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Shorewood native sea-ing big picture

Amelia Vorpahl aims to protect world's oceans, inhabitants

Oct. 17, 2012

Shorewood - Lake Michigan has been many things to Amelia Vorpahl. A playground. A muse. A big blue expanse four blocks away from her parents' home on Farwell Avenue, and a window into the world of sights and sounds and creatures she loved as a child and came to protect as an adult.

"Every little kid probably goes through a dolphin and whale phase," she says, laughing. "I guess that never really left for me. Now I get to work on it."

Two years after graduating the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in journalism and international studies, Vorpahl heads the responsible fishing campaign at Oceana, the world's largest ocean conservation advocacy group, headquartered in Washington, D.C.

She works to provide protections for species like sharks, sea turtles and coral, to keep certain species from becoming "bycatch" in the dragnets of enormous ocean trawlers, to stop seafood fraud, which can result in overcharging for and endangering certain types of ocean life as a result of mislabeling.

By placing stories in publications like The Boston Globe and The New York Times, and directing public advocacy efforts by Oceana's celebrity endorsers, Vorpahl drums up awareness for the cause.

That awareness, she says, is the first of many steps toward policy changes and a better use of the world's resources.

"What we're working on isn't just some abstract campaign to impact a pod of whales out in the ocean," Vorpahl says. "It's the stuff that affects you economically, the stuff that affects the health of the entire world, and that's going to affect you one way or another. It has a lot of impact on regular people."

Regular people, Vorpahl increasingly needs to remind her friends and family, is a group to which she belongs.

She admits to being a little star-struck the first few times she saw politicians going about their business around the nation's capitol, though her familiarity has kept pace with her exposure to the new environment.

"You kind of get used to it, and don't notice it," she says, "until people come and point it out to you."

Those snapshots of reality help to remind her of who she was before she set out to work on the world's problems and defend its oceans.

A girl who grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan.

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