A moment in April 2018 completely changed my perception of ocean health. 

I was participating in a summit of entrepreneurs in Ulusaba, South Africa, organised by the Maverick 1000 network, led by Yanik Silver. One morning I was shaken out of my reverie about the lions and leopards surrounding the reserve where we met for a presentation by Katie Hunt-Morr from Virgin Unite. She told us about Ocean Unite, a non-profit organisation working to protect 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030.

I was shocked at the realisation of the dire situation facing the ocean. “50 per cent of the oxygen we breathe comes from the Ocean and it is in peril,” and “by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean,” she said. Those words put everything in context for me. I needed to get involved.  

Ocean Unite, Turtles

Surprisingly, I did not know most of the facts that Katie shared with us that day. I had spent 16 years working in spacecraft engineering on remote sensing missions looking at Earth from afar. I thought I had the big picture, but I really had no idea! 

For problems to be solved we have to be aware of them, and they have to be in our collective consciousness. This is where I felt that I could make a difference. For us to put pressure on decision makers to act, and for positive ocean conservation actions to be adopted, I realised more people have to be aware of the risks to their own existence.  

My mission is to leverage our technology and industry to get as many people involved in protecting our most important asset – our ocean.

Ocean Unite, BPOTS

In 2004, I left the aerospace world to start a company in the photography industry. The company, 36Pix, offers software to the school photography industry in 15 countries, processing 15 million images per year. We also operate a school photography studio in Canada, photographing 350,000 kids per year. The school photography industry has a reach of more than 200 million parents worldwide. My mission is to leverage our industry and technology to get as many people involved in protecting our most important asset – our ocean.  

I created the “Be Part of the Story” (BPOTS) project to raise awareness and funds in support of Ocean Unite. The BPOTS project is built around the demographics of the school photography industry: parents and their kids. The situation with our ocean should be alarming to all, but especially to parents as they raise their children in expectation of a bright, stable future. 

We want people to feel involved, to be part of the solution and part of the story. To achieve this, we created visual art that is personalised with the picture of the child to raise awareness in a fun and relatable way. The images and videos are meant for electronic delivery (text and download). The electronic versions can be easily shared on social media to leverage our campaign and reach.    

We also wanted to have impactful, recognisable illustrations so we started collaborating with Jim Toomey, an avid environmentalist and award-winning cartoonist, best known for Sherman’s Lagoon. As part of the BPOTS project, Jim adapted his Sherman’s Lagoon characters with a funny look inspired by a sad reality: marine species getting trapped and tangled in the trash that ends up in the ocean. We hope to help restore ocean health by bringing awareness with our “I’m not a new species” characters.

Ocean Unite, BPOTS

We also collaborated with ocean explorer and member of the Ocean Unite Network Ashlan Cousteau and filmmaker Sami Kattan of Nomad Creative to create an innovative and fun video message that is personalized with the child’s picture and incredible imagery. It focuses on the need to protect the ocean surrounding Antarctica, bringing attention to ocean negotiations taking place in 2020, and is intended for parents to share it on social media. 

Why am I getting involved in protecting the ocean? Because I can! And so can you!

You can support Ocean Unite in protecting the ocean by creating your own personalised collages and videos at be-part-of-the-story.org. Raise awareness by sharing them with your friends on social media so they can be part of the story too! 

- 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.