Many yacht owners are increasingly aware they share responsibility for the health of the ocean. Leading by example, the mega yacht REV OCEAN was created by owner Kjell Inge Røkke, with a single overarching purpose and ambition: to make the oceans healthy again. When she is delivered in 2023, she will be the world’s largest research and expedition vessel (REV). Navigator talks to Nina Jensen, marine biologist and CEO of REV OCEAN, about the incredible mission this spectacular vessel is about to embark on.
The Expert: Nina Jensen
Nina Jensen joined REV OCEAN as CEO in 2018, after 15 years in WWF Norway, where she campaigned for new conservation measures in various roles until becoming Secretary-General in 2012. She holds a Master’s degree in Marine Biology from the University of Fishery Science in Tromsø, and is a board member of the Business for Peace Foundation. Nina also serves on the Advisory Board of the Global Opportunity Report and is a member of the Adjudication Committee for the Nordic Council Nature and Environment Prize, and the Expert Committee of the Thor Heeyerdahl Award.
Can you introduce REV Ocean and its mission in one sentence?
REV OCEAN is the world’s largest and most advanced research and expedition vessel designed with one purpose: to save life in the ocean. How serious are the issues faced by our planet’s oceans? N I would say the destruction of our oceans is arguably the biggest challenge faced by our planet. The ocean provides us with more than 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe, it provides an essential food source for close to two billion people and employs hundreds of millions of people. It also regulates our climate, provides inspiration, medicines and many other intangible benefits that we aren’t even factoring into the equation. It is a very serious situation and one that we have created in a nanosecond of the planet’s existence. During only my lifetime we have already lost more than 40 percent of life in the ocean and the situation is escalating. Climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution are the main culprits and these are all problems that I believe we can fix if we put our minds to it, collaborate and do the right things, now.
I understand that COVID-19 has delayed the final build stages for REV OCEAN. When will she now be delivered, and what will her maiden mission be?
Our best estimate currently is that she will be delivered in 2023. Our ambition for her maiden voyage is Pole to Pole, but it all depends on the timing of her delivery as these are very harsh environments that are only accessible, at least for now, at certain times of the year. Although now, of course, the Arctic is melting at an incredibly fast rate and soon it will be open for longer periods of the year. We will shift around our itinerary so that it still puts us in the same region. The aim is for the initiative to be a global one and REV OCEAN will be sailing to all parts of the world’s oceans, not just the Poles. We want to be bold and brave in terms of both the scientific research that we do, the solutions that we are testing, the people that we bring on board and the areas that we go to. The areas that we go to will be guided by our three thematic priorities: climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution.
REV OCEAN is also a mega yacht, so how will her time be split between these dual roles? Will the owner himself be involved and on board for some of the scientific endeavors or are these roles kept separate?
The owner is dedicated to the project and has been involved in every last detail of her development, both in terms of the construction of REV OCEAN and in the mission to find solutions to these ecological problems rather than just the facts of their existence. He will be part of all three of her operating modes: scientific research, exploration, and charter. He will be chartering the vessel at the same level as everyone else; even though REV OCEAN is his initiative, he will still pay the market price to charter REV OCEAN when he wants to use her.
The Schmidt Ocean Institute and OceanX are also doing great things in ocean conservation. Does REV OCEAN differ from these when it comes to the missions you have planned? Will you be collaborating with them?
Collaborating with such initiatives is extremely important to us. We are already working with Schmidt Ocean and a few other philanthropic research vessels. Together, we have formed The Pink Flamingo Club, which allows us to get together to share ideas on research projects, itineraries, areas of collaboration and how we can best support the U.N.’s Decade of Ocean Science, something that we are currently in the middle of. Collaborating, sharing resources, ensuring that we are not duplicating efforts and building to each other’s strengths is really important. There really is so much that needs to be achieved in order to save the oceans and there is plenty of room for all of us to contribute. When it comes to resources, the vessels are targeted differently in terms of their purpose. The OceanX has a state-of-the-art communications platform for filming and documentaries, and to my knowledge, she is the best vessel out there for this purpose. REV OCEAN will also have state-of-the-art communications facilities on board, but our primary focus is more on scientific research, and we are also a technological test platform for ocean solutions. Hopefully, we are in many ways complementary to each other.
Can you give an example of the type of scientific institutions you will invite on board to be part of the mission? How are the applicants selected?
