The ocean sustains almost all life on this planet – and is our greatest protection against climate change. It produces more than half our oxygen, and stores 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere.
Mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows remove 10 times more CO2 than the rainforest and store 3 to 5 times more carbon Coral reefs reduce 97% of wave energy, while mangroves reduce 66% of wave height. Right now, the situation is critical. We must protect the ocean, so it can continue to protect us. Did you know: 93% of excess heat from global warming is absorbed by the ocean; 1 in 3 marine animals face extinction due to the rise of ocean temperatures; 250,000 people will die every year from 2030-2050 as a direct result of climate change.
Daniela Fernandez, founder and CEO of Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) – the world’s largest network of young ocean leaders and home to the first Ocean Solutions Accelerator – announced onstage at the UN Ocean Conference (UNOC) Youth and Innovation Forum that the nonprofit has raised an initial $15 million to restore the health of the ocean in our lifetime. This will provide crucial funding to startups and community projects creating new ocean solutions – from converting waves into clean energy, to planting mangroves to sequester carbon, and much more.
In order to restore and regenerate our ocean, we must invest in ambitious and imaginative solutions that will have an immediate impact on climate change, pollution reduction, blue carbon, and ecosystem preservation. This new funding will be deployed over the next three years to empower entrepreneurs and youth leaders as they develop technological and nature-based solutions. But a catalytic increase in capital is needed to address the greatest threats facing our planet, and the nonprofit’s ultimate goal is to raise $100 million.
On the last day of the United Nations Ocean Conference Youth and Innovation Forum, 130 youth from all over the world who had come together to tackle the greatest threats facing our ocean were surprised by appearances from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson, and actor and UNEP Advocate for Life Below Water Jason Momoa, famously known for his role as Aquaman.
The governments of Portugal and Kenya were proud to co-host the event, organized by the United Nations Global Compact Ocean Stewardship Coalition in cooperation with CEiiA, the Municipality of Cascais, Nova School of Business and Economics (NOVA SBE), and Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) supported by UN DESA.
Thomson and Momoa surprised the crowd when Momoa arrived at the beach, and was passed the Relay 4 Nature baton from Thomson who then symbolically passed it via the youth delegates to the President of Portugal Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
“For me, the Ocean is an ancient teacher, a guide and a muse. It is also existential. Without a healthy Ocean, life on our planet as we know it would not exist. It was such an honor to be here in Lisbon today with the UN Special Envoy for the Ocean and UNEP to pass the nature baton- a symbol for ambition and action – to the next generation of young leaders who are already hard at work on finding ways to rewire our systems to be more nature positive and climate friendly. I have a lot of hope for the future seeing these amazing young people in action.” said UNEP Advocate For Life Below Water Jason Momoa
The weekend’s programming centered around a 24-hour “Innovathon”, where the 130 youth delegates worked together as teams to address critical challenges outlined in the UN Global Compact report 5 Tipping Points for a Healthy and Productive Ocean. The youth were also given the opportunity to contribute to the political process of the UN Ocean Conference by facilitating inputs to the eight interactive dialogues.
During the closing plenary, UN Secretary-General Guterres spoke about the importance of youth leadership and innovation and the role of the ocean in contributing to solving all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. “Today, I apologize to youth on behalf of my generation for not having protected the ocean,” said Guterres.
“We were so inspired by the teams and their innovative solutions that we ourselves felt the need to innovate the award itself and pick two winners. Picking a winner amongst all the pitches was a difficult choice, but the jury fully agreed on the two. We look forward to helping put these solutions into reality for our sustainable future.” Said an impressed jury after hearing the pitches.
The winning teams were clearly moved as they entered the stage to accept the prizes. The winning team, called “Waste Vengers” came up with a plastic recovery solution to transform plastic waste to construction. The other winning team called “Invasea” focused on a complete catalytic shift from believing in change to having the resources, mentorship and tools to improve ocean health and human health globally.
“A love based, youth led climate movement is what we need. This room is full of the brightest minds in the world now acting in their communities. Not thinking about models but actually acting.” Said the winning teams from the stage.
As part of the prize package, both winning teams received a $15,000 microgrant from Sustainable Ocean Alliance and an anonymous judge from the jury, scholarships from NOVA School of Business and Economics, and two internship opportunities from Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO).
To learn more about Sustainable Ocean Alliance, visit their website here.