Prince Hussain Aga Khan

Using conservation photography as the principal medium of communication, FON aims to promote awareness and raise funds through photography exhibitions, as well as the sale of our fine art limited edition photographs, books, and scarves.

Prince Hussain addressed the audience with these words: (with a video of many sea creatures behind him)

Your Royal Highness, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemem

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But we can do better, you and I. I wish I could tell you what its like to have a sea-lion approach you, to smile at you, dip and dart and fly under you, nibble on your hair and tickle with your tank before shooting off playfully to chase a fish that it is not trying to eat; make you feel the connection one does when a dolphin comes within meters or swims with you looking right in your eye, to feel that privilege I wish I could express how utterly amazing it is to see the interaction between a mother whale and her calf, the love and concern and relationship they share or what its like when a calf approaches your group and completely unafraid and curious runs right up to you and bumps you before passing by. That one time when a mother humpback turned directly toward me spreading her immense pectoral fins as she hovered vertical, her calf moving off behind her and tell you how at that precise moment I was sure I was the happiest man and luckiest human on earth.

I had tell you how beautiful every hue of an angel fish is; how amusing and silly an octopus can be, how bizarre their method of propulsion, how astounding their colour and texture variations, how funny it is when they squirt ink at you. I had tell you what's its like watching a turtle graze on sea-grass or munch on coral next to you; I had tell you how trusted and enamored you feel when a turtle sits just meters away not moving off in fear. That a small Hawksbill turtle at Highborn Key stayed with us for 45 minutes a few months ago and seemed as interested in my buddy and me as we were in her.

I had recount to you how angry a novice diver was when I abandoned him in the safest, shallowest site I know, to swim with a Hawksbill for an hour until I ran completely out of air. How beautiful her carapace was, how her eyes looked like a camera lens, and how every instant by her side was worth it. How silly was my friend to worry when two instructors and three divers were tracking his bubbles from above.

I'd mentioned how absolutely graceful a manta ray is as it hovers immobile in the current gorging on plankton or glides by you slowly raising and lowering its wingtips. The strangest of a frog fish, its lure dangling and flicking above its eyes hoping to surprise. A ghost pipefish, its snout pointing down and tail up blending perfectly with its surroundings.

I had tell you how lost and lonely and confused a remora seems without a host. And share with you a time when a spinner dolphin stuck its tongue out at me. Express how utterly viciously a clownfish couple guard their nest and let you know the meanest fish you might encounter - a damsel fish, diminutive and defenseless fiercely trying to keep you out of their territory. I would gift you the experience of looking up at the sun blotched out by school fish or swimming completely surrounded by jacks as far the eye can see.at Cabo Pulmo.

So you have flatworm sliding across coral or undulating in the water column, a nudibranch and a field of tunicates, a shark cruising swimming confidently above the reef; you would want to know why a thresher shark has a ridiculously long tail and why a razorfish swims upside down. I might tell you how strange it is to have dolphins mate right in front of you rudely - how rude - and as if you weren't there, without a care in the world; that watching a small group of them interact is delightful to witness, bumping and pushing each other, flipping upside down joining together at the chest and even rubbing pectoral fins together as if breaching one another.

Note that seeing coral spawn, which happens once a year is as unexpected as it is stunning and hard to comprehend; how tiny spheres float away from surfaces that looked so unlikely to produce them. Probably I would mention the time Emma - a 14 foot tiger shark who was pregnant at the time - leaned into me with her whole body and weight, that it was non-threatening, just hard to ground my feet and push back against her. I had tell you Emma was a regular at Tiger Beach and has never shown a diver aggression. The feeders feel affection for her. If only you could see all this and more through my eyes,

I would want you to know that out of two schools of hammerheads and hundreds of individual sharks I have seen, I have only been frightened by three and that out of 350 species of shark, one could only consider a handful dangerous; and that we kill a hundred to two hundred million sharks a year while they only kill six to eight of us. I would show you that they are disinterested in us 99% of the time and say that they are so elegant and streamlined that its hard to be afraid.

