Glenn Close Talks Seafood, Swimming With Sharks And Saving The Planet

To help fulfill 2009 TED Prize winner Sylvia Earle's wish to create a global network of marine protected areas, TED held a five-day conference aboard a ship in the Galapagos, called Mission Blue, bringing together scientists, leaders, artists, concerned citizens and philanthropists to educate them about the problems facing our oceans and develop concrete solutions and plans of action. In this exclusive interview, Glenn Close talks about swimming with sharks, why she won't eat shrimp, and how people destroying the planet makes her furious.

Katherine Goldstein: What made you want to come to Sylvia Earle's Mission Blue Conference?

Glenn Close: I was at TED when she made her wish in 2009 and met her there. When this opportunity came along to travel with her to the Galapagos, where I've never been, I thought, 'what an incredible opportunity.'

KG: What's the most surprising thing you've learned or experienced on the trip?

GC: I saw the documentary, 'The End Of The Line,' which is shocking, so I've been aware of the state of our fisheries, [which people have expanded on at the conference].

Three things have really stood out about the experience. We went scuba diving on Golden Rock -- we were clinging to part of a volcano and out of the blue we saw 22 sharks whiz by above us. Second, we followed an orca for about an hour in a little boat. To be that close to a whale was wondrous. We even saw him feeding on a sea turtle. Third, after a scuba dive with Sylvia, where we'd been just hovering over a ray, just observing what it was eating, Sylvia then said to me, the sand at the bottom of the ocean is as rich and varied as the bottom of the rainforest. That's stunning - that's one thing I would have never, ever known.

(photo via TED/James Duncan Davidson)

KG: You are a passionate animal lover, having a site, fetchdog.com, that focuses on dogs. So many people are passionate about pets -- do you think there's a way to harness that interest to get people more passionate about the environment?

GC: I think every pet lover has an appreciation for nature -- I've never met an animal lover who didn't have some kind of connection to the natural world. I think having pets helps sensitize people to the natural world. I grew up with a house full of dogs. My mother was a great nature lover and taught us to have almost a religious sense of respect for the natural world.

KG: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about the oceans?

GC: People think that the ocean is big enough to sustain anything we throw at it -- its hard to get into your head that it's actually finite.

KG: Has this conference changed how you think about seafood?

GC: Absolutely, I'm only going to [eat certain kinds of] farmed fish. When you learn how much bycatch comes from shrimp [and how destructive it is] -- I'm not going to eat shrimp anymore.

KG: Do you have any advice for people who want to know what they can do or to learn more about the oceans?

GC: I'd definitely recommend checking out the Mission Blue website to learn about Sylvia and her work. I'd also recommend making oceans a destination point, just to experience it and familiarize yourself with it-- try swimming, try scuba diving. I'm not a natural ocean person. I married into a family of swimmers, and I've slowly been drawn into the sea.

KG: What are you hoping will come out this Mission Blue conference?

GC: I used to feel hope was easy. I've found myself getting more and more cynical about what's happening to the planet -- it makes me furious. What I'm hoping that will come out of this Mission Blue gathering is that the people here who care passionately can make a difference with some practical solutions. It takes a messiah like Sylvia to wake people up -- it's certainly a beginning.