As usual there are masses of sustainability stories but I'm going to hold them over until next week because today I want to share an interview with you.
Over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water and therefore by definition most of it is a very long way from land. The temptation is to say “out of sight, out of mind”, and not care very much about what's going on in the oceans.
Sustainable Oceans Alliance
The Sustainable Oceans Alliance cares, and recently I was able to talk to its founder, Daniela Fernandez.
Anthony: On the Sustainable Futures Report we talk about tackling the climate crisis for the protection of all life on Earth. And that includes humans, of course. We also talk about the protection of the environment, because just as much as we need to stop this crisis, we need a safe and comfortable place to live.
All aspects of our environment are under threat from deliberate damage or casual negligence, none more so than our oceans, where plastic pollution is found floating on the surface as well as in the depths on the abyssal plain. And that's only part of the Ocean's problems.
The Sustainable Oceans Alliance exists to counter those threats, and today I have with me its founder, Daniela Fernandez.
Daniela: Thank you, Anthony. It's such a pleasure to be here with you today.
Restoring the Health of the Oceans
Anthony: Now your objective is to restore the health of the ocean in our lifetime.
Tell us more about your plans to achieve that.
Daniela: Absolutely. Well, first of all, I think that it's my objective, but I also think that it's what's necessary for all of humanity to have a chance to truly remain on an inhabitable planet.
And maybe just to start with the importance of the ocean, I think a lot of people underestimate how much the ocean provides to us as human beings. So just to give you a sense, the ocean actually provides more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe, and every second breath you take comes from the ocean.
Which, you know, a lot of people growing up, they've been told that trees and grass are the main source of oxygen, but the reality is that the ocean contributes just as much.
The other thing to consider is the fact that we have over 3.1 billion people on this planet that depend on the ocean as their primary source of protein. So, I bring up these facts because it's so critical to understand the importance that the ocean provides, and at SOA we are empowering young people globally to take tangible actions to help protect our ocean. To create solutions and use their innovations, use their creativity to actually build technological solutions for the ocean as well as drastic movement.
Anthony: So you set this up in 2014, it's well, it's only six or eight years ago and now you're operating in 165 countries, you've unlocked hundreds of millions of dollars through your accelerator program, millions more through the leadership program.
Just briefly, how did you get here from when you started in 2014?
Daniela: Well, in 2014, believe it or not, I was just a 19-year-old freshman in college, so the beginnings definitely feel like a lifetime ago now, but it all started with an idea. I left a meeting at the UN feeling afraid, feeling disappointed in the solution by the fact that our world leaders simply did not have a plan of action. I was hearing about the dire statistics as to how they were going to impact my generation, but I did not hear any single world leader or see your scientist come up to stage with an actual plan. And so my goal in creating Stainable Ocean Alliance as a kid was to unite these two worldviews, one of them being people in power that have the decision making capacity to make change happen and also this next generation that is frankly afraid of our future and so in building this organization it started, you know, when I was in college
Since then I moved to San Francisco because I wanted to take the innovation, the spirit of Silicon Valley and take that and translate it into the open space. Because we don't need another software company. We don't need another Google or Facebook. We need the next innovation that's going to actually help protect our planet and our ocean and so from then we, you know, built a team. We now have 30 employees all over the world. We have young people in 165 countries, so it's definitely been quite the journey from the very beginning.
Anthony: And you've worked very much with young people.
Daniela: That's right, we have worked with, I would say, youth leaders under the age of 35 and it's been so inspiring just to see how much demand there is for us to actually give youth leaders the opportunity to do something.
I think that youth have been underestimated and not necessarily given the seat at the table for far too long. And now, finally, the tables are turning were able to empower young people, give them access to education, access to resources, funding to enable them to bring their ideas to life.
Anthony: Right. And at the same time, you've been able to sponsor or to fund technical innovation in areas which are aimed towards improving the ocean. Give us an example of something that you've supported.
Daniela: Sure, I'll give you a couple examples and I'll go into a little bit of a deep dive into one of them.
One of our companies, that is near and dear to my heart because they think that their potential is enormous is called CalWave, and what CalWave is doing is they're using this buoy system to capture the movement of waves and transform it into electricity, which you know the potential there is, is out of this world because if we can place these buoys in every single coastline, we can power the world electricity by the ocean simply moving. So, I think that they have such an opportunity to disrupt the energy system and I think we need to enable them to do so much more. So that’s one of them that gets me really excited.
Another one is called Loliware, and what Loliware is doing is they're using their seaweed technology to replace plastic as a material. So they're growing seaweed, which again is abundant in in the ocean and they're taking that and transforming it so we can utilize it for straws, for film, for utensils so that we no longer have to use plastic, which as we all know the very toxic products that end up in the ocean. We now have plastic flowing through our own veins. There's been plastic found in human blood and so I think it's such an important concept to consider.
