The YachtWorld Hero award is given annually to a person dedicated to the protection of the world’s oceans. It’s a fitting award to be given from the heart of an industry that supports the millions of people all over the world who like to be out on the sea, and who have the capacity, both individually and collectively, to hurt it or help it.
David Rockefeller Jr., who has won the 2013 YachtWorld Hero award, wants us to help. In his view, recreational boaters are perfectly suited to serious ocean conservation. We care about the water, and we spend as much time as we can there. We can see the problems, the changes in the system over time, and we can make a difference. With our multitudes of boats and thousands of businesses that build, store, maintain, and fuel those boats, we can and should play a strong role in maintaining the health of the sea.
Rockefeller has devoted much of his life to the environment, as vice chair of the National Park Foundation and vice chair of the Alaska Conservation Foundation, among other posts. But no cause is more important to him than protection of the sea. He is a lifelong sailor, both racer and voyager, and served as a member of the Pew Oceans Commission, which issued a sobering and influential report on the state of the oceans in 2003. A year after that involvement he founded Sailors for the Sea, and it is for that effort, particularly, that he was chosen for the YachtWorld award.
By ‘sailors’ Rockefeller means everyone out on the water — wind-powered, engine-powered, and paddle-powered. He wants all recreational boaters to become better educated about the health of the ocean; he wants us to bear a hand in helping to preserve and protect it, and he wants Sailors for the Sea to be a rallying point for information and inspiration. “When we started Sailors for the Sea,” he said in a YachtWorld interview, “our premise was that sailors are in the best position to see the condition of the ocean. They love the oceans, and they’re the most likely protectors of it. It’s a little bit like fly fishermen in the streams, or birders in the marshlands – people whose recreational resource is at risk are the ones most likely to protect it.”
Based in Newport, Rhode Island, Sailors for the Sea runs several programs designed to educate and enlist boating people of all stripes:
Clean Regattas — a race organization certification program aimed at reducing waste and establishing best practices for sailing races. The program was showcased at the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco, and has reached over 100,000 racing sailors in the U.S.
Rainy Day Kits — a collection of accessible and fun downloadable educational materials from authoritative sources about ocean health, intended to aid teachers, camp counselors, and boating instructors.
Ocean Watch Essays — monthly articles that discuss current ocean health issues and offer opportunities to take action.
Rockefeller also sponsored and participated in a year-long circumnavigation of the Americas via the Northwest Passage and Cape Horn aboard a 64-foot cutter, Ocean Watch. The voyagers made 50 stops to engage, educate, and learn from the people in coastal cities on both sides of both Americas. The journey was chronicled in One Island, One Ocean, a book written by veteran sailing journalist Herb McCormick with photography by David Thoreson. It’s a powerful lesson in human culture, geography, oceanography, and ecology, all wrapped in a fine sea story.
It would be hard to imagine how the oceans of the world could have a better friend than Rockefeller, who has the intense interest, the intelligence, the energy, and the wherewithal to be the fulcrum of action. Discussing his receipt of the 2009 World Monuments Fund Hadrian Award, Rockefeller said, “If there isn’t a vision, it’s hard to get other people to follow, and I have been very lucky to have ancestors who had a lot of vision in their philanthropy.”
But neither money nor the devotion of environmentalists can reverse the damage being done to the oceans by pollution, overfishing, global warming, and, at the base of it all, overpopulation. It will take a concentrated movement of strong will, truly widespread education, and hands-on action, starting with those who ply the waters themselves.
Asked in his YachtWorld interview what he would do if he had a cadre of 50,000 devoted, active ocean conservators at his disposal, Rockefeller said that he would send them out to educate others on the nature of the sea, the current health of the sea, and actions that could be taken to preserve it. But beyond that, contemplating an army of volunteers that strong, he stressed the importance of action at the personal level: If, in fact, there were 50,000 people who picked up trash from the oceans and beaches, who helped stop spills and runoff, who were constant, active stewards themselves, and who also educated and encouraged others to be active, the two-pronged approach – education and action – might build on itself and become constantly more powerful and positive.
“In the next 10 years I want Sailors for the Sea to become the gathering point where all boaters learn about the oceans,” says Rockefeller, “and learn to protect the oceans — and in effect become the blue voice for the oceans.”
Other links of interest:
- Pew Oceans Commission : A Report to the Nation; Recommendations for a New Ocean Policy [PDF file]
- International Coastal Cleanup (Ocean Conservancy)
- World Ocean Observatory
- Institute for Ocean Conservation Science
- NOAA Clean Marina Program
- BoatUS: Clean Boating