The Broadcast / In The Margins: A Year In Ocean Activism

In The Margins: A Year In Ocean Activism

Longtime Broadcast contributor, surfer and Oceans Director at Blue Marine Foundation, Dan Crockett, looks back on a big year for the ocean - from international conferences to moments of ocean connection found on the fringes.


3 min read

Words by Dan Crockett

Images by Mike Guest

It’s been a huge and busy year for the ocean since last December, starting with the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which sets out a number of ambitions including effectively protecting at least 30 per cent of ocean by 2030. This momentum grew when the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction treaty was signed in March this year, creating a pathway for the world to protect life on the high seas. But with these steps forward came huge challenges and threats, from deep sea mining to new oil and gas drilling closer to home. Keeping pace with these developments, developing strategic interventions to build on the opportunities and seriously challenge bad practice in the ocean, has made 2023 an incredibly fast-paced year.

Keeping healthy and surfing through it all has been tricky. Late nights, flights, long trains, crap food, marathon zooms, melatonin, toddlers before dawn, bright lights, air con, suit and ties, jetlag, clenched jaws. Instagram-provoked longing for the sea.

Snippets from the last few months of work travel: An addict on the street in Manhattan, a thin old woman, drawing on a pipe in broad daylight. Under the sulphurous yellow plume that haunts San Carlos, a pelican’s beak bound in plastic. A £5m self-playing Steinway piano on a Russian superyacht in the Monaco harbour. I feel like I am moving too fast sometimes, perhaps we all do. There’s been precious little water time.

It was refreshing to visit the Global Wave Conference in October (organised by Surfrider Europe) and connect with a genuinely passionate, activist community of surfers trying to make things better. I spoke on the first panel about my work with Blue Marine Foundation - marine protected areas and their role in supporting coastal communities, low-impact fishermen, marine life and a stable climate. I also talked about the restoration of the marine environment and understanding the values that this could provide in terms of climate change mitigation, resilience and adaptation. It was cool to exchange ideas with people minimising the environmental and social impacts of boards, wetsuits and surf travel. But also defending surf spots from a legion of threats such as development and pollution. This includes organisations I’ve known about my whole surfing life (like Surfers Against Sewage, where I am proud to sit on the board, and the epic Save the Waves Coalition) through to many new (to me) academics, activists and creatives who are committed to making things better.

As surfers on the cold northern fringes of Europe we don’t see much wildlife. A seal now and again, gannets hitting the water in winter. We easily forget that surf spots around the world are incredibly rich in biodiversity. The waves break where the connective tissue between all beings is still rich and vibrant. These intact “surf ecosystems” are critically important and it was cool to learn about efforts to conserve and maintain them. These photos were taken in the margins of the conference. This day was the worst of a long run of perfect a-frame peaks up and down the coast. The afternoon wind had come on a bit side shore and the action had moved up the beach towards Molho Leste. Scottish cameraman Mike Guest and I noticed this little running left that the surfers were ignoring and decided to go swim it.

It wasn’t much to speak of really, a few little sandy runners. Probably twenty minutes in and out. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve intentionally surfed towards a camera. But Mike is like that, he’s a special human being, it draws you in. The pictures speak to me about how important it is to touch down, to press the pause button on a fast-paced life. 2024 will be mission critical for the future health of the ocean, the pressure is fully on.

Ten days deep in UNFCCC COP28 in Dubai, it feels good to look back on these images. No matter how quick or random, these touchpoints with the ocean sustain us all. We are so lucky to get to do this.


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