Five years of ocean conservation

Time flies when you’re having fun – especially when you’re working to make a positive difference too. That’s certainly the case with the Ocean Elders, which has now been championing ocean conservation causes for five years.  

Gigi Brisson dreamed up the Ocean Elders after being inspired by the example of The Elders. She brought us together and brought it to life. Now, half a decade on, we remain focused on influencing decision-making processes to stimulate the protection and preservation of marine ecosystems.

I’m proud to be an Ocean Elder alongside Dr. Sylvia Earle, the first Ocean Elder, and many of the most influential voices in ocean protection and wider conservation issues. I’ve learned lots from voices as diverse as Captain Don Walsh, Ted Turner, Dr. Jane Goodall and Jackson Browne. I represent the business community, which can have a profound effect on ocean conservation, everywhere from company policies to corporate advocacy. 

The challenge of conserving the ocean is such a major one that collaboration between ocean groups must be central to all of our future efforts. Virgin Unite has incubated Ocean Unite to help bring together and activate powerful voices for ocean conservation, including the Ocean Elders. As I have learned in my business life, personal life and certainly our non-profit ventures, when we work together we can achieve even more. The Ocean Elders, all leaders in their fields, kindly offer up their expertise and time to support the ocean and its species.

One of the Ocean Elders core purposes is championing the creation or expansion of marine protected areas, referred to as Hope Spots by Dr. Earle. These are critical to both the protection and the recovery of marine ecosystems from human impacts. Whether through quiet diplomacy or public statements, we have worked with wonderful partners to support marine protected areas everywhere from the Ross Sea to Pitcairn Island. Today just three per cent of the ocean has been protected. But to really ensure a vibrant and healthy ocean, we must accelerate the protection of large areas. We have been championing a target of 30 per cent by 2030.

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

One of my highlights as an Ocean Elder was getting to know Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson, whose wonderful Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage has raised so much awareness for ocean conservation. It was a proud moment welcoming the voyagers to the British Virgin Islands to highlight ocean issues here in the waters surrounding our home.

Another favourite moment was the Ocean Gala, with the Mai Tai Global team, which raises much-needed funds while everyone dresses in blue and has a blast. Last year’s gathering is now particularly poignant as one of the last times many of us got to spend time with the wonderful Rob Stewart. Our friend, the late director of Sharkwater, was a fellow speaker on the night and I’m sure everyone present will not forget his powerful message of hope for shark and ocean conservation.  

The Ocean Elders can take some credit for many wins for the ocean over the last five years, but there is still an enormous amount of work to do. 2016 saw great steps forward for ocean conservation, but now is the time to push on rather than step back. Head over to the Ocean Elders to find out more about their work and support the ocean. 

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