As the ocean warms, weather and seasons are becoming more erratic. Without the right weather, ultimately crops fail and we won’t be able to produce food.
The sea’s algae (seaweed) like kelp and flowering plants like seagrass also produce 50% of the atmosphere’s oxygen. That’s every second breath each of us, anywhere, takes.
One message that came through strongly from the Sea 7 sessions was that this isn’t just an issue for coastal communities to suffer from or take responsibility for. We’re all using the ocean as a world waste disposal site allowing our rubbish, from plastic bottles to fertilisers to toxic waste, to be swept into the ocean upsetting the fragile equilibrium of vital ecosystems. “We have to get out of our silos, humble ourselves,” says Nick Hounsfield, chair of Surf England, and founder of The Wave, a 180m long man-made lake on a farm in Bristol, that uses cool technology to bring the experience of surfing inland.
Everything that happens on the land, whether in inland cities, or landlocked farms, or up a mountain, ends up in the ocean, because of the way drains and river systems work, always heading out to sea. Cleaning a beach won’t save the ocean – not getting the plastics there in the first place is key – and the same goes for pollution. “Blue health” practitioners and Marine Social Scientists, like ex-competitive surfer Dr Easkey Britton, demonstrate that even away from the sea in urban areas, connecting and getting close to water – a stream, a river, a lake – gives health benefits. “Where’s your water?” she asks, “Find your water!” She points to the PHD work of Jo Hamilton about how people need to engage with their feelings, even those of panic and fear about climate change, to come out the other side with a perception of their agency.
The healthier the oceans are, the healthier the whole planet is. And the good news is we can heal the sea – and fast. Oceans regenerate relatively quickly, if areas can be left to themselves to rewild. Richard Lilley, Co-founder of Project Seagrass, talked about “Generation Restoration”, the rallying cry of the UN, whether that’s hay meadows, trees, kelp forest, mangroves, or seagrass meadows – which are being lost at the rate of 2 football pitches per hour.
“Seagrass meadows are vibrant communities,” Richard says. “Full of small critters, juvenile fish and young lobsters.” From a biomass point of view, underwater plant habitats outperform biodiversity hotspots on land which are much better-known, like the Serengeti. And both Kelp and seagrass, because they grow so quickly, can sequester 10x as much carbon as forests on land.
Head of Campaigns and Policy at Finisterre, Amy Slack says recognition of the importance of the marine environment, and the pivotal role that the ocean plays, is fundamental. Getting that message across at G7 and Cop26, which takes place in Glasgow later this year, is vital.
“We want all governments of the UK to recognise the importance of a thriving ocean, for the planet and people, and to utilise its capacity as a solution to the climate crisis.” Meanwhile, systemic education needs to change; according to Unesco only 19% of global school curricula mention biodiversity, slightly less than 50% mention climate change.
Individually, we can look at our waste, our diets, write to our local politicians – who need to know what their constituents are worried about so as to best represent them and their concerns – pick up litter and tell our personal stories. We can also look at our purchasing; ask am I consuming something when I buy from this company, or contributing?
Sea 7 was a shining example of what being a B Corp is all about – sharing learning, looking outside ourselves at a bigger picture. But also internalising, measuring, and acting so we individually take responsibility to change things for the better. We’ll leave the last word to the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, quoted in the Finisterre event by the United Nation’s Special Envoy for the Ocean:
I need the sea because it teaches me,
I don’t know if I learn music or awareness,
if it’s a single wave or its vast existence,
or only its harsh voice or its shining
suggestion of fishes and ships.
The fact is that until I fall asleep,
in some magnetic way I move in
the university of the waves.
– Pablo Neruda