Meet the woman leading Ocean Unite

Karen Sack is Managing Director at Ocean Unite. Ask her why she's dedicated to work on ocean conservation and she'll say, "It's about more than just the fish." We wanted to know more...

What is Ocean Unite all about?

Ocean Unite is an initiative launched by Virgin Unite in 2015, dedicated to advocating for critical ocean issues, amplifying impactful voices and engaging decision makers to secure a healthy and vital ocean for the future.

Is there any single threat to the ocean which far outweighs the others?

The biggest threat to the ocean today is climate change. It is changing ocean chemistry, warming our seas, killing coral reefs, and causing sea level rise as the polar ice caps melt. But the amazing thing about the ocean is its ability to regenerate, and we can help it by stopping some of the things we are doing, and by putting at least 30 per cent of the ocean off-limits to destructive and extractive activities. We can do that by working together, and that is one of the goals of Ocean Unite.

What surprises people most about the oceans?

It’s interesting to watch people when they hear some of the facts about the ocean. They become very quiet as the reality sets in about what the ocean does for us and what we have done to it.

There are a few facts about the ocean that take people’s breath away – in fact, the ocean provides the oxygen for every second breath we take. For example, more than 80 per cent of ocean pollution comes from land-based activities. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish; the ocean is the largest carbon sink on the planet, absorbing a quarter of all CO2 emissions.

What is ‘ocean acidification’ and what will happen if we do not take action against it?

Ocean acidification is a result of the changing pH of seawater as it absorbs so much carbon dioxide that its chemistry changes. The ocean is becoming less alkaline and this is having a profound effect on marine species. And unfortunately, greenhouse gas emissions have boosted ocean acidity by 30 per cent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The action we have to take is on land: reduce CO2 emissions as quickly as possible. At sea, we need to create protected areas that are like national parks so that corals and sea life in healthy ecosystems can begin to build their resilience to change and be able to adapt in time.

How can companies ‘blue’ their organisation?

Businesses need to commit to achieving zero net emissions by 2050, and make sure that they are only sourcing and selling sustainably caught seafood. They need to focus on the amount and type of plastics that they are using, shifting to a circular economy business model. And they need to advocate for the establishment of marine reserves – national parks at sea, to help build resilience to change and restore ocean life.

Working with The B Team and Carbon War Room, Ocean Unite has established an initiative called The Ocean is Everybody’s Business, which details what businesses can do to go ‘blue’. Find more information at: theoceaniseverybodysbusiness.org.

What can people do individually?

Reduce your carbon footprint by choosing renewable energy options and using public transport or bikes. Do an inventory of how many single-use plastic products you use. Stop using plastic wrap and instead use reusable containers. Get everyone in the family a reusable water bottle. Use fabric shopping bags, and make a fuss at your local market if you find things wrapped in plastic that don’t need to be.

Ask your fishmonger where and how the fish was caught. Check what type of sunscreen you are using and if it isn’t coral friendly, find one that is. Support and advocate for efforts that will help secure the designation of marine-protected areas. And think about giving to an ocean charity.

Are any business initiatives benefiting the oceans?

Actually, Virgin Limited Edition is doing an amazing job as a leading business, both thinking and acting ‘blue’. All The B Team companies that have committed to net zero emissions by 2050 have begun their ‘blue voyages’ as well. And companies like the Metro Group, Waitrose, Walmart and Costco are beginning to only source sustainable seafood. Others, like H&M, are starting to work with partners such as Bionic, who turn recovered ocean plastic into fabric for their clothing.

What do our political leaders need to commit to?

Oh, that’s easy: agree to binding emissions targets that secure no more than a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in global temperature and make sure that they stick to it; protect at least 10 per cent of the ocean by 2020 and 30 per cent by 2030; and agree to require a global transition away from a linear (make, use, dispose) economy towards a circular economy where resources, such as plastics, are reused.

You can find out more about Ocean Unite’s work at oceanunite.org

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