Rescuing oceans with BLUE Marine Foundation

In conversation with Sara-Jane Skinner, Head of Partnerships at BLUE

On this World Ocean Day, we would like to honour the work of our esteemed partner: Blue Marine Foundation. The Blue Marine Foundation is a Non-Profit Organisation devoted to protect our ocean. BLUE’s vision is a healthy ocean forever, for everyone. For that reason, we support their mission to see 30% of the world’s ocean under protection by 2030.
To celebrate this day, we sat down with Sara-Jane Skinner to talk about the importance of rescuing oceans.

Being a major player within the Yachting industry comes with great responsibilities in term of ocean preservation. At Imperial, we are aware that the ocean is an important part of the biosphere. This is why we commit ourselves, alongside Blue Marine Foundation, to contribute to the future of our marine wildlife. We joined this challenge in 2016, with the London to Monaco race. Since that day, we also organised a charity fundraising event on board the iconic AMADEA (Lurssen 106.1m) during the Monaco Yacht Show 2019.

The interview

Imperial: How and why did you get involved with the Blue Marine Foundation?
Sara-Jane Skinner: A friend of mine first introduced to Blue when I was in transit between Europe and Asia and I was really interested – not just in the organisation, but in the people behind it and their innovative approach to conservation. I came in and sat down for a couple of hours with Executive Director, Charles Clover, and I was completely inspired by him. What he’d already done for marine conservation was remarkable but his vision was just as special and that was it. I’ve been working at Blue now for six and a half years.

IY: Do you have a yachting background?
SJ: My father used to sail, so we did family trips every Easter on the Helford River, as well as family charter holidays in Greece and France on board sailing yachts. I also used to spend Christmas and Summer holidays with my Grandmother, right on the coast down in Dungeness in Kent. And having spent time working in Hong Kong and Indonesia, I have been closely connected to the sea in adulthood too. I’ve enjoyed a lot of diving in Asia among waters that are teaming with marine life. But I’ve also seen a lot of destruction. I’ve seen dynamite fishing first-hand and the havoc that causes to coral reef, literally reducing it to rubble, is horrendous.

IY: So what do you see as the major problems for our oceans
SJ: Alongside climate change and acidification, overfishing is the biggest threat to our oceans, because without adequate fish stocks, the oceans are unable to perform their normal functions. Of course, there is a fight to be fought against various other threats, like pollution and plastic – and thanks to natural historian, David Attenborough and his TV programme ‘Blue Planet 2’, the bar has been raised in terms of our awareness of these things. Plastic in particular has captured the public imagination but we need to broaden the conversation and educate people that plastic is not actually the key problem at all. The problem is not what we’re putting into the oceans; it’s what we’re taking out.

IY: Is that a hard message to convey when plastics have cornered the headlines?
SJ: It is, but thankfully, Sir David Attenborough has just written an article describing overfishing as one the biggest threats, so hopefully with time, and Blue’s ongoing campaigning and high-level media work, the message will get through.

IY: What is the Blue Marine Foundation trying to achieve?
SJ: We were set up off the back of an award-wining documentary film called ‘The End of The Line’ that came out in 2009. Charles Clover, our Executive Director, wrote the book upon which it was based. It was focussed on the collapse of the tuna fisheries and it highlighted the fact that, if we continue to engage in unregulated industrial fishing on the high seas, we’re going to reach a point where our fish stocks are so depleted that they won’t be able to replenish themselves naturally
To help address that, Blue set out to tackle overfishing and the destruction of marine bio-diversity in several ways: firstly, by creating marine protected areas to allow fish stocks to recover; secondly, through restorative projects, where we focus on particular marine habitats and particular species; and thirdly, we work with low-impact, small scale fisheries and coastal areas where we try to implement better models for sustainable fishing.

IY: So what’s your involvement with Imperial?
SJ: The first time our paths crossed was at the inaugural London to Monaco charity ride in 2016, when Imperial came on board as a sponsor for one of our support vehicles. In 2017, they got involved again and then in 2018, we talked about developing our relationship with a formal corporate partnership. Since then, Imperial has been able to support Blue in a more varied and flexible way.

