In the Sheperd’s flock

Chief Mate Lexi Marsh navigating. Picture: Tara Lambourne/ Sea Shepherd.

By Elissa Friday

Fighting illegal fishing on the high seas is along way from operating a vegan market in Geelong. But ELISSA FRIDAY discovers a local who combines both in her passion for animals and the environment.

A passion for animal welfare and the environment has taken Lexi Marsh from suburban Newcomb to adventures on the high seas with world-renowned marine activists.

As a member of Sea Shepherd Australia, she volunteers to protect marine life from illegal fishing, often on some of the world’s roughest and most-dangerous waters.

Lexi first joined the renowned crew of animal activists after taking a break from her day job as an event manager in Melbourne.

“I escaped the concrete jungle,” she says.

“Now I’ve travelled all over the world with Sea Shepard, fighting for marine wildlife and eco-systems.”

With previous sailing experience and a love of the ocean and animals, Sea Shepherd was a perfect fit for now-committed vegan Lexi.

A resistance to sea-sickness also helped, she admits.

“It means I can do a lot of sailing.

“Over my sailing career, a lot of which has been with Sea Shepherd, I’ve spent 825 days on board and sailed 56,000 nautical miles.“

Lexi’s first experience with Sea Shepherd opened her eyes to the suffering of marine animals

“I couldn’t go back,” she declares.

“We see the fish getting treated so badly, and you just wouldn’t eat seafood after seeing what we’ve seen.

“I wasn’t vegan when I joined sea Shepherd at 33 years of age. You don’t have to be vegan to join but the vegan food they do serve on board is incredible.“

Sea Shepherd’s online mission statement describes the group as a not-for-profit “conservation organisation whose mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species”.

The organisation describes its Australian branch as utilising “innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas”.

“By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately balanced oceanic ecosystems, Sea Shephard works to ensure their survival for future generations,“ the mission statement says.

Lexi shares Sea Shepherd’s commitment to marine life.

“It gives me a purpose while I’m out there. I don’t want to just cruise the ocean while the ocean’s suffering.“

Lexi initially joined Sea Shepherd’s tall ship as a quartermaster on the bridge but trained as an officer for the next campaign while acting as navigator for eight hours a day.

“The bridge is control centre of the ship, where all the equipment is,” she explains.

“It’s where all of the AI (automatic identification system) is to search for illegal vessels, and it’s where we plan our strategies to achieve our mission targets.

“The bridge is where we call a meeting and decide collectively if we’re going to approach a vessel and how.”

Intercepting boats fishing illegally on the ocean open is a team effort, Lexi says.

“We send two small boats off the ship, our fast boast.

“One of the small boats has the coast guard on board, and they’re armed with AK47s. On the second we send the fisheries (officers) and Sea Shepherd inspection crew.”

Now a first mate during her stints with Sea Shepherd, Lexi works from midnight to 4am, then midday to 4pm while also fulfilling managerial ship duties in between.

“Eating, sleeping, excising and socialising have to fit in too, somehow,“ she laughs.

Lexi is thrilled to roam the ocean with 25 other “really passionate” crew members of varying ages from countries all over the world.

“We’re putting our lives at risk for what we’re passionate about.

“It does have an element of danger in regards to approaching and boarding illegal fishing vessels.

“I’ve now been on seven campaigns, each with a different focus, but, basically, our mission with all of the campaigns is to defend, conserve, and protect our oceans and all marine wildlife.“

Lexi’s missions have ranged from chasing a drift-net vessel all the way to China to intercepting vessels fishing illegally off Antarctica and across the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

“We work with governments so we can together patrol their waters so they can make the arrests,” she explains.

“If a vessel is deemed illegal, several soldiers remain on board and then the Sea Shepard ship escorts the illegal ship back to port where arrests are made.“

But it’s not all life at sea for Lexi. Back on land she joins forces in a market with “bestie” Krista Belle, now also a “passionate vegan” for over five years.

“She set up the market, called Geelong Vegan Lifestyle market, in December 2017 and now it has over 30 stalls,” Lexi says.

“Sea Shepherd’s one of our market’s not-for-profit partners, which allows me to combine my two passions.”

While emphasise she’s not speaking on Sea Shepherd’s behalf but still recommends the organisation to prospective volunteers.

“The ship’s always looking for volunteers. It’s an incredible experience where you get to live out your passions.

“It’s life-changing, awe-inspiring, and I learn so much about myself and the oceans without a doubt every time.

“The sense of satisfaction you get from that is out if this world.”