Developing Strategic Alliances between industry, regulators, conservation groups and educators to save the seas
WT Interview with Carleen Lyden Walker, Co-Founder & Executive Director of NAMEPA
“The overall aim of a marine environment protection association (MEPA) is to increase environmental awareness and motivation of people within shipping and land-based industries, and the wider public-school community, through cooperation with international organizations and the adoption of public awareness campaigns respectively.”--
North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA)
In her office, Carleen Lyden Walker, Co-Founder & Executive Director of NAMEPA, displays the quilt that raised half a million dollars to fund the hosting of World Maritime Day 2009 in the US. A second quilt hangs on the wall at IMO (International Maritime Organization) in London, and the third at USCG Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Walker is also Chief Evolution Officer of SHIPPINGInsight; Maritime Ambassador to IMO (International Marine Organization); Founder & Executive Director for International Maritime Heritage; a member of WISTA (Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association); a member of Tall Ships America and has held a USGS Captain’s licence. - Photo courtesy Carleen Lyden Walker taken on International Women’s Day 2022
Carleen Lyden Walker spoke with WaterToday about the work she tirelessly and graciously performs daily to “Save The Seas”. The interview has been lightly edited for brevity
WT: In your 40-year career, bringing a feminine influence to a male-dominated industry, you have accomplished a great deal. Among your many awards, you have been recognized globally amongst the “Top 100 Women in Shipping For 2021”. What was the impetus behind founding your company NAMEPA (North American Marine Environment Protection Association)?
Walker: With a degree from Wellesley College in history, political science, and economics, I also had an interest in international relations. My career started with more of a commercial/ corporate focus.
In 2006, while in Greece speaking at a MEPA (Marine Environment Protection Association) conference, I realized there was no MEPA in North America because of the vastness that ‘no one could wrap their arms around'.
WT: It became a challenge you couldn’t resist?
Walker: Also, I knew of the frustration within the shipping industry for not being recognized in a positive light.
Shipping tends to be a nameless faceless entity with a bad rap because there is no direct pipeline to environmental groups. I recognized that NAMEPA could be that portal -- and we have become that portal working with conservation groups, industry, regulators, educators, and seafarers to improve our operational practices. We also look at the net environmental impact on all stakeholders -- fishing communities, recreational boating communities, commercial maritime communities, cable companies – to see opportunities and challenges. That’s a lot of what NAMEPA does.
WT: Your bio for SHIPPINGInsight quotes you saying "We are all in this profound period together.” The company is committed to facilitating the accelerated pace of change in the maritime sector. Tell us a little more.
Walker: SHIPPINGInsight entered the picture 12 years ago when I helped with the start-up in order to understand the technology piece. Then 5 years ago I purchased the company as a way to take technology into the maritime realm, bringing and building a community of shipowners, operators, managers and charterers with solution providers. It is there to mutually benefit global society.
WT: As Founder and Executive Director of International Maritime Heritage you have said, “Rediscovering the past allows us to collectively better navigate a sustainable future.”
Walker: People have a fascination for shipwrecks. That past continues in our present. Bulk shipping has not changed in millennia – the history that people are fascinated with is still very active today.
WT: The “sustainable future” piece is something that IMO supports. You are an IMO Maritime Ambassador. Please tell us about that.
Walker: The International Maritime Organization is the entity that the UN has created as a specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships.
In terms of decarbonization, what I found exciting when I was at the recent COP 26 in Glasgow, was seeing my industry pivot to 0% by 2050. Part of that is zero-emission technology. We need to go there. We have a responsibility to go there.
The shipping industry transports 90% of the world's goods and contributes 2.8% of GHG into the atmosphere so it still is the most environmentally efficient way of transporting goods, but we know we have to do better.
WT: WaterToday recently published an interviewon shipping by sail, and 2021-2030 has been declared as the Decade of Wind Propulsion. Are there any companies in North America that are on board with building wind propulsion vessels for trans-Atlantic cargo?
Walker: Coincidentally I just received word that one company, headquartered here in New York, has just received funding for a project that will convert wind into clean shipping. So, it does look promising!
WT: As a Mom and a “Gramma” you have the inside track with today’s youth. How are you working that instinctive knowing and connecting it to all your endeavors in your outreach?
