The current state of our ocean has been described as “the largest solvable problem on the planet,” and with organizations all over the world dedicated to combatting the various issues, the future looks increasingly optimistic. Whether conducting scientific studies, campaigning for change, or simply creating protected marine areas, organizations such as Oceana, are fighting to keep our ocean healthy. Northrop & Johnson talks to Shelley Brown, Director of Oceana’s Sailors for the Sea program, on their efforts to tackle the issues facing our ocean.
Can you describe Oceana in just one sentence?
Sailors for the Sea, powered by Oceana, is the world’s leading ocean conservation organization that engages, educates and activates the sailing and boating community toward restoring ocean health.
In your view what is the most pressing issue facing our ocean, both immediately and in the longer term?
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing our ocean. Unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are warming the planet and disrupting weather patterns, leading to flooding, melting ice, rising seas, droughts, and the devastation of ecosystems on land and at sea. The ocean is among the most effective buffers against climate change, but as more carbon is absorbed by the ocean, they become acidic, reducing their capacity for absorbing fossil fuel emissions. Oceana, along with Sailors for the Sea Powered by Oceana, is fighting climate change by protecting carbon-sequestering habitats like mangroves, seagrass beds and kelp forests, supporting sustainable fisheries that yield low-carbon seafood, and campaigning against expanded offshore oil and gas drilling. The whole yachting and boating community can take action by being cautious around sensitive marine ecosystems, exploring the use of renewable energy aboard their vessels and supporting policies that protect important habitats and marine life.
There are many organizations advocating for ocean conservation. What makes Oceana different?
Sailors for the Sea Powered by Oceana focuses on uniting the yachting community around the world to protect our ocean. Sailors for the Sea empowers individuals to make an immediate positive impact with three programs – the Green Boating Initiative, Clean Regattas and Kids Environmental Lesson Plans (KELP) – and invites everyone to be part of Oceana’s international movement to win policy victories that will restore ocean abundance and biodiversity
What more do you believe that our industry should be doing to promote ocean health?
Being inextricably connected to the ocean, the yachting industry is ideally positioned to be advocates and leaders for protecting the seas. The yachting community can see first-hand the devastating threats that our ocean faces such as plastic pollution, oil spills, depletion of marine life, and marine habitat destruction. The industry can be a strong voice supporting policies that will restore ocean health, such as reducing the production of throwaway plastics, stopping the expansion of offshore drilling and protecting marine habitats and endangered marine life.
How do you believe that we as individuals can contribute to sustain and protect our ocean?
As individuals we can use our powerful voices to help advance local and national policies that will protect our ocean, including supporting elimination of single-use plastics, preventing the expansion of offshore drilling, stopping bottom trawling and protecting fragile marine ecosystems. We can also use our consumer power to support companies that care about their environmental impact. We can lead by example by provisioning our boats properly to reduce plastic waste, ensuring we do not damage sensitive habitats with our anchors, using eco-friendly products aboard and installing renewable energy on our boats.
How has the pandemic affected your work from an operational and funding point of view?
The pandemic affected our three core programs in different ways. Firstly, recreational boating and sailing saw a surge in 2020 as people sought socially distant outdoor activities, during the pandemic. Sailors for the Sea provided resources and opportunities for the yachting community to take action to protect their waterways, including launching a new edition of our Green Boating Guide.
Our Clean Regattas program, which is the leading sustainable certification for water-based events, was significantly impacted because many events were canceled or postponed around the world. However, for events that were able to take place, the pandemic led to lots of innovation in the sailing sector, from how events were managed to developing creative ways to reduce single-use items at events. For example, to overcome travel restrictions in the Caribbean, a new event was launched with a novel racing format, in which competitors start and finish at their home-port island following the same non-stop course. Although it’s been a challenging few years, it has also been inspiring to see resilience in the sailing and boating community.
Finally, when many schools closed and children were confined to home because of the pandemic, we focused on supporting teachers and parents with our KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program. We created several new marine science activities that use simple materials and could be done from the safety of your home. We also launched an instructional video series of some of the most popular activities to help educators teach children about the ocean.
What do you look forward to achieving with Sailors for the Sea over the next 12 months?
During the pandemic, Sailors for the Sea launched the Skippers program, which is a volunteer network of local conservation leaders in sailing communities across North America. The Skippers galvanize support from their local community on issues including plastic pollution, expansion of offshore drilling, and loss of marine habitat and wildlife. These leaders have been instrumental in helping us expand our programs and are boots on the ground recruiting support for policies that will restore the health of our ocean. We have 17 Skippers in the US and Canada, and this year we are focusing on helping sailing centers and yacht clubs become plastic-free zones.
How is Oceana working to reduce plastics in the ocean?
To stop plastic from polluting our ocean, we need to reduce the production of throwaway plastics. We are fighting the plastic crisis in three ways: by campaigning for plastic-free policies, by persuading powerful companies to reduce their environmental impact and by supporting companies and organizations that are becoming plastic-free.
Is there one person/ initiative in the yachting arena that you would like to highlight here?
An exemplary role model in the sailing community is professional sailor, Dee Caffari. Through several circumnavigations, Dee has witnessed human impact on the ocean first-hand. During the 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race, Dee led the “Turn the Tide on Plastic” team that focused on increasing awareness about plastic pollution.
To learn about how you can get involved in ocean conservation and Sailors for the Sea, talk to your Northrop & Johnson expert or go to sailorsforthesea.org
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