Two Innovative Approaches to Ocean Activism Arrive When They Are Much Needed

BY RP Siegel

Aug 24th 2020

“Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume,” Sylvia Earle, marine biologist and author, said in her book The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One. But why have we treated the ocean so badly?

Pesticide and fertilizer runoff, overfishing, and the ever-growing ocean garbage patches and associated microplastics, all threaten marine life survival—a primary protein source for 3 billion people worldwide. Sea level rise due to global warming could displace 187 million people by 2100.

Despite the danger they pose, these issues receive surprisingly little mainstream attention. But some people are working to change that. Nonprofit groups are finding unique ways to raise awareness and take action on ocean sustainability. Here’s what two organizations in California are doing to ensure the future of our ocean is more sustainable—and left in capable hands.

Empowering a New Generation of Ocean Activists

Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) in San Francisco is looking to empower a new generation of environmental solutionists, giving them the education, resources, and mentorship they need to become leaders who can make a real impact on our ocean.

“We have given young people a seat at the table and they are ready to act,” says Daniela Fernandez, Founder and CEO.

“We have given young people a seat at the table and they are ready to act.”

—Daniela Fernandez, Founder and CEO of Sustainable Ocean Alliance

SOA includes an Oceans Solutions Accelerator. The program provides guidance and resources to startups focused on improving the health of the ocean, including coaching from mentors and an initial $25,000 funding round. The first two cohorts included manufacturers of wave energy converters, materials for wastewater cleanup, bioplastic from seaweed, smart fishing gear, and waste diversion, among many others.

SOA also operates a leadership program that aims to build an elite community of “ocean change-makers.” Participants receive microgrants, mentoring, and networking opportunities to help them become leaders who will influence development of a new blueprint for a sustainable future.

Unlike past generations, which Fernandez says have prioritized profit over planet, she believes the young leaders being cultivated by SOA will use their leadership skills to change the course of history.

“We have seen active mobilization, passion, and commitment from our young leaders, and we are confident that they will be spearheading the next wave of impactful action in preservation of our ocean and planet,” says Fernandez.

Photo of kelp restoration courtesy of The Bay Foundation, project partner of SeaTrees.

Lifestyle Changes to Support Ocean Health

While SOA invests in the ocean sustainability leaders of the future, another organization inspires consumers to focus on their lifestyles.

“We all want to protect what we love, but sometimes the best solutions are not obvious,” says Kevin Whilden, executive director and co-founder of the nonprofit Sustainable Surf in Manhattan Beach, California. A longtime surfing enthusiast, Whilden recognized the potential for surfing to provide a launchpad for climate action. When people understand how climate change affects their passion, they’re primed to become equally as passionate about taking action.

“We all want to protect what we love, but sometimes the best solutions are not obvious.”

—Kevin Whilden, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Sustainable Surf

Sustainable Surf was founded in 2011 around the idea of an “ocean positive” lifestyle—one rooted in consumer choices that benefit oceans. “We’re trying to find the strategies that allow a new vision where everybody who surfs or is related to surfing can find a better way of taking care of our planet,” Whilden says.

In addition to educating and inspiring people to make lifestyle changes, Sustainable Surf’s efforts include certifying surfboards made from sustainable materials as Ecoboards and ocean conservation projects under the banner of SeaTrees.

SeaTrees is an innovative program that rethinks the way people can invest in the health of our oceans and reduce the impact of climate change. The program gives individuals and organizations the chance to financially support “blue carbon projects” that regenerate coastal ecosystems and create jobs. These include planting marine life like kelp forests, which sequester over 600 million tons of carbon each year globally, and mangroves, which protect shorelines from erosion.

“Nature’s best climate change fighting tool are plants,” says Whilden. “By being stewards of nature, and protecting and restoring ecosystems that naturally sequester carbon, whether it’s on land or in the ocean, we can actually take out much of the CO2 we’ve emitted and reverse climate change.”

Making a Meaningful Global Impact

Though relatively new, both of these organizations are having a measurable impact. One team of SOA Ocean Leaders received a $150,000 grant to implement sustainable aquaculture in Gambia and Kenya, to cultivate both seaweed and sea cucumbers. Meanwhile, CalWave Power, a member of the 2018 accelerator cohort, has received three multimillion dollar grants for the US Department of Energy to commercialize their technology. SafetyNet, another accelerator member, received $1.5 million to scale up efforts to reduce bycatch in European fisheries.

Since 2012, Sustainable Surf has been certifying Ecoboards, including some built from waste packaging. They are also engaged in a major SeaTrees effort on Biak Island, Indonesia, with a goal to plant 5 million mangrove trees.

And they’re both just getting started. By partnering with and empowering a generation of young consumers and leaders, both Sustainable Surf and Sustainable Ocean Alliance hope that a better future for our oceans isn’t just possible, it’s coming.

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