Nearly 20 years ago, the Pew Oceans Commission, which I was member of, released a report about the state of our oceans, and it wasn’t pretty. Overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction were threatening the seas. When the commission ended, I knew one thing, as a sailor, I had to help. One of the biggest issues I saw was other sailors and boaters – an amazingly talented and civic-minded group – were not yet activated on behalf of the oceans we love.
A year later, in 2004, I co-founded Sailors for the Sea along with my friend, Dr. David Treadway, another avid sailor. There were 2.5 million self-identified sailors in the United States at that time. We had no idea how our community would respond. Some of my friends thought I was nuts – “David,” they would tell me “sailors want to go to the party after the regatta, not a rally for the oceans.”
Still, we plunged ahead and set a goal of recruiting one percent, or 25,000 sailors, to join the movement to help save the oceans. We had success in getting attention and created some very important programs including Clean Regattas and Rainy Day Kits (now called KELP, or Kids Environmental Lesson Plans). However, we did not make much headway in hitting our 25,000 number.
Fortunately, we kept at it, ultimately merging with Oceana (one of the largest ocean conservation organizations on the planet), and in the last four years, something has clicked. Much of it is due to the hard work of our team and Oceana, but I think credit should also go to the new generation of sailors entering the sport. They want to become ocean activists and are now finding us. The sailing community seems to be well on its way to becoming a true force for saving the oceans. I am so glad Sailors for the Sea is there to serve them, our community, and the oceans.
Today, we’ve far surpassed our initial goal. In just the last year, we’ve grown an incredible 90% and now count more than 40,000 members—our community of Green Boaters who routinely speak up for our oceans and follow our Green Boating best practices. This is a big win for our oceans. In 2021 alone, more than 47,000 sailors participated in a Clean Regatta—which has potentially kept 675,000 single-use plastic water bottles out of waterways and waste streams—and 768 organizations, sailing programs, and families used our KELP activities to teach kids about marine science and environmental issues. We’ve also now recruited 16 Skippers, volunteer activists who are focused on organizing their local marinas, clubs, and community.
While there have been many gains over the last two decades, the oceans need our help now more than ever. Many of the problems that we uncovered in the Pew Oceans Commission report still exist – coastal development, invasive species, overfishing, and of course climate change are all taking a toll. Finding and implementing solutions takes vigilance, dedication, and commitment. But it’s worth it.
As sailors, we know that life on land and in the oceans is inextricably linked, and the quality of our life—from the food we eat to the air we breathe—depends on a healthy, thriving, and biodiverse ocean. The good news is that we can achieve this.
What are some things you can do? First and foremost, be an ocean advocate. Support the people and the policies that can make real, positive changes for our oceans. Whether you’re a sailor or just someone who cares about the oceans, you can sign up to become a Sailors for the Sea “Green Boater”. The more this community grows, the larger impact we can have. Are you involved with any sort of event planning? While our Clean Regattas sustainability initiatives are targeted at water-based events, most of the best practices can be implemented at any event. Have kids in your life? Take a look at our Kids Environmental Lesson Plans. It’s never too early to foster a love for the environment and improve ocean literacy.
The health of our oceans depends on all of us, and the actions we take today to protect it help secure a better future for everyone.
For the oceans, David Rockefeller, Jr.
Founder, Sailors for the Sea