Les Gallagher, Azores
Interview conducted in Horta, Faial Island, Azores
After listening to Sara and George, the two fish biologist name marine species, I desired to better educate myself on the fishes of the Azorean waters. Parrot fish and wrasse not longer sufficient to describe the beautiful marine life I had encountered snorkeling the islands shorelines. As I walked up the hill from port I saw a store called Oceanic with posters of Marine life.
The owner of the store and creator of these stunning images was Les Gallagher. He also created the beautiful and reasonably priced laminated cards of marine and avian species of the Azores. Les enjoyed sharing his knowledge of the history of the building which housed Oceanic. His words follow.
What is your favorite part of living in Horta?
I enjoy the proximity to nature and marine life. The people here are close to nature, they know where their things come from. They catch their own fish, grow their own food, and harvest their own wood. It is a great social climate. Horta is a meeting place for researchers, naturalists and educators. The whole community is striving to turn the Azores into a model for sustainable tourism. Since it is a tiny island, researchers and fisherman hand out in the same bars so the science trickles down to the local producers and consumers quickly.
What is your least favorite part of living in Horta?
It gets a little quiet in January and February. Fisherman can’t get out and the fields are too wet for farmers to farm. Not being able to interact with the earth seems one of the few sources of stress here. It creates a sort of social lull.
Do you see changes to the natural world in Horta?
I am seeing changes to some of the dominant fish species in the area. For example,the dominant species of sea bream has changed recently but changes are going on all the time. These may simply be the normal ebb an flow of populations. We are not too impacted by climate change. I have been here 33 years and there are always annual changes. We have had hurricanes here before but the difference is that this one was nearby, 50 miles off shore.
Is there anything you would like to ask or tell me?
We are working to build a Marine Interpretation Centre here in Horta. The goal is to educate people about the beauty of the sea. Fish to most people is the picture of the meat portion they see on plastic packaging. Producers do not want us to see them as living organisms. We see land mammals care for their young and we feel compassionate but very few people see fish in their natural environment. When taken out of the water they loose there color in seconds and do not look alive. The goal is to create a collection of images so that people can see their beauty as opposed to seeing them as food on plate. The ocean is the worlds greatest resource. Billions of people rely on its fishes for food. We want to educate people and one goal is to encourage consumers to take a closer look. Any topic that relates to issues facing the oceans we would entertain. Would you like to give a talk about your work?
Les went on to talk about the history of the building which housed Oceanic. I was built by John Bass Dabney, A US Consul to the Azores. Later it housed Western Union as they installed trans-Atlantic cables, and then the office of Pan Am during the days of the “Yankee Clippers”. The building was full of American history. Captain Bruce loves history and I need to bring him here and show him this place.
I would described Les creative who has evolved into a conscientious capitalist. He seemed to be a person striving to build sustainable opportunities within his community. The world needs realists like Les who create opportunities for employment that are sustainable and local people take pride in.
Captain Bruce, Judy and I returned to Oceanic to talk to Les. Judy read his publication, “Oceanic Marine life of the Azores” and decided to buy a copy for her grandchildren. She also purchased his 8 pack of drawing with the intent of laminating them for educational plate mats for the dinner table. Les again was generous with his time and spend over an hour showing the crew his painstaking restoration of the building. He was making excellent use of recycled building materials to create stunning furniture and in bar that occupied the building. If you are in Horta, I would recommend a visit to Oceanic.