Artist Guy Harvey urges Kravis crowd: Our ocean ecosystem is delicate

5:51 p.m Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018 Local
Guy Harvey discusses his travels, the marine wildlife he paints, and his conservation efforts, at Palm Beach State College’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) luncheon inside the Kravis Center Cohen Pavillion in West Palm Beach on February 7, 2018. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Guy Harvey spent his boyhood off the coast of Jamaica fishing with his family in a dugout canoe, a past-time that sparked a lifelong obsession with the ocean and birthed a worldwide brand.

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The ocean artist, scientist and conservationist headlined a fundraiser for the Palm Beach State College Foundation’s STEAM initiative Wednesday at the Kravis Center. The initiative provides scholarships for students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

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Harvey established an ocean research institute at Nova Southeastern University. He’s made more than a dozen conservation-oriented documentaries. He has a resort and travel company promoting the Guy Harvey brand. His t-shirts are ubiquitous throughout South Florida.

He even painted the 1,200-foot-long hull of a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. His documentaries will be shown on board.

“It’s a billboard that sails the Caribbean,” he said.

Harvey is a champion for conservation, but he’s also a self-described realist. He focuses his research on species on which there’s little data so he can educate and persuade policy-makers.

“The value that we place on living things has become so important. We try to talk about the dollar value,” he said. “It’s the only way they understand what needs to be done.”

All of that research gets expensive. Sophisticated shark tracking tags cost thousands of dollars each, Harvey said.

But those expensive gadgets revealed an interesting finding: 30 percent of the tracked Mako sharks in the western North Atlantic Ocean were killed, Harvey said. It’s caused the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to take a closer look at regulations on how many people can catch.

Mako sharks — lightning fast animals that are “predators of the predators” — tend to be over-fished anyway because they taste like swordfish, Harvey said. The findings, however, revealed the problem was much worse than expected.

The consequences: upsetting the delicate ocean ecosystem people depend on for food and threatening a multi-million eco-tourism industry, Harvey said.

Harvey became a professor of fisheries biology for a short time, but his wife-to-be encouraged him to pursue his passion for art. He decided to make a career of it after selling out at a boat show in Fort Lauderdale in 1986. He continued to expand his portfolio.

“I don’t think people who have seen the t-shirt art appreciate the variety of what I do paint,” he said.

That includes sharks and even birds. Harvey does all of his painting from animals he’s seen.

He graduated with honors in marine biology from Aberdeen University in Scotland and returned home to Jamaica to get a doctoral degree in fisheries biology from the University of the West Indies.