This is how we empower a generation of young people to protect the ocean

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Daniela V. Fernandez, Founder and CEO, Sustainable Ocean Alliance, Member of Friends of Ocean Action

  • We need to empower a future generation of leaders to create a sustainable world with a healthy and thriving ocean.
  • Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA), a network of ocean leaders, entrepreneurs and solutionists in over 165 countries, mobilises people around a shared vision for the future, health and longevity of our ocean.
  • Solving the problems of the ocean is not only essential, but can also support economies around the globe through scalable job creation.

The coming years will define a pivotal crossroads for humanity. The health of the ocean – and the planet at large – lies in our hands. If critical change is not made expeditiously in regards to the climate crisis, the damage we have done will be irreparable. Of course, we have heard this warning before: climate change is the number one issue facing our planet today and over the coming decades. However, when thinking of the enormous size and scope of our planet and its ocean, along with the repetitive and macabre nature of all the risks surrounding the climate crisis, it seems to be a difficult warning for society to truly embrace.

How can a problem with a scope larger than human comprehension be tackled quickly and adroitly? How can we unify around the most precious resource humanity has ever known? One problem of addressing the health crisis facing our ocean has been the cast of players who are largely responsible for addressing this problem. My goal is to explain how we can empower a future generation of leaders towards a sustainable world with a healthy and thriving ocean.

A network of ocean allies

Our actions over the coming years leading up to 2030 will determine the fate of our ocean, planet and all the species who call this place home. Ocean and climate issues are talked about constantly, but are not being solved fast enough. This sector is underfunded, overlooked and oftentimes misunderstood. There are still rigid frameworks in place that don’t allow for innovation for our ocean to happen at the highest levels. And certainly not for a youth audience to participate in the larger conversation. Future-led perspectives surrounding how we want the world to operate are not being taken into consideration. And because of this, some of the most innovative ideas don’t have an opportunity to accelerate.

The genesis of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) came from my observation of this very problem. As an undergraduate at Georgetown University in 2014, I began brainstorming ideas to fast-track innovative solutions for our ocean by activating my generation. To my surprise, I realized there were no platforms that encouraged the growth and development of young leaders who wanted to dedicate their lives and professional pursuits towards this cause. And that inspired the idea of SOA.

The organization has since become the world’s largest network of ocean leaders, entrepreneurs and solutionists in over 165 countries. SOA has also launched the first Ocean Solutions Accelerator that helps fast-track some of the most innovative solutions in ocean technology. Today, SOA is enabling and mobilising people globally around a shared vision for the future, health and longevity of our ocean. By creating and fostering a network of ocean advocates, entrepreneurs, scientific experts and other key players, we have been able to leverage one another’s strengths, and make a task as daunting as healing the entire planet much more actionable. Those who join our network of ocean allies are able to either add their strength to the pre-existing network, or pitch new ideas and concepts – for-profit and nonprofit – to expand the roster of solutions.

The blue economy

Beyond merely creating this network of ocean allies, there’s the need to utilise its members to contribute to the blue economy – which essentially pairs ecological, sustainability and environmental concepts with economic ones. How can we create jobs and economically viable ocean solutions? As much as climate change is a crucial issue, finding ways for enacting change to fall into profitable and economically feasible business models only adds incentives to the development of ideas. Some of the focus areas that fall under the umbrella of the blue economy include renewable energy research, ecotourism, climate change research, sustainable fisheries, waste management resources, decarbonising maritime transportation, and circular economy manufacturing.

To date, the effects of climate change are so far-reaching that they have left not one corner of the world’s ocean unaffected. Human interference has devastated the balance of our world. However, with this damage comes a multitude of opportunities to create new work and jobs in the fields that can correct it. For example, within the shipping industry there is work to be done in decarbonisation and creating greener transportation. The scope and toll of plastic waste spreading through our ocean – including a literal plastic “continent” in the Pacific, three times the size of France – needs to be corrected, and quickly. Not to mention that the ocean is an irreplaceable resource for humanity and all life on earth, yet we know even less about it than the depths of outer space. Ocean research and a better understanding of the vast majority of the planet is paramount to ensure our survival. Solving these problems is not only essential, but can additionally support economies around the globe through scalable job creation.

When considering ocean health and sustainability, there is more to it than the network of solutionists and the concepts that fall into the blue economy. For the future generation of ocean allies, it’s going to ultimately require an enormous amount of hard work and, most importantly, the right attitude. It requires a mindset that says “I can”, no matter what we are up against. It requires the courage to keep working and moving forward, even when people around you might be saying that your goal is too outlandish or ambitious. It requires an attitude of grit and tenacity.

Those who are devoted to actionable change can never lose sight of their core mission – and believe in diligently working towards it each and every day. By surrounding oneself with the right group of team members, partners, mentors and friends, keeping this mindset and level of ambitiousness alive is all the more possible. This is not to disregard the importance of collaboration in the work and fields surrounding ocean health and sustainability. Solving these enormous problems will require collaborative efforts that span industries, governments and borders. Not one living creature on this planet is unaffected by climate change, and because of that, connectivity is what will save us. It’s about fostering a network of those who will encourage and believe in the vision of a healthier ocean and planet.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

Our ocean covers 70% of the world’s surface and accounts for 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. We can’t have a healthy future without a healthy ocean – but it’s more vulnerable than ever because of climate change and pollution.

Tackling the grave threats to our ocean means working with leaders across sectors, from business to government to academia.

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute, convenes the Friends of Ocean Action, a coalition of leaders working together to protect the seas. From a programme with the Indonesian government to cut plastic waste entering the sea to a global plan to track illegal fishing, the Friends are pushing for new solutions.

Climate change is an inextricable part of the threat to our oceans, with rising temperatures and acidification disrupting fragile ecosystems. The Forum runs a number of initiatives to support the shift to a low-carbon economy, including hosting the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, who have cut emissions in their companies by 9%.

Is your organization interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

Supporting future generations’ enthusiasm towards ocean health goes beyond the business models or the economically feasible solutions. The players involved need to live and act towards their dreams passionately every day. It’s ultimately about helping our next generation of thinkers create impact-driven businesses and solutions. Because when your work has a larger purpose devoted towards the greater good, you’ll never really work a day in your life.

In order to build momentum on this critical issue and cement our investment in the future of the ocean, Sustainable Ocean Alliance and the World Economic Forum’s Friends of Ocean Action will be launching an Ocean Health Youth Council, which will bring together selected youth leaders in ocean health and members of the Friends of Ocean Action.

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