Today marks World Oceans Day, a global celebration of the blue planet that connects us all.
For as long as humans have existed, we have relied on oceans to sustain life on earth. Our marine ecosystem is responsible for generating most of the oxygen we breath, regulating our climate, providing much of the world with a vital food source and a pharmacopoeia of potential medicines. Also, oceans offer us endless inspiration. Today 95% of oceans remain unexplored. In a world where you can Google everything, oceans remain a rare place of mystery.
The great ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau wrote in his 1980, Bill of rights for future generations; “Why should we preserve a livable planet if not for our children and grandchildren?” Cousteau did more than anyone to bring the beauty of the ocean to our TV screens, raising global awareness about the need to preserve the oceans and inspiring a whole generation of ocean conservationists.
Recently, I was part of a small group of conservationists, academics, authors and communication professionals, who came together for a workshop to discuss creating a new optimistic narrative to inspire the next wave of enthusiasm to protect our oceans.
Our oceans are under huge environmental stresses due to growing world population, overfishing and pollution caused by rampant consumerism. The marine environment faces an unprecedented challenge in withstanding the impacts of climate change. With politicians and major corporations still a long way off tackling the problem, it is falling upon those who will be first affected by these challenges.
Conservationists and communities around the world are working together to not only support the marine environment in recovery, but create livelihoods for those that depend on it for their daily survival.
On the shores of the Danajon Bank in the central Philippines, one of only six double barrier reefs in the world, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has established a project called Net-Works in an innovative cross-sector initiative designed to tackle the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities. Discarded fishing gear is a major global issue causing damage to marine ecosystems, as well as to the people and industries that depend on healthy seas. ZSL has ambitious goals to become a major supplier of fishing nets for its partner Interface. The company will use the nets as recycled content in its carpet tiles. Last month, Net-Works shipped the first full 40ft container of nets from the Philippines.
The collection and sale of nets provides a valuable additional source of income for community members. The project aims for each collection site to gather 200kg of nets a month. Currently on average a family can collect 2.5kg of nets. With this additional income a family can purchase 1kg of rice, equating to 4,800 extra meals per village annually on the tables of poor families.
Cross the Pacific in Chile, where Bureo design and produce fish shaped skateboards, working with Chile’s first fish net collection and recycling programme, Net Positiva, which provides fisherman with environmentally sound disposal points. This enables ethically conscious consumers to support recycling development and job growth for local inhabitants.
These examples demonstrate the increasing collaboration between business and conservation groups to preserve the oceans. By educating local communities on the importance of conservation and providing them with the infrastructure required to preserve their surroundings, communities in the Philippines and Chile are starting to feel the benefits of business, science and local people working together.
For me scuba diving in Australia and Thailand changed the way I viewed the world forever. It opened my eyes to the impacts of climate change and from then on I wanted to help preserve the oceans in whatever way I could.
The oceans are in need. For thousands of years they have looked after us; we now need to look after them. We need to tell our stories, champion the projects around the world that inspire us and where possible get out there ourselves and create our own projects to make a livable planet for our children and grandchildren a reality.
Damien Clarkson is an environmentalist and runs the communications agency The People Like You. He tweets @damienclarkson to and urges you to tell a friend about your ocean story, either in person, by email or on social media using the hashtags #WorldOceansDay and #OceanOptimism
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