When I was asked to write a blog on how working with big brands can help ocean conservation, I asked, why me?

“Because you work with Google” was the essence of the reply. And that’s good enough for me, because, in a nutshell – Google has quite literally put Global Fishing Watch on the map.

So, is big brand association with conservation a must?   

Google has been a fantastic partner to Oceana and Skytruth and, ultimately, to Global Fishing Watch. Working with Google comes with the reassurance that any technical solution they say is possible will be scoped out and put into action efficiently, and with high grade results. Global Fishing Watch is the perfect example of this.

Together with SkyTruth, their analysts and machine learning experts faced challenges requiring the processing power of thousands of machines – running models that would take 50 ordinary computers months to complete. Our public platform now reliably ingests the billions of data points that underlie our web-based map and presents an elegant and easy-to-navigate view of fishing activity around the planet. Every one of us can clearly see what is going on – what was once out-of-sight and out-of-mind is now in plain view for the world.

Google’s ocean engagement goes way beyond Global Fishing Watch, and it should be the subject of a blog in itself. They have engaged in broad stakeholder engagement across the sector and within the industry, and continue to invigorate the conversation. This is done through the work being put in place by the Google Earth Outreach team, leveraging Google’s expertise and resources to help non-profits and public benefit organisations make a difference and tell their story to hundreds of millions of people.

While Google confers a form of global credibility to technology-driven systems, there are other big brands out there that underline broader messages. Indeed, thanks to the profile Google provided to Global Fishing Watch, The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation stepped forward to support our vision, and as a result there was a further huge spike in interest. 

Similarly, Virgin is a great example. The brand delivers powerful brand assurance across the wide ranging spheres of Richard Branson’s influence. As an avid conservationist, successful businessman, technology guru, and ocean advocate, those that follow and read Sir Richard’s pages are interested in his views and insights across the breadth of his engagement with the conservation community. 

Though sometimes, branding can get in the way. When one big name non-profit brand wants to own the ‘win’ at the expense of another, it can mean that work is duplicated or gaps are left where better collaboration would have provided a fuller solution. It also leaves a sense of resentment or fatigue within the community. It seems clear to me that working together for joint success, by uniting brands, would make the most sense.  

Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Global Fishing Watch

Brand security becomes a powerful lever for change when reputation is threatened and actions to defend it align with positive steps forward on environmental and ocean protection issues. Take Thailand as an example…

In June 2014, the Guardian newspaper reported on a lengthy investigation revealing that a large number of men were being bought and sold like animals – held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand. Their catch was being sold in leading supermarkets around the world, including the top four global retailers: Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco. This, plus the issues investigated by the European Union Commission, meant there was a lot of money at risk, as well global reputations for the retailers and processors involved. 

It is reasonable to argue that the retail brands reacted faster than the Thai government in recognising the problem. They formed a task force of appropriate stakeholders and experts that helped guide the Thai Government to get to grips with a highly complex problem. There was measurable success and as a result the same task force is now considering applying lessons learned to other seafood markets in that region – a proactive step to improve the situation and avoid the same penalties. 


The best branding partnerships, indeed any partnerships, are ones where there is a mutual need and a mutual respect. From a conservationist’s point of view, I want to see popular, well respected global brands adopt and endorse our community’s concepts for preserving the planet. For this to happen those brands must see those concepts as beneficial, cost-effective and trustworthy. That said, the symbiotic relationships between commercial and conservation sectors need not be forged by altruism when they inherently serve both parties. 

I have only recently taken the CEO position at Global Fishing Watch, but I am determined that our vision of transparency and awareness of fishing activity will lead to improved sustainability of the ocean, so that our brand can be a force for good. Google will certainly remain linked to our aims, but we hope more big brands will see the value of our mission and join the movement.  

- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

This post is part of a series produced by Virgin Unite in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action.