Stop the Trash

Photo courtesy of Wolcott Henry
Photo courtesy of Wolcott Henry

We once believed that the ocean was too big to fail, that we could take out as much fish, and dump in as much trash, debris and pollution as we wished.  Now, we know we were wrong.  And, not only were we wrong, we need to make it right.  One good place to start?  Stopping the flow of bad stuff going into the ocean.

We need to find the way that steers human interaction with the ocean and coasts toward a sustainable future by building a strong, vibrant and well-connected community of projects that effectively responds to the urgent issue of trashing our coasts and ocean.

We need to increase media and financial market coverage of the opportunities that restore and support the health and sustainability of the world’s coasts and ocean:

  • so that public and investor awareness increases
  • so that policymakers, investors and businesses increase their knowledge and interest
  • so that policies, markets and business decisions change
  • so that we transform our relationship with the ocean from abuse to stewardship
  • so that the ocean continues to provide the things we love, and need, and want.

For those involved in travel and tourism, the ocean provides things the industry depends upon for livelihoods, and shareholder profits:  beauty, inspiration, recreation and fun.  Airlines, such as our innovative new partner JetBlue, fly its customers to beautiful beaches, (shall we call them blue vacations?), while we and our conservation-focused partners protect the blue.  What if we could find the way to align interests and craft a new and unique economic business case driver to stop the mountains of trash that find its way into the blue, onto our beaches, and thus threatens livelihoods of the coastal communities and even the travel industry itself?

All of us have deep emotional connection to the coasts and ocean.  Whether it is for stress relief, inspiration, and recreation, when we journey to the sea, we want it to live up to our fond memories or the beautiful photographs that inspired our choice.  And we are disappointed when it does not.

Of all the man-made debris that finds its way into the Caribbean waters, it is estimated by the United Nations Caribbean Environment Programme that 89.1% has originated from shoreline and recreational activities.
Of all the man-made debris that finds its way into the Caribbean waters, it is estimated by the United Nations Caribbean Environment Programme that 89.1% has originated from shoreline and recreational activities.

We have long believed a beach covered with litter and trash is less attractive, less appealing, and thus less likely to call us back to visit again and again.  We remember the trash, not the sand, the sky, or even the ocean.  What if we can prove that this belief is supported by evidence that shows how this negative impression affects the value of a beach community’s natural capital?  What if there is evidence that airline revenue is affected by the quality of beaches?  What if that evidence is specific enough to matter in financial reports?  In other words, a value that can be quantified more precisely, with clearer effects, so that becomes more powerful leverage than just the social pressure brought by the well-meaning, and moves everyone off the sidelines and into the cleanup effort.

So, what if we develop a plan to protect marine natural resources, show the value of clean beaches and directly tie ecology and the importance of nature to the airline’s base measurement – what the industry calls “revenue per available seat mile” (RASM)?  Will the industry listen? Will countries whose GDPs depend on tourism listen?  JetBlue and The Ocean Foundation are going to find out.

We learn more every day about the incredible capacity of plastic and other trash to remain a threat to ocean systems and the animals within them.   Every piece of plastic ever left in the ocean is still there—just in ever-smaller pieces that compromise the very core of the food chain.  Thus, we think that the health and appearance of a tourism destination has a direct effect on revenue.  If we can place an actual dollar value on this metric of healthy beaches, we hope it will highlight the importance of ocean conservation, and thus change our relationship with the coasts and ocean.

Please join us in hoping the New Year brings with it this disruptive business changing analysis that can lead to solutions at scale for an airline, and for countries dependent on tourism – because the coasts and ocean require our attention and care to be healthy.  And, if the ocean is not healthy, neither are we.

Mark J. Spalding, President, The Ocean Foundation, is a member of the Steering Committee of the Western Hemisphere Migratory Species Initiative. Mark is an active participant in the marine working group, Ocean Acidification collaborative, Baja California group, and coral reef group of the funders' organization, the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity. He serves on the International Bering Sea Forum, and he was the chair of the Council of the National Whale Conservation Fund. He has consulted for the Alaska Conservation Foundation, San Diego Foundation, the International Community Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Fundacion La Puerta, and a number of family foundations. He designed and managed the Orca Fund. He has served as a member of the Environmental Grants Advisory Committee of FINCOMUN (Tijuana’s Community Foundation). Mark, who has been practicing law and acting as a policy consultant for 25 years, was the chair of the environmental law section of the California State Bar Association from 1998-1999. He holds a B.A. in history with Honors from Claremont McKenna College, a J.D. from Loyola Law School, and a Master in Pacific International Affairs (MPIA) from IR/PS. From 1994 to 2003 Mark was the Director of the Environmental Law and Civil Society Program, and Editor of the Journal of Environment and Development, at the Graduate School of International Relations & Pacific Studies (IR/PS), University of California at San Diego. In addition to lecturing at IR/PS, Mark has taught at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD's Muir College, UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, and University of San Diego's School of Law. Mark has helped design some of the most significant ocean conservation campaigns in recent years. He is an experienced and successful facilitator at the international level. He brings his extensive experience with the legal and policy aspects of ocean conservation to the Foundation's grantmaking strategy and evaluation process.

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media