IY: What’s the London to Monaco all about?
SJ: It’s a cycle ride from London to Monaco over eight days. It’s our largest mass-participation fund-raising event and it’s helped hugely in raising awareness across different industries because it attracts riders and sponsors from such a broad mix of sectors. But everyone who comes along shares a common passion for the future of our oceans so what we’re doing is a kind of alchemy – turning sweat into money and pumping that directly into conservation. It’s in its fourth edition now and over the past three years it’s raised more than a million pounds of critical funding for vital fledgling projects in Ascension Island, as well as in Patagonia, Cyprus, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea and Namibia. It’s been incredibly impactful already and it’s still gathering momentum.

IY: Has the superyacht industry become a useful ally in your work?
SJ: Well when I first started working at Blue, there seemed to be an implicit resistance in the superyacht industry to supporting marine conservation charities that focused on the marine environment itself. They would think more about how they could make boats more eco-friendly, whereas now, they’re realising that they actually have to support and protect the environment around the yacht, because the industry relies on healthy oceans. That is fundamentally what Blue is doing – restoring a healthy ocean – so it’s wonderful to have prominent superyacht companies like Imperial helping us in that.

IY: Is there a balance to be struck between conservation and recreation?
SJ: If anything, they enhance each other. Right from the outset, we identified the yachting industry as one that would naturally want to support such a cause, because it’s built on the appeal of the water – and who wants to spend time in wildlife-deficient waters that had become a kind of jellyfish soup? So it’s about working in collaboration with the yachting sector – about enhancing the environments the yachtsmen want to enjoy. So why not have things like the BLUE film and brochure on board charter yachts? It would be something else for charter guests to think about and it might even connect them more profoundly to the marine environments they love.

IY: What do you think will be most important issues over the next decade?
SJ: We’d like to stop industrial fishing on the high seas altogether – and equally, we need to change our eating habits. We need to take pressures off popular fish stocks by eating more seasonally and supporting low-impact, small-scale fisheries. We should be sourcing fish from our neighbouring coastlines and asking more questions to help put pressure on suppliers and restaurateurs.

IY: Are you aiming to achieve those goals with legislation or education?
SJ: Both. Blue operates across the entire spectrum, from high-level government policy, all the way down to community-led campaigns. For instance, down in Lyme Bay on the Jurassic Coast, one of our longstanding projects involves fishing within a reserve and creating a sustainable brand called ‘Reserve Seafood’. It’s recognised as a quality product, so the fishermen are now fetching up to 30 per cent more on their catch. The fishermen are now speaking on televised news, saying it’s the best thing that’s happened to their industry in a hundred years, so we’re now rolling the Lyme Bay model out to other areas – not just around the UK but in the Mediterranean too.

IY: Is there anything regular people can do to help?
SJ: Oh, a huge amount. The more supporters we have on social media, the more awareness we can generate and we also have volunteer days with some of our more accessible projects, like the Native Oyster project down on the Solent. People can simply get in touch and come along. Equally, we’re a charity that needs donations to operate, so we invite people to make any size of donation online – and of course, it’s a major help if people can be more conscious about what they eat. There are free apps you can download on your mobile phone so, whether you’re at a restaurant, a fishmongers or a supermarket, you can check what’s in season, see how it’s been caught and know whether its on the endangered list.

IY: Has working with Blue changed your attitude to the oceans?
SJ: It really has, because what we’re addressing here is the largest, solvable problem on the planet. Solving over-fishing and tackling the crisis in the oceans is not a challenge of the same order as climate change. The regeneration of fish populations can happen in just five to seven years, so if we can generate a collective commitment to protecting the world’s marine life, it’s something we could definitely achieve in our own lifetimes.

 

Photo credit: Blue Marine Foundation

Discover a unique wildlife in the Galapagos