While the health of the Pacific Ocean is failing at an alarming rate, 70 percent of Americans think there is nothing wrong with our oceans.
By Martha Shaw
Futuristic boats, edgy racing, breathtaking footage, bold graphics and spectacular viewing drew more public exposure to America’s Cup – the 34th edition this year – than ever before.
The America’s Cup Healthy Ocean Project (HOP) environmental initiative is aimed to captivate a broad audience with a sense of responsibility for the health of the sea. Collaborative efforts among ocean conservation groups and organizers were both obvious and subtle during the event, which has transformed sailing into a popular spectator sport, creating a natural fit with ocean messaging.
The Interconnected Cause
While throngs of people crowded the venues around San Francisco Bay to enjoy sunny afternoons and catch a glimpse of Team Emirates of New Zealand and Team Oracle of the U.S. tearing across the water, HOP team partners worked on spreading the word that our oceans need everybody’s help. People who wandered by the big screens and perused the booths at America’s Cup Village at Marina Green and America’s Cup Park at Pier 27, got a light dose of public service announcements, while volunteers educated them on actions to reduce plastic waste, clean up trash, choose sustainable food and support marine protected areas, among other things.
Kaiser Permanente and Sea Scavenger Conservancy partnered on local beach cleanups while the National Geographic Photo Camp, The Full Circle Fund and Restore the Delta worked with ocean scientists to educate and train students on the fragile relationship between the delta watershed, the bay and the ocean. Boaters were directed to the Clean Boater Pledge on the America’s Cup website to do their part as well by preventing invasive species from hitching rides on their hulls, properly disposing of raw sewage and waste, using toxic-free cleaners and other steps to reduce impact.
What's Wrong With Our Oceans?
The location for all these activities was key.
The environmentally fragile San Francisco Bay is the largest estuary on the West Coast with two-thirds of all Californians depending on its water. Yet, 75 percent of Californians don’t know where the delta is. And while the health of the Pacific Ocean is failing at an alarming rate, 70 percent of Americans think there is nothing wrong.
We are living in an age where there is so much profit in mining, fishing and drilling the oceans for all they are worth that world citizens often feel they have little effect on their demise. Tributaries and oceans continue to be a dumping ground for waste, and global consensus on setting aside marine protected areas is challenging. Because of the urgency for action, conservation groups hoped that America’s Cup corporate sponsors would seize the opportunity of the televised media event to lend even greater support. Yet, despite light wind in its sail, HOP and its counterparts have shown that sporting events can make a difference.
According to Jill McCarthy, who inherited the management of HOP just prior to the 34th America’s Cup, thousands of HOP Pledges (see video) from people in over 30 countries were collected with many of them by children. “The problem with debris in our oceans resonates the most because it is something that they can see and experience,” said McCarthy. “Many of the kids know about what happens to plastic when it breaks down, swirls in ocean gyres and gets ingested by sea life.”
Pledges were made through posters and drawings at the venues, and on the America’s Cup website. Meanwhile, dozens of marine debris cleanups took place on beaches and local waterways with members of the America’s Cup sailing teams. McCarthy estimates that they collected over 15,000 pounds of trash.
Sailing to Save the Environment
Meanwhile Jill Savery, Head of Sustainability for the America's Cup Event Authority, lead a victorious effort to minimize the environmental impact of the event itself. This was visibly manifested throughout the venue with the absence of disposable plastic, including straws, and by well-marked waste bins for composting, recycling and landfill. Additionally, corporate sponsor Lexus displayed low-emission hybrid luxury cars, which were the vehicles of choice for shuffling VIPs around. A partnership with Offsetters marked the first America’s Cup in history to have a carbon credit supplier.
Another good example of environmental synergy with the sailing community was the “2013 International SeaKeepers of the Year” awards, held at St. Francis Yacht Club on September 9th. The SeaKeepers Society is a nonprofit organization with a mission to bridge the gaps between ocean science and yachting communities. Its 2013 award was granted to Sargasso Sea Alliance (SSA) in recognition of its ongoing work to secure international protection for the Sargasso Sea ecosystem, referred to as a “floating rainforest” by oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle who designated this area as a Hope Spot in the sea.
We are smart to be focusing and collaborating on our oceans as never before. Beyond pure, unadulterated enjoyment of the sea, nearly $13 trillion of the world’s economy can be attributed to its many bounties. We need healthy, fully functioning oceans to regulate our climate and provide sustenance to billions of people and other forms of life. Oceans provide over 50 percent of the oxygen in our atmosphere and are home to at least 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity.
Coastal regions are home to more than half of our own species and we are multiplying rapidly, mainly near our shores where we can see, govern and control what we put in. Most of the oceans, which cover 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, are out of sight and thus out of mind—making support for marine protected areas where our oceans can sustain and regain their health elusive yet so critical.
About the Author:
Martha Shaw is a journalist and founder of Earth Advertising, which serves sustainable businesses and initiatives. She is also a board member of the BLUE Ocean Film Festival.