Inspiring Passion and Action for our Ocean – Sandra Ponce de Leon

While June 8 is officially designated World Oceans Day, it’s important to note that there is in fact only one ocean, an interconnected, swirling current of diverse and rich ecosystems. Every day should be considered World Ocean Day, filled with wonder, appreciation, and action for our Ocean. Humanity’s very existence is dependent on a healthy ocean and inextricably intertwined, no matter where you live. Our very breath comes from the ocean, with 50% of the earth’s oxygen coming from the photosynthesis generated by oceanic plankton such as algae and sea plants.

Unfortunately, the ocean and its importance to humanity’s survival remains largely a mystery to most of the world’s population. Forty percent of the world’s population lives on or near a coastline, but many fewer than that know what actually happens under the water. If you don’t live on the coast and feel the effect of the ocean, it is even harder to actually comprehend. The ocean feels far away for a lot of us, and it’s harder to see. As opposed to space, where we can look up anywhere in the world, see the stars, and see just how complex it is, just how much there is to explore. The ocean and its depths are almost hidden from the eyes of the public. However, space doesn’t need us. Space is fascinating, but its existence isn’t threatened in the same way as the ocean. The threats to ocean health are multifold, complex, and seemingly insurmountable However, to bring solutions forward for the ocean, we need to inspire and bring more people over to the cause. Our survival depends on it.

Building the Blue Economy Workforce

Most people who work in the Blue Economy do it because of their passion for the ocean. Yet the Blue Economy holds extensive financial opportunities and is estimated to grow to $3.2 trillion by 2030. If the Blue Economy were a nation, it would be the 7th largest in terms of GDP. The opportunities are growing and the reality is that we need a plethora of new faces who haven’t yet been introduced to the Blue Economy as an area of work. 

Cultivating the next generation of ocean leaders is an important task. Several prominent organizations are dedicated to the cause, such as Unicef,  Hey Caribbean, and the Caribbean Girls Hackathon. Ocean Heroes Bootcamp is a non-profit focused on activating youth for the ocean with virtual and in-person experiences that give existing and emerging youth activists leadership training, mentorship, and support to create and coordinate successful campaigns that benefit the health of the ocean.

I spoke with two amazing young women who have been taking on the ground action to inspire their communities and create change for the ocean.

Bringing Equity to the Blue Economy

Veta Wade is the Founder of Fish ‘N Fins and the Blue Zone. She is a young Caribbean activist dedicated to bringing racial and economic equity to the emerging blue economy. Based on the small island of Montserrat, Wade highlights the dependencies of the islands on tourism, especially impacted during times of COVID. 

There’s still a huge amount of inequity and poverty and access to opportunity is limited to a select few. Seeing the blue economy through this lens of justice, how do we integrate the community and make sure that the blue economy is pro-poor, it needs to be for poor people.

Her work is dedicated to ensuring the blue economy brings opportunities for all, such as making sure her community has affordable access to new technologies. More recently, she has been working with technology companies to bring affordable data vessel monitoring services to the Caribbean and working with small-scale local fisheries and fishermen to help them use the technology for their benefit. Enabling small local fishermen to have access to more lucrative markets through data is just one example of all the work that’s being done to bring justice and equity into the blue economy.

Activating Youth for the Ocean

Summer Benjamin has always had a close relationship to the ocean. She learned diving and sailing at a young age and stays connected to her Caribbean roots. She recently moved to St. Thomas from the mainland to engage and activate local youth grassroots efforts. She is launching the first Caribbean Sustainable Ocean Alliance SOA chapter, a global movement that promotes education, action, and policy change for the ocean. Benjamin feels strongly that education is a key part of the equation to creating a connection to the ocean. She sees that even in island communities, that is still a huge hurdle to overcome.

It’s important for people to understand just how connected our ecosystems are, and how their actions in the cities and the mountains affect the ocean. And how the ocean’s health also affects our own health, making that circle so that people understand that everything is linked together, no matter how far away you are.

Benjamin is also actively involved with The POP Ocean Initiative, a group that connects young ocean leaders to their counterparts in international organizations such as the UN fostering dialogue and giving youth a voice to influence and drive international policy. 

The hope for both of these incredible ocean activists is that their voices will inspire change and action in their communities and beyond. It’s clear that on World Ocean(s) Day, and every day, the ocean needs us all. We must come together to stop our harmful practices and move away from our extractive behavior to a more connected and restorative relationship with the ocean.

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