Safety Net Technology
And the last thing that I'll talk about and I can go into a little bit more detail about is Safety Net Technology. And what Safety Net has done is that they’ve found that fish apparently see light differently. So, you know, originally people thought that fish would just swim into the net and that would be okay, but they found that if they changed the wavelength and light of fishing nets, they can actually attract fish to the net or scare them away from the net. And so they're able to reduce the bycatch, which is the capture of wrong fish, by about 85%, which is incredible because now we can find ways to modify these LED lights and change the behavior of fish, which enables fishing boats to be more selective and how they’re actually catching these fish.
But I think those are innovations that would have never been brought to life had these, you know, young leaders not, you know, either discovered the idea or truly made sacrifices necessary to bring these ideas to the table.
Anthony Yeah, that's really fascinating.
Overfishing and Bycatch
And of course, that solves another problem which faces the oceans, which is overfishing, and there is a tremendous amount of bycatch, which basically is, as you say, the wrong sort of fish, and if it's caught, it's just dumped and it's usually dead. So anything you can do to eliminate bycatch must be to the benefit of us all and of the oceans.
So what of the future, do you have plans for expansion?
Daniela: Absolutely, you know I think some of the what gives me a lot of hope and what makes me excited is the fact that we have all these ideas coming through our pipeline. Just to give you an example, we received over 1000 applications for our micro-grant program which is a program that supports grassroot projects. We give them access to capital between 1000 and 15,000 U.S. dollars for these projects to be incubated. Whether it be a project that is planting coral reefs or planting mangroves or teaching an entire town about recycling, we enable these youth leaders to, to take that that idea that's grassroot and in truly empower their entire community.
So that's the program that we're expanding very quickly because we have so much demand from youth leaders and we have lot of applications coming in.
The other program that we have is our accelerator program and that program consists in supporting startups that have these for-profit ocean positive and scalable technologies that can protect our ocean. And so with that program, we're actually shifting our model and we're building an eco-preneur network so we can actually onboard even more entrepreneurs into that program and give them access for life. We want to be the concierge service for these entrepreneurs to be able to come to SOA and receive access to an advisory network, to receive access to an investor network and to simply just be their support system on this journey, which as an entrepreneur, it's very challenging and it, you know it can, it really takes a village to make this happen.
Anthony: Restoring the Health of the Ocean is a big task. Are things going the right way? Are you optimistic?
Daniela: I am.
There's been a lot of progress made, I would say, in the last three to four years in the sense that there's more awareness about the importance of the ocean. There is a little bit more funding being taken into the ocean space, although I do have to mention that the ocean is the most underfunded of all of the sustainable development goals, but there has been more progress made in that direction and ultimately, we have the human capacity, the human ingenuity to truly bring these ideas, as crazy and they might be, and they may be moonshots, but we truly need them so we can scale them and we can bring them into markets.
So I am optimistic and I think that the more people learn about the problem, the more they'll be able to create solutions.
Over to You
Anthony: So, as a very positive message, what do you want the people who are listening to this podcast to do?
What action can they take to help you restore the oceans?
Daniela: I would say that, first of all, we need everyone to ask themselves, what are your own passions, what are your skill sets, and how can you contribute in this space? Because not everyone has to be a marine biologist. I'm not, I'm actually an economics and government major, and I happened to enter the space and learn about the science behind the ocean.
All have our part to play
I think that we all have out part of play, whether it is mentoring a start-up in the space or joining a start-up in the space or donating or investing in these companies is such an important moment for all of us to go all in and dedicate our lives in one way or another to supporting these movements that have started.
And in your personal life, also think about your habits, how much electricity are you consuming? Are you eating a more plant-based diet? Are you paying the right brands with your dollars? Are you truly making a statement with your own actions and with your lifestyle? Because we all do it I think that that's the way that things are going to change and much more faster rate.
Anthony: Well, let me wish you every success for the future. Daniela Fernandez, thank you very much for talking to the Sustainable Futures Report.
Daniela: Thank you Anthony, a pleasure.
So what are you going to do tomorrow?
That's it for this week. Thanks again to Daniela Fernandez from the Sustainable Ocean’s Alliance, and I'll be with you in seven days. Next week’s episode will be another digest of topical sustainability news: as much as I can cram into about 30 minutes, and in the coming weeks I have a full programme of interviews which I will explain when we meet next time.
That's it for this week, thanks once again for listening and particular thanks if you're one of my loyal patrons.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.
Projects supported by SOA
CalWave, which converts ocean waves into sustainable and clean energy
Loliware, which is creating a new category of materials designed to replace plastic at scale – made from seaweed
Water on Earth