World Water Day: Time for a Sea Change

In celebration of the 25th World Water Day on March 22, we take a look at some of the forward-thinking ocean conservation efforts from around the globe.

World Water Day this year focuses on ecosystem restoration and sustainable agriculture

World Water Day this year focuses on ecosystem restoration and sustainable agriculture

The theme of this year’s United Nations World Water Day is “nature for water,” or using nature-based solutions to address the global water challenges of the 21st century, namely access to clean water for drinking and irrigation. Though World Water Day’s focus is on freshwater—rivers, lakes, wetlands, and floodplains—naturally, all of the world’s water sources are connected.

Saltwater is made when freshwater moves over land. Rock minerals including salts are eroded by flowing water and combine with it, eventually entering the Earth’s oceans. The ocean covers more than 70 percent of Earth’s surface and accounts for 97 percent of the planet’s water. (About two percent is frozen in glaciers and ice caps.)


Protecting our oceans is protecting our water, and not just from a drinking or irrigation perspective. According to the nonprofit Mirpuri Foundation, half of the oxygen every human being breathes comes from the ocean. We need oceans to keep us alive, yet we continue to pollute them. In 2010, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic entered the ocean, and if this trend continues, more than 150 million tons will be there by 2025, threatening ocean ecosystems and ultimately human existence.


To that end, the Mirpuri Foundation is the chief sponsor of Turn the Tide on Plastic, the yacht currently in sixth place on leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race as the teams battle their way across 7,600 nautical miles of unforgiving Southern Ocean to Itajaí, Brazil. Over the course of eight months and 45,000 nautical miles, Turn the Tide on Plastic will bring its environmental message around the world, to 12 host cities on six continents. And the Dee Caffari-skippered team, handpicked with youth and diversity in mind, practices what it preaches, choosing reusable Lily Bee Wraps instead of single-use plastic film to protect their onboard foods.

It’s a natural fit for the foundation’s president, Paulo Mirpuri, a Portuguese businessman and philanthropist who invests in industries from aircraft to agriculture and has sporting passions that include golf, tennis, horseback riding, and of course, sailing. (He’s a qualified skipper and Airbus pilot.) Other marine conservation initiatives include Mirpuri’s sponsorship of António Silva, a Portuguese pro surfer competing in the invitation-only 2018 Big Wave Tour, and the Cascais Naval Club’s sailing school, which trains the resort town’s teens to compete at the Olympic level. On top of boosting the sport in his homeland, Mirpuri’s overarching goal is getting young people immersed in the ocean, if you will, so that they’ll have a vested interest in safeguarding its future.


Picked for his sway among the younger set, Silva is raising awareness surrounding the plastic found in our oceans and reportedly removes trash from the sea on an almost daily basis. The Mirpuri Foundation’s logo and message emblazon his clothing, gear, surfboard and jet ski. Mirpuri recognizes that young people represent the next wave of ocean advocates and is actively tapping into that energy.


Actor Adrian Grenier, known best for playing Vincent Chase on HBO’s Hollywood bro comedy Entourage, is another public figure using his powers for good, again with an emphasis on youth. Long active on behalf of environmental and social causes, Grenier founded the Lonely Whale Foundation, an NGO and ideas incubator for ocean conservation, in 2015.


In December 2017, Lonely Whale announced with Dell the launch of NextWave, the first-ever market-based plastics packaging feasibility study designed to reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean. With the support of UN Environment and companies including General Motors, Trek Bicycle, and Herman Miller, NextWave hopes to divert more than 3 million pounds of plastic from entering the ocean within five years, the equivalent of 66 million water bottles. Lonely Whale also spearheaded Strawless in Seattle, a month long campaign that ushered in new legislation and removed 2.3 million plastic straws from circulation. As of July 2018, Seattle will become the largest metropolitan city to ban the single-use plastic straw.


Like Mirpuri, Grenier knows that action begins with emotion. That’s the thinking behind the Dell-produced Cry Out: The Lonely Whale Experience, a 4D virtual reality presentation that plunges viewers under the waves to witness pollution’s impact on marine life. The activist–filmmaker puts it simply: “If you can’t connect, you can’t care. When you start to develop empathy and a connection, you can start to care and make better choices for the planet.”


Speaking of making choices, here in New Zealand, we have the grassroots movement Bags Not. The advocacy group simply asks consumers to get into the habit of saying no to single-use plastic bags at stores. Alluding to the colloquialism “bags,” a term typically invoked by youngsters to stake claim, akin to the American expression “dibs,” “bags not” is the inversion of that idea, used to avoid being nominated for tedious tasks. It’s a playful approach to a serious problem.


Says Grenier, “Today’s children are tomorrow’s environmental leaders. The more we can educate the next generation about the state of the ocean and what they can do every day to make a difference, the better prepared they’ll be to ensure ocean health improves and stays healthy for multiple generations.”

By Anna Ngo

Oceanmax International

Blog post published 21 March 2018