Carmen Danae Azor’s “environmental ARTivism” (art and activism), as she calls it, crystallized as a passion in her twenties—soon after the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was published.
She returned home to Samaná, Dominican Republic, and visited a favorite, remote beach (Playa Rincon) she’d remembered as pristine. The pale sands were littered with soda bottles, candy wrappers, tiny Styrofoam pieces, and cigarette butts.
Carmen considers Mallorca and the Dominican Republic her two true homes. Roaming the Dominican Republic beaches and spotting octopuses in the coves in Mallorca inspired a lifelong fascination with water and wildlife. As a child, Carmen moved every few years to a new country—Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay—with her father, a diplomat from Spain, and her mother, a model from the Dominican Republic, before going to college for art and film in California.
There, she started a local chapter of Parley for the Oceans, an arts-centric environmental organization focused on the ocean and plastic pollution. She collaborated with governmental ministries and a local network to partner on a series of over 200 beach cleanups and recycling opportunities, coral reef driftnet removals, mangrove reforestation, and an ongoing fishers-led plastic interception in national parks.
Carmen uses photography and video to communicate about the ocean she loves. For one project, Carmen went on a two-week Parley expedition intended to gather whale DNA from the mucus exhaled by humpbacks when surfacing in the Samaná Bay. Over the course of two weeks, Carmen used a hydrophone to record hours of underwater whale song.
She then combined the songs with selections from a 1970 album called Songs of the Humpback Whale by Dr. Roger Payne, who helped launch the Save the Whales movement. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Wind Ensemble traveled to the Dominican Republic to play the resulting piece, “In Praise of the Humpback,” live at the Santo Domingo National Conservatory of Music. Three weeks later, the work was premiered and introduced by Dr. Payne at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium for MITWE’s 20th anniversary.
The peril of plastic
In July 2018, Carmen bore witness to what she refers to as “ecocide,” or ecosystem destruction that is committed with knowledge of the risks. Her videos of plastic waves crashing into Montesinos beach have been viewed by over 30 million people around the world, and can also be seen in the film Aquaman.
Today, Carmen is deeply involved in advocating for a ban on single-use plastic.
Carmen believes that “we’re in a battle against greed.” Both U.S.- and Canada-based oil companies extract raw material from lower income destinations, she notes, “over-exploiting resources while damaging the local public health and ecosystems.” These actions are a chief threat to oceans, Carmen states, and in numerous ways: drilling-related air and water contamination, fossil-fuel-based plastics, and underwater sound pollution that interferes with mammal communication.
Companies do things in small island developing states (SIDS) that would never be permitted—by the government or the people—within their own country’s boundaries. For example, one Canadian company has been awarded an oil exploration contract in a Dominican marine mammal sanctuary and marine protected area.
Standing up to the status quo
“If we continue with business as usual, we’ll face 3 to 5 degrees in warming by the end of the century and lose 90 percent of coral reefs,” says Carmen. “Eventually, oceans could be functionally dead, unable to hold life and soak up the vast amounts of carbon we’re emitting.”
Many women are involved in the fight for preservation in the Dominican Republic, and Carmen believes their strength will soon be felt worldwide. Millions of women live near the ocean, and we need to shift from the idea that “fishermen and conservationists are only men,” she says—and empower women to claim seats at the decision-making table to contribute to real solutions.
One thing Jacques Cousteau never had to deal with? Online trolls. After her photo of plastic polluting a scenic beach in the Lower Yuna Mangrove National Park won a British Vogue photo competition in 2020, Carmen was the recipient of racist and sexist harassment, even death threats.
“I’m not scared,” she says, her voice strong. “I’ll continue to share the truth whether they like it or not.”