I grew up in Los Angeles. I was born with a love for nature. LA would seem like an unfortunate deal of the cards for someone who is happiest when surrounded by beautiful wildlife and wild spaces – but this is not completely true.

Only about 100 years ago, LA was a place where grizzly bears and deer mingled. Now, only freeways mingle. As a teenager, however, I could jump on one of these freeways, ride it to the coast, and escape into a world where wildness still reigned – the ocean. Within sight of skyscrapers I could stare down inquisitive 100 kilogram giant sea bass, swim through majestic kelp forests that I knew were shared by 1,000 kilogram great white sharks, and see the silhouettes of 10,000 kilogram grey whales migrating just beyond the edge of these underwater forests.

Virgin Unite, ocean, conservation, USGS
Virgin Unite, ocean, conservation, USGS

The Ocean serves as a last wild frontier for many people in many parts of the world. But the health of our ocean is under threat. One third of our global fisheries are overfished. Soon we may see our first ocean-living cetacean (whale or dolphin) go extinct. There are now over five trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans. While all this may seem overwhelming, we remain in a unique position to reverse this harm.

The ocean is like a patient with pneumonia, a broken arm, and an appendix that is about to burst. The ocean is facing a multitude of serious problems but all of them are treatable. If we don’t start treatment quickly though, we are going to be in big trouble. And we have to address the underlying issues that are causing this illness – because just as a healthy body is more resilient to disease, so a healthy ocean is more resilient to assaults from threats like pollution and climate change. 

Isolated beaches in Hawaii where native Hawaiian beachcombers once scavenged logs to build canoes now are strewn with plastic. In this video, next generation Hawaiians vision what they want their beaches of tomorrow to look like.

It is going to take creativity, ingenuity, and the best that science has to offer to overcome these ocean illnesses. Thankfully the right people are stepping up. In my community of marine biology, an increasing number of young scientists not only want to use the power of science to describe what is going wrong in the ocean – but we also want to do something about these problems.

A generous gift from philanthropists Lynne and Marc Benioff, to the University of California Santa Barbara has kick-started just such an experiment – the Benioff Ocean Initiative. The Benioff’s in the past have built children’s hospitals, a couple of them. The Benioff Ocean Initiative is designed to act like a hospital for the ocean. Here marine scientists will get the resources, tools, and momentum needed to start fixing ocean illnesses.

We’ve launched the Initiative with an invitation: send us whatever problem is bothering you in the ocean. Ideas have been coming in from all over the world: Someone in Australia who wants to map all the world’s coral reefs using satellites; someone in the Philippines worried about plastic pollution; someone in South Africa searching for a solution to abalone poaching. 

Virgin Unite, ocean, conservation

We invite anyone to submit an idea now for consideration. You have the ear of marine science. We want to know what you want us to focus our attention, microscopes, and talent on. The scientists in the Benioff Ocean Initiative will pick a top problem and convene a group of expert ocean scientists from around the world to come up with a way to innovate, activate and solve the problem. With a science-based solution in hand we will invest a million dollars to make the solution real. We’ll build the thing, code the thing, or teach the thing that solves the issue. Then we’ll iterate. 

The Hawaiians have a saying: if everybody paddles the canoes together; bail and paddle, paddle and bail, the shore will be reached. The Benioff Ocean Initiative will work closely with the expert team at Ocean Unite to make the voices of our scientists carry farther and make the solutions they design come to life faster.

Our team of scientists is already warming up on a number of science driven change projects that run parallel to our crowdsourced initiatives. We recently launched, for example, a new transparency tool that uses satellite-sensed tracking data to show where and when deep sea mining activities are beginning. Over one million square kilometers of ocean have been included in deep sea mining claims making it imperative that we have the tools needed to responsibly watch the growth of this new industry. 

Virgin Unite, ocean, conservation,

The many threats facing our ocean require that we act immediately. Scientists want to do more than use their research to write an obituary for the ocean. Leaders in business, technology, and coastal communities have stepped up to do more as well.

Help us on our journey for ocean change. Submit your idea – and let’s work together to keep the ocean a wild refuge near all of our backyards from which we can continue to draw prosperity, healthy food, and inspiration.