The United Nations held its first virtual World Oceans Day event on Monday, partnering with nonprofit Oceanic Global as a production partner, making the live event free to attend globally.
Some 3,000 people RSVP’d, with more likely to have tuned in worldwide, said Lea d’Auriol, founder of Oceanic Global. Fashion brands like Everest Isles and Solid and Striped partnered with Oceanic Global, as have others since its inception in 2015. The Oceanic Global Foundation emerged following the foundation’s inaugural ocean festival “Oceanic x Ibiza.”
The 2020 theme, titled “Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean,” arrives during a time of heightened tensions in the U.S. and elsewhere, as the Black Lives Matter movement sweeps across the globe with ongoing peaceful protests. Almost on cue for visualizing the urgency demanded by environmental groups, a week prior Russia declared a state of emergency after 20,000 tons of diesel spilled from a power plant in the city of Norilsk, Russia, into the Arctic Ocean. Melting permafrost was cited as the culprit — indicative of the effects of global warming in the region.
All things considered, d’Auriol is focused on collective action today. She quoted the poet Audre Lorde: “‘There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives,”’ adding, “In that same spirit, the work we do in the ocean and environmental space is inextricably linked with human rights, public health, and fighting against racial injustice.”
Concern for the environment is all-encompassing, but marginalized groups (African American and Latinx people) tend to be the “most concerned” about climate change, as they are often the most vulnerable and exposed to its effects, according to a study conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.
D’Auriol also pointed to a recent Washington Post op-ed by Dr. Ayana Johnson, a scientific adviser to Oceanic Global, marine biologist and policy expert, as further explanation of the interconnectedness of such sustainability issues.
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This year’s virtual event convened cross-industry stakeholders including model Cara Delevingne, singer and song-writer Ellie Goulding, environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, TerraCycle founder and chief executive officer Tom Szaky, and marine conservationist Gayatri Reksodihardjo, among others.
“We cannot allow a slip back to so-called business as usual,” said Goulding, championing the importance of voting. “Please speak up and stand up for the ocean and nature…[Sic]. There will never be another time like this.”
There was an industry-focused panel on the blue economy, which is centered around the sustainable use of ocean resources for equitable economic and social development, which was led by Scientific American’s editor in chief Curtis Brainard.
The blue economy includes fisheries, renewable energy, climate change, waste management, maritime transport and tourism, as defined by the World Bank.
America’s marine economy, including goods and services, contributed about $373 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product in 2018, according to June data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
And globally, fish is a primary source of animal protein for one billion people in the world, as per the World Health Organization. Dr. Melissa Garren, founder and ceo of Working Ocean Strategies, spoke of the triple bottom line including people, planet and profit and how technology can assist the goals of the many small-scale fisheries, increasingly where women play an important role.
“There is an incredible amount of opportunity in the private sector space to make a sustainable impact,” said Garren. It boils down to, again, transparency and accountability.
Szaky spoke of how TerraCycle evolves the circular economy through waste management, even taking on the burden of wasted diapers through its partnership with Dyper, as well as collecting cigarette waste in special receptacles.
“The biggest lesson we’ve learned, especially with engaging with the for-profit sector, which for us would be brands, retailers, etc. — it’s not [framed] as much about solving the problem, but how can [brands] win by doing that. The greater the funding will be and the greater the consistency will be — whether they care about sustainability or not,” said Szaky.
Already, COVID-19 is causing major global disruptions to many industries and not just the maritime and coastal sectors, but also metal and mineral mining that would be needed to build offshore renewable energy. As the World Bank noted in its May report, more ambitious climate targets call for more minerals needed for a clean energy transition — or some three billion tons worth of minerals and metals.
As past events drew awareness to issues like plastic pollution, coral reef bleaching, and overfishing, among others, this year’s event urged individual attendees to specific actions like registering to vote, volunteering in one’s community and reducing plastic consumption.
Some scientists like Dr. Johnson even called for an outright reframing of the ocean from victim to “hero,” emphasizing solutions in regenerative ocean farming, algae biofuel and offshore renewable energy in nothing short of a “Blue New Deal.”
While no solution applied to fashion specifically, Szaky mentioned how “ocean plastic awareness has skyrocketed over the past few years,” highlighting heightened consumer awareness and collaborative campaigns with institutions like Parley for the Oceans, which has worked with brands such as Adidas and Stella McCartney to recycle marine plastic into a more sustainable polyester.
But when it comes to recycled polyester, it doesn’t matter if it came from recycled plastic bottles or fishing nets, the material’s impact is a more immediate marketing boost to brands than a permanent waste solution — after accounting for microfibers and lack of scale recycling solutions.
“Until we can choose to prioritize climate solutions, sustainable practices, and building the regenerative systems that we need to see for our Earth to heal,” natural disasters and tragedies like the recent oil spill [in Russia] will continue to take place, according to d’Auriol. As the event showed, stakeholders across sectors will have to do more to keep afloat in a tumultuous world where global sea levels continue to rise.