Today is World Oceans Day — a day to recognize and feed our appreciation for something that covers most of the planet, and is an integral piece in caring for it. A healthy ocean supports a healthy planet, which is why talking about how we care for and protect it deserves a deeper conversation than usual.
The environmental crisis is a social crisis. That’s a perspective that isn’t explored often, but it impacts the day-to-day lives of those in developing nations the hardest, and many of its driving forces are found in the secure, stable social structures of life in the first world.
“If the environmental and social chaos of these last years and weeks have shown us anything, it’s that our global operating system is full of bugs,” explains Michael Stewart, co-founder of Sustainable Surf. “The environmental, economic, and social crisis is all interconnected. We feel it’s time for the ocean-health movement to start connecting all these dots together, and so we’re focusing on enabling actions within the ocean community to solve this one problem collectively.”
So, how are all these things connected?
In the West Papua region of Indonesia, for example, poverty at the village level is one of the leading drivers of deforestation in its mangrove estuaries. And healthy mangrove ecosystems actually protect coastal communities from flooding as well as storing five times more carbon per acre than tropical forests. It’s stories like these that reinforce Sustainable Surf’s declaration that there is no climate justice without social justice. Their SeaTrees platform, designed to regenerate and protect coastal ecosystems makes it easy for individuals and brands to fund mangrove restoration, creating sustainable employment for local indigenous communities who live there. Local people are hired to plant mangroves as well as care for them, infusing both currency and reliable jobs in the area.
“It’s not just about planting trees with our local partner, Eden Projects, and then forgetting about them,” says Michael. “The local community is trained to care for those ecosystems and develop food crops. And perhaps most importantly, when we went to West Papua with our ambassador Pacha Light and our ocean literacy pals at Protect Blue, we also ran local workshops with local community activists to provide ocean-health education to their next generation.”
The same philosophy is tied into other projects SeaTrees supports, like watershed protection in Cambodia, where they partner with Wildlife Alliance. Or even when approaching kelp forest regeneration in California working with The Bay Foundation, the blueprint is still built on local, effective action because that is what’s sustainable. Whether it’s offsetting carbon emissions or cleaning and restoring a specific ecosystem, the solution is only a solution if it’s sustainable, and more specifically, if it addresses challenges to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.
The work that Sustainable Surf is doing through SeaTrees is designed to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a 17-point blueprint that outlines how all these things are interconnected and can be transformed over the next decade. Hunger, education, gender inequality, decent work, and economic growth may sound just like social problems, but they each are just one link in a system that connects to responsible consumption and production, clean water, and clean energy, which we typically most closely associate with environmental issues.
“In short, SeaTrees isn’t just about pressing a button on your phone to plant trees, even though that is something you can do. It’s a digital platform that provides communities, like those in West Papua, with the resources and support to restore and protect their local ecosystem over the longterm.”
Sustainable Surf’s model seems to be working. In its first year in operation, the platform has: planted 115,000 mangroves, sequestered 24,000 metric tons of CO2, protected 55 different species, and supported 34 communities including those in West Papua.
In a digital world, the obvious next link at Sustainable Surf was to develop and launch a mobile app, which they’ve called the Ocean Positive app. The app, Michael explains, allows you to not only plant “10 mangroves in 10 seconds”, it’s a pocket guide for keeping a finger on the pulse of other types of ocean-positive activism. The app focuses on content relevant to the very environmental, economic, and social issues at hand: community-organized events and demonstrations, plant-based eating, banking, volunteering, choosing gear that’s better for our oceans, and much more.
“All the leading world scientific and political organizations, including the United Nations,” Michael says, “Are telling us that we have about 10 years to fix the mess we’ve made with climate change before we pass a tipping point that our ocean and planet may not be able to come back from. It’s going to take all of us working together, to solve this.”