Walker: NAMEPA has created a whole suite of educational materials for K-12 and post-collegiate. We are often in the field with our educational materials, doing a lot of beach clean-ups with kids and are constantly trying to get kids to make that connection with the ocean, the rivers, and lakes.
Recently I was at a local university talking about the role of shipping in a global society and what shipping is doing to mitigate its impact on the oceans. It resulted in them becoming a NAMEPA chapter.
I am also on the board of Northeast Maritime Institute and on the board of the Baltimore Harbor School and was on the Board of the New York Harbor School.
WT: Your journey is so fascinating. You have been described as having “fresh water, salt water, and passion coursing through your veins in equal parts.” Please describe the journey that brought you to the maritime industry.
Walker: I always had an affinity for water. Growing up in Grosse Ille, Michigan-- about a mile from Canada, where the Detroit River meets Lake Erie-- my first boating experience at age 3 was in my dad’s aluminum fishing boat. By the time I was 13, I began my competitive racing career.
Watching the ships going up and down the river was extraordinarily intriguing as I imagined the destination of those on board and the cargo of the commercial vessels. At that time, the Detroit River was the world’s second busiest waterway.
(The Suez Canal was the busiest).
The saltwater affinity came with a move to New York and a job in advertising. My passion for shipping led me to a cruise line in 1992, and then on to the blue water commercial shipping industry which is my passion and where I remain.
In 1995, as a single mom needing the means to put a roof over our heads and food on the table, I started my own company in the maritime industry, where I have been ever since.
Understanding that shipping is the engine of global trade is what drives my passion.
I learned fairly quickly that the shipping industry allows the world to revolve. More than 90 % of the world’s goods and energy are transported by ship. It was easy for me to take a look at the world headlines and make that instant switch as to the impact on shipping and global trade and vice versa.
Being at the center of global society is extraordinary. You can’t be more in the center than in shipping! That connection between shipping and the value it brings to global society is what ignites my passion for my work.
Another role model is The Unsinkable Molly Brown. She survived the Titanic and saved others.
WT: What changes have you seen in the shipping industry since the ’70s?
Walker: Not as many as I would like. Most of the women are in administrative roles. It was only just in the ’70s that women were allowed into the maritime academies. Only about 1.5-2 % are mariners. We need to get women on vessels and I think that will shape and change the future of shipping in a creative way.
WT: Is there something wildly creative and outside of the box that you have done in your career?
Walker: In 2007 I was with the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London when he suggested the US be the host of the World Maritime Day. Under the Obama administration, there was also a desire to become an international partner. I was appointed to run it.
In 2008 – the year of the financial crash -- I had to raise a half a million dollars which was a problem with everyone struggling. I thought of a quilt and was able to raise the money by selling patches to men in the industry.
As luck would have it there was a quilting bee in my hometown that was thrilled to be part of this international effort. They stitched together the patches for three quilts – one hangs in the IMO office in London, another in Washington at USCG Headquarters, and one in my office.
What’s really funny is these guys just threw up their hands and told me ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, but here’s the money. Now when they go into the office in London or the office in Washington they proudly point to the quilt and say ‘There’s my logo.’
WT: Going back to your comment that “Shipping is the engine of global trade”, do you think the American public grasps that?
Walker: Absolutely not. A lot of the work I do is to help people recognize that The United States is the largest trade nation in the world. The percentage of U.S. flagships that bring in all of our imports is a mere 0.4%.
In other words, 99.6% of all goods and energy that come into the United States come in on foreign flagships. That is a matter of national security.
One project I am working on is establishing a second Registry for the United States in order to increase the volume of cargo going in and out of the U.S. on U.S. flags. The U.S. was a very large registry after WWII but it has now demised to 0.4%.
I am working on a strong U.S. merchant flag – The U.S. Virgin Island Flag.
WT: Any last thoughts for our viewers to ponder?
Walker: Giving underserved populations a view into the shipping industry has a profoundly transformative impact on the trajectory of their lives.
The late Congressman Elijah Cummings once said in a keynote address in Baltimore, “If they can’t see it, they can't dream it.”
The world of underserved populations is so small. Even though they have a port, they don’t know they have a port, much less a portal to the rest of the world. Introducing them to the shipping industry and the opportunities within that industry can transform lives and remove a lot of kids from unfortunate circumstances.
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