Q&A with Ocean Hero Jay Holcomb - Oceana USA
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June 9, 2010

Q&A with Ocean Hero Jay Holcomb

This year’s Adult Ocean Hero is Jay Holcomb, the Executive Director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). As I wrote a few weeks ago, Jay is down on the Gulf Coast leading his organization’s efforts to clean up oiled birds from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

How does it feel to win this award?   

In a nut shell, it feels really great. I never did the work I do expecting to be awarded for it. My career stems from a passion that has burned in me since I was a child. Being recognized for helping to protect and represent the oceans more or less justifies the sacrifices I have made in my life for my work.    

The timing is pretty incredible, huh?  

It’s ironic and poignant that I won this award while I am in the midst of what is looking like the greatest oil spill disaster of all time, and that of course is polluting the ocean and the ecosystems within it.

The impact on the ocean and the world will be severe. This we know. But as horrible as this spill is, the timing may be perfect. This disaster is an opportunity to make the point that the ocean systems are the lifeblood of life on earth as we know it.

Look at what our quest for oil has done, and if this does not evoke a change in how we “fuel” our world then nothing will. We are ALL responsible for this. Not just BP or the oil industry or our government.  
What do you want other people to take from your story?  

There are a couple of things. I never finished college because I followed my passion and became what I guess you could call a “self-made man.” My focus was on helping animals and interpreting to the world what I knew was valuable and important about them. I never wavered from that focus because it was not a cause, it was who I was. I hope that this is a message to others, especially young people, to follow whatever it is that moves them in life.

The other thing is to love and cherish nature, its ecosystems and animals because they are our greatest teachers. I have always been in awe of nature and have always wanted people to see it and learn from it.  
How did you get involved in ocean conservation?  

From birth till I was nine years old I lived three blocks from the beach in San Francisco and my parents took me there a lot. Most of my earliest memories are about the ocean as it really was my backyard. I could always hear the waves crashing from my bedroom.

Because of my geographical location I began helping many animals that lived in and depended on the ocean. I always seem to be drawn and tied to the ocean in one way or another and I like that.

You could say that like many marine animals I was instilled with a sense of “site fidelity” like sea turtles and brown pelicans, who always come back to where they were hatched. I was raised near the shores and I ended up cherishing the creatures of the great oceans and the oceans themselves, and I discovered that we are all really interdependent.