Hosted live from Newport, RI, the latest online iteration of The Ocean Race Summits promoted solutions to restore health to the ocean.
“We can solve this.” That was how Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island concluded his remarks as he addressed over 680 registered participants at The Ocean Race Summits event hosted out of the Sail Newport facility in his home state. The Senator was among an engaging and diverse group of international experts, youth leaders and changemakers brought together to tackle the challenges facing our ocean and to develop and share solutions that promote the restoration of ocean health.
“For many generations, we have been takers from the ocean and we have to change our mindset and be caretakers of the oceans,” the Senator said. “People have to put their mind to think about oceans in order to appreciate the work that needs to be done. But it can be done. It has to be done rapidly and with intention. But we can solve this.”
The Ocean Race Summits aim to bring the spirit and values of ocean racing – leadership, resilience, tenacity, collaboration – to bear on the challenges facing the health of our ocean.
Using an innovative and engaging online platform, including eight collaborative Action Labs focused on developing and sharing solutions, as well as Live Q+A and Networking sessions, the Summit tackled challenging issues head-on with an emphasis on action and results.
“The ocean is the most important ecosystem in our life,” said José María Figueres, the former prime minister of Costa Rica and co-founder of Ocean Unite. “Without a healthy ocean there is no life on the planet.” Mr. Figueres pointed to increasing the number of Marine Protected Areas, stopping climate change, and reaching an international agreement on governance of the High Seas as critical pathways towards restoring ocean health.
World renowned sailors Mark Towill (USA), CEO of the 11th Hour Racing Team, and Peter Burling (NZL), an Olympic gold medalist and America’s Cup winner who was inspired to start an ocean foundation after competing in the 2017-18 edition of The Ocean Race, spoke about leveraging sport to make a positive impact. “We want to demonstrate that being competitive at top level sport and prioritizing sustainability are not exclusive,” Towill said. “It is to our benefit to be leaders in this space and to encourage others to join in… We’re at a tipping point and we want our team to be driving change.” “What scared me most during the last edition of The Ocean Race was what I didn’t see – the lack of whales, albatross, tuna, compared to the stories I heard about in the past,” said Burling, a co-founder of Live Ocean, which focuses on ocean protection and restoration. “The difference to where we are now is pretty scary and it shows how urgent the issue is.”
The Ocean Race Summits have been developed in collaboration with 11th Hour Racing, an organization that establishes strategic partnerships to promote collaborative, systemic change benefitting the health of the ocean. Co-founder, Wendy Schmidt (USA), explained how this moment is a critical opportunity to contribute to science and to shift public perception about what ocean health means.
“At 11th Hour Racing we’re working with The Ocean Race to reach audiences around the world – whether online, at Summits, or at Exploration Zones at stopover cities during the next Race – and changing their perceptions,” said Schmidt, who is a philanthropist and investor, as well as a competitive sailor. “Together we have a unique opportunity to join the sport we love with the science we need for the ocean.”
Youth leaders and young ocean ambassadors were enlisted to moderate Live Q+A sessions with panelists and registered participants, with the future leaders showing the potential for a brighter future.
“I am hopeful because there is a wave of renewed interest in ocean issues, especially among the younger generations,” concluded Mr. Figueres. “And I am very optimistic because the more we share knowledge about these issues, as is an objective of The Ocean Race, the more we become committed to these causes.”
The Ocean Race Summits are a series of solutions-focused events bringing together leaders from a wide range of fields to target the restoration of ocean health. The current series of Summits started in Genoa, Italy last autumn, with a second online and virtual event based out of The Hague in May. Up to ten events will be held before the conclusion of the next edition of The Ocean Race.
Richard Brisius, Race Chairman, The Ocean Race:
“There are more questions than answers, but I am optimistic and hopeful for a bright future, in particular after this Summit filled with people driven by their aspiration to contribute to a healthier planet.
“And we must not waiver now, we have to stay on course, as it is often during the hard times that we see teams win races, thanks to great leadership, team spirit, and just pushing harder towards what they believe in.
“If I would ask for one thing that you all can do right now, that would be to pick one solution or learning from the Summit, and tell your colleagues, family and friends about it.”
Philippe Cousteau, Multi Emmy-Nominated TV host and producer, award winning author and co-founder of Earth Echo International:
“Today we need to be much savvier and recognize we have to go to our audience. So we need to be thinking about a much broader spectrum of education and PR communications. We need to be on scripted television. We need to be in animated and leveraging technology like virtual reality, not just your natural history documentaries, which isn’t enough anymore. So you’d be thinking bigger, broader and more diverse.”
“I believe that we need to be thinking more about how we build relevance around these issues. People relate to people. And so understanding these world leaders that when we talk about ocean conservation, we’re talking about climate change… We should be talking more about how this is impacting people and impacting people’s lives. Not in the future. But right now.”
Michelle Bender, Ocean Rights Manager, Earth Law Center:
“We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. And even the concept, sustainable growth, it’s very anthropocentric. It’s based on human utility and benefit. Our current system treats economic growth and development as above and with more significance than the health of the environment and the health of our local communities. But we know that, in fact, we can’t survive or realise our own human rights without a healthy environment to support them. So what we need is really a paradigm shift and to view our economic system as a subsystem and embedded within the earth’s larger ecosystem.”
Karen Sack, President & CEO, Ocean Unite:
“Often we try to join together with people who we all agree with and that isn’t the way to drive change. Change needs to make us feel uncomfortable. And through that discomfort, we can move forward. So we need people who are members of the team who all come from different backgrounds.
“Just like on a yacht, you have a crew with different skill sets. So in a campaign, you need the policy wonks, the campaign specialists, the communications specialists and, of course, the devil’s advocate to question everything all the time.
“You’ve got to develop the strategy and roll out those tactics, and you’ve got to recognise that the external environment is going to change all the time. But that is the way to drive forward and to make the kind of change in campaigning that we need to see.”