"No one wakes up and says "I want to pollute the ocean today". People want to be aware and mindful. We as brands, innovators, designers must give them this opportunity by making products, materials that are not harmful, last longer, and support a cleaner healthier environment." - Mike Long, Director Of Operations at Parley For The Oceans.
We met Mike Long at last year’s Global Wave Conference where he captured our minds with his talk on fighting ocean plastic pollution. He has led campaigns for the likes of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and is the Director Of Operations for Parley For The Oceans, a global community which addresses major threats to our oceans. Growing up on California’s sweeping coastline, ocean activism and preservation has always been close to his heart.
How did you get involved with Parley For The Oceans?
I have been involved in ocean conservation all my life. I grew up in Southern California and from a very early age was connected to the sea. About 15 years ago I was watching a television interview with Captain Paul Watson, he spoke with a conviction and passion of the war that was being waged on the high seas. The battle was against the illegal whaling and fishing activities led by corrupt governments and was wreaking havoc on marine wildlife. I knew I had to do more, I joined Captain Watson and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on board the Ocean Warrior. It was the start of a lifelong journey and was how I found Cyrill Gutsch and Parley. Cyrill, founder and CEO of Parley, had met Paul in Germany when he was in jail under false accusations under attack by the Japanese whaling lobby. Cyrill, a brand strategist and designer turned his whole business around and created a platform or collaborative network to protect the oceans. I met Cyrill in New York when I attended a Parley Talk with Paul at the Museum of Natural History. Cyrill and I had a long discussion about the state of the oceans and his vision for Parley. Cyrill's idea to align governments, scientist, pace setting brands and the creative industries was exciting to me and I was 100 percent in.
Can you talk through what your role as Director of Operations entails?
As one can imagine, when we talk about tackling one of the biggest threats to our oceans and marine life its not that simple. Parley's focus is to end ocean plastic pollution through our strategy of A.I.R. Avoid, Intercept, Redesign. It is important we develop partnerships that support a global delivery of this program and that we have impact on all levels. I oversee these partnerships and programs under this strategy, but its really about working with our team here at Parley. The operations team works with our Global Clean Up Network partners such as Surfers Against Sewage or Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii as we work to not only clean up the beaches and coastlines but educate communities on A.I.R.. We run Parley Ocean School where we educate the next generation on how the daily decisions they make have a direct effect on the health of the ocean. I recently traveled to Rio where Parley Ocean School reached thousands of kids during the Olympic Games. Parley recently announced our partnership with the United Nations OHRLLS as we work to introduce a special call to action and implement A.I.R. to all 38 member countries of SIDS (Small Island Developing States). These island nations play an important role as a unified voice for the protection of the ocean. Parley's work and impact in the Maldives through our A.I.R. program has allowed us to showcase our Remote Island Interception program where we are eliminating hundreds of thousands of plastic bottles a day from entering the ocean. It's really about working in collaboration with our team and partners as we build capacity and programs around the world. I'm just a small drop in a large bucket.
The collaboration with Adidas seems to be one that’s been really effective in raising awareness amongst the general population. Do you think it is because Adidas is such an influential brand, or is it because there seems to be much more of an awareness of or care for environmental issues?
Adidas is a founding partner of Parley and has played a huge role in the support of A.I.R. It is really about commitment. Adidas has put the ocean first and Parley has been able to use their influence and global reach to carry the message and movement we are creating. When the first shoe was introduced made from the illegal net that was confiscated by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society there was a bit of a media frenzy. There was even some critics. At the end of the day, that shoe was not only a cool product it was a key messenger. it told the story of illegal fishing, slave trade on the high seas, eco-innovation, and ocean plastic pollution. That is impact, that is movement, that is Parley. I think the consumer wants to make the right choice. No one wakes up and says "I want to pollute the ocean today". People want to be aware and mindful. We as brands, innovators, designers must give them this opportunity by making products, materials that are not harmful, last longer, and support a cleaner healthier environment.
You’re based out in Maine - is there more / less / the same awareness of making sure coastlines are kept plastic free and clean?
There is not a beach in the world you can walk today and not find plastic. Maine is no different. Fortunately the coastal communities of Maine have recycling and waste management and people generally know where to put their trash and most importantly want to make the right choice on what to buy and what to eat. However, this is a global issue and whether your in Maine, West Africa, Fiji, or the U.K. we all have to take notice of not just what is happening on our beaches but what is happening in our worlds oceans. 8.5 million tons of plastic flows into the ocean every year. It is not just about the beach clean up anymore. We have to shut the tap off.
Where is your favourite seascape and why?
That is tough, it seems like there are so many beautiful places around the world. My favourite is a small island just off the coast of Maine around Cape Elizabeth. It's a place that my kids and I spend a lot of time on and we have become the island stewards. Like most of the Maine islands it has a beautiful rugged rocky coast but also some extraordinary beaches with large rolling sand dunes. The light in the morning and evening makes me feel as though I am on another planet. We have a small cabin there with no electricity and running water. There are no electronic devices, just the sound of the sea. It is a very special place that creates an inner peace that we sometimes have a hard time finding in the modern world.
What do you think we can do on a daily basis to protect our seas?
We have to change our behaviour, we have to teach our children and we have to love more.
Who would you say is your guardian of the sea?
Paul Watson, co founder of Greenpeace, founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. No one on the planet has done more to fight for and give a voice to whales and the ocean. He is a true inspiration and a hero.