You might also want to know the horrible changes I have seen - how plastic which I never saw in the past is everywhere now. That it's coming on a beach in Agadir, at a dock in Marsa Alam, in tidepools in Sardinia and wrapped around coral in the Bahamas. How a friend and I spent 45 minutes in a dinghy in ... last year pulling out bottles and caps, bags, cardboard, a bag of chips, an old T-shirt and a sandal. And we hardly made a dent. That I watched spotted dolphins swim through plastic and paper and trash last August in Florida probably finding it hard to distinguish between the jelly-fish they play with and the cigarette pack wrappers they shoudn't. It's my absolute horror I witnessed two oceanic whitetip sharks, among the rarest of the rare whose numbers have plummeted by 93% or more, circle pieces of tinfoil last year - how one ingested and spat out at least four times before finally swallowing it on the fifth. How sad it was not to be able to take the tinfoil away before I tried to take the tinfoil away before it was too late.

I would tell you and show you that about a third of all sharks I see have a hook stuck in their mouths and some a line trailing behind them as well as how I saw a bullet hole in one shark. After seeing hundreds of manta rays in Yap Micronesia in 1992 and 2000, I didn't see a single one in 2015. Some of the reefs friends and I saw years ago that were kaleidoscopic cornucopias of corals hard and soft are now reduced to rubble, barren fields bleached skeletons - tragically sad remnants of what once was.

I want to tell you that they say coral reefs will be entirely gone, disappeared, within perhaps 50 years, more likely 30. That we have pushed the extinction rate to probably a thousand times what it used to be, that we have lost 60% of our wildlife in the last 40 years. That our goal of keeping warming at less than 2 degrees by the end of the century looks unrealistic with the end result probably 3 or 3.5 degrees if we don't change. That the third of all cetacean and shark species are already at risk. 90% of the big fish are gone and by 2050 there will be more plastic in our seas than fish.

So it is a great sadness that I sometimes think nearly everything you see in my images is under some form of threat, be it from climate change, warming, acidification and sea-level rise, habitat destruction, deep-sea trolling, dynamite and overfishing, pollution and plastic, changes in the food chain and more wildlife and ecosystems are at risk.

There is no doubt that for decades we have been ... fools, we have used and abused the planet, refused to manage resources wisely, ignored warning signs, believed Earth is so enormous, the sea so immense, natural systems so resilient that we have inflicted monstrous damage. And now, amid all the information we have bombarded with, media of all kinds, threats of cataclysms, cynicism, apathy, guilt and a sense of hopelessness, it's sometimes hard to see the coral for the reef, to identify and work on problems one by one.

But as an individual one can make a difference. Might we try to stop using plastic completely? Buy glass instead. Insist on reusable straws and more. Might you try to recycle everything you can. Plant more, plant everywhere. Become an Olympian planter. Have a plant in your kitchen. Buy local as much as you can. There is no point in importing ....... If you don't urgently have to travel for work you can choose a teleconference instead. You can sometimes take a train instead of a plane as trains are comfortable too and there is no turbulence on a train. We can consider using solar panels and even wind. And consider switching to an electric car if you can. Perhaps you could resist further financing the pet trade which is considered one of the greatest threats to wildlife today. If you do buy a pet try to make sure it's a captive bred or pick one up from the pound instead. And if being a carnivore isn't paramount to you, you could consider eating less meat. A long list of options I know, but we can, must all start somewhere.

Wouldn't be nice if we could all have a chance to see dolphins, turtles, sharks and whales in the wild for years to come.. To breathe clean air, to be able to keep growing our crops and feed ourselves, to drink clean water and not to waste it. To be measured and thoughtful. To reduce our impact. To roam plastic-free beaches and witness clean deserts and plains. To trust that we're breathing and eating less microplastics. To still have rain forests and reefs, to have the chance to follow the great migration in the Serengeti and the sardine run. To feel like we are doing our level best.

I don't honestly know how much we will change over the coming decades or save, even if we try as hard as we can, but I feel it's worth doing every single thing. Making every effort we possibly can to try Bless you that we will feel and live better if we do and that the generations behind us will be grateful for our successes as much as they will be disgusted by our failures.

Thank you



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