We will hand-pick the scientists, institutions, organizations and individuals that we invite to come out with us. The first year of operations will be different to future years, though, as it will be a learning process for all of us involved. A lot of testing, fine-tuning and calibration will be done, so we will be inviting partners and friends to come out with us. At this stage we have already received more than 100 proposals for projects to undertake in the first year, which is way more than we could possibly accommodate. We have established an independent scientific committee consisting of global experts in their respective fields of fisheries, plastics and climate change to support us in the selection process. Together with our science team, they will filter through the various applications based on certain criteria, and will then put forward a recommendation in terms of which projects we should choose. The applications must contribute to REV OCEAN’s mission, be solutions-focused and be multi-disciplinary with broad diversity ( gender, age, geography). And, all the data produced by a project has to be openly shared with the scientific community.
In future years we will also have open calls for proposals that we will run together with the Research Council of Norway. They will be completely independent and objective, ensuring the scientific credibility of the entire REV OCEAN initiative.
What has the response been like from the superyacht industry? Has it been supportive?
It has been overwhelmingly supportive, and it has been really interesting to see how much positive attention this initiative has created. It has helped us learn more about the way we operate, how we can work together, share information and ultimately come together to contribute to a more sustainable ocean.In the last issue of Navigator, we interviewed a number of shipyards, including Oceanco, Heesen and Nobiskrug, all of which have built vessels with eco-friendly credentials. Do you believe the industry is moving in the right direction? Is progress fast enough or do you think they could be doing more?N They have certainly made a start and our hope is that REV OCEAN will be a source of inspiration to the superyacht industry. Reducing the environmental footprints of yachting operations and businesses, and finding positive ways in which the industry can contribute to protecting the ocean is of paramount importance. Such initiatives have to start with the owners, who should ensure their own yacht is running sustainably. From implementing basic environmental practices and initiatives in the day-to-day operations and sourcing sustainable products to switching to alternative fuels or energy sources, there are so many ways in which a yacht can be run efficiently and sustainably that also have cost-saving implications. Owners get so much joy from the ocean, being able to pay back and make a difference should be a priority.
Have you been impressed by any company or sector of the industry in particular?
I don’t know enough about the initiatives behind each company in the industry, but I can certainly say that the designer of REV OCEAN, Espen Øino, is an incredible naval architect, and he has been an integral part in integrating sustainability into the design of the vessel and of the other vessels that he is involved with. If you can integrate sustainability into the design of the yachts, then you are building this into the core of the structure. By doing this at the start you are asking the right questions and sowing the seeds for a sustainable future. I would also like to highlight the Monaco Foundation and key Monaco institutions for their sustainable yachting initiatives. We recently partnered with these prominent marine conservation organizations in an effort to jointly develop projects to combat the negative impact of climate change and plastic pollution in the ocean.
What can a yacht owner do aboard their own yacht to ensure they are as eco-friendly as possible? Do you believe a yacht can ever be really “green”?
Unfortunately, the complex logistics involved not only in the build but in the operation of a superyacht means that it can never be truly “green”. However, they can always be “greener,” and any effort is a step in the right direction. How are you mitigating the environmental impact of REV OCEAN’s build? N We have tried to integrate sustainability into all aspects of REV OCEAN’s build and operations. From the construction of the vessel, the various materials used and their sourcing, to the propulsion of the vessel, sustainability has been key in every decision. We are developing specific food programs, clothing programs and water programs to make sure that we are sourcing sustainably, that we eliminate waste and emissions and that we try to be a complete circular and waste-free system. Anything that we can’t eliminate we will offset through mangrove restoration, and we won’t have any single-use plastics on board.
What would your advice be to a yacht owner wanting to do their part in ocean conservation?
Lead by example. Look at your sustainability efforts and ensure that you are running your yacht as sustainably as possible. Even a small step, like inserting a filter in the laundry facilities, will stop microplastics from entering the ocean. Take it a step further and join initiatives such as SeaKeepers, participating in their marine conservation program and using your yacht as a platform for marine research. You could also take part in beach clean-ups, or offer your yacht to charterers looking to take part in similar programs.
What if you don’t own a yacht, can you be involved?
There are several initiatives all over the world, including programs such as the Water Revolution Foundation, that you can get involved in. There are also a number of yachts available to charter for scientific research.
As a marine biologist, how do you see the future?
I am an eternal optimist—you really need to be in this business as it can be quite depressing at times. I have always been very solutions-oriented, and I am optimistic that we can make a change. It will require hard work, a lot of money and people coming together and doing things radically different. I also believe this can be done in a fun way.
How can we ensure general society understands the impact of plastic and how important ocean conservation is? How can any of us be part of the solution?
It is quite simple. Cut out single-use plastics entirely, reduce your meat consumption and buy only sustainably caught seafood. And finally, who is your inspiration? N David Attenborough. He is so passionate and inspirational, using his knowledge to improve the state of the planet and to change the way we think, all in a positive and enthusiastic way. He appeals to everyone, no matter their age. A true icon.