By Daniela Fernandez
Founder & Chair
Sustainable Oceans Alliance
Two years ago, I founded the Sustainable Oceans Alliance (S0A), a student-led organization that empowers millennials to become leaders in preserving the health and sustainability of our ocean. My passion to create SOA stemmed from the lack of engagement opportunities that were available to my generation. With high-level conversations taking place behind closed doors, I felt the need to create a platform that would bridge the information gap and unite the next generation with current ocean champions.
That vision became a reality at the Our Ocean Leadership Summit, which took place September 15-16 in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Department of State, Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, and the Sustainable Oceans Alliance brought together ocean leaders and a group of 150 millennials to identify solutions and build strategies to spur action on the threats facing our ocean.
Students had the opportunity to discuss ideas with notable leaders such as Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence; Dr. Jonathan Pershing, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change; Monica Medina, Deputy Director of the Walton Family Foundation, explorers Philippe and Ashlan Cousteau; and Charles Goddard, Asia Pacific Editorial Director for The Economist. Additionally, U.S. Secretary Kerry, and actor and advocate Adrian Grenier urged young people to take immediate action in the tackling the clear inescapable link that exists between climate change and oceans.
Developing life-long ocean advocates
At the conclusion of the Our Ocean Leadership Summit, the 150 international participants made pledges to continue their work upon returning to their communities: As a freshman at Stanford University, Julie Fukunaga has already combined computer science with electrical engineering to create a “smart” aquaponic system controllable through a mobile application and a self-navigating, algae-fighting boat that uses ultrasonic sound. Alfredo Giron-Nava, a Ph.D. student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has developed the dataMares web platform with the goal of improving international science communication. While Naser Alnaser, a Civil Engineering graduate from Cardiff University pledged to develop sustainable and eco-friendly marine coastal engineering designs, and implement such strategies to his local Coastal Zone Management Plan, which forms part of the National Planning and Development Strategies Plan of Bahrain.
Supporting Millennial Efforts
By creating engagement opportunities that highlight the millennial perspective, establishing youth advisory councils and mentorship programs, non-governmental organizations can become the breeding grounds for the next generation of ocean leaders. Companies, universities and governments can also further advance the development of vibrant solutions by promoting entrepreneurship as a mindset and way of life. From launching seed money competitions, to creating ocean-specific hubs for the dissemination of ideas, to providing guidance to young founders, every helping hand will accelerate our impact.
I am optimistic that the drive, entrepreneurial mindset and collaborative spirit of my generation will help restore the health of our deep blue sea. However, we need the support and mentorship of current ocean champions in the policy, business and science sectors to help scale and implement our ambitious ideas.
Daniela Fernandez is a government and economics major at Georgetown University and the Founder and Chair of the Sustainable Oceans Alliance’ (SOA), “a student led organization that empowers Millennials to become leaders in preserving the health and sustainability of our ocean.” After a trip to the United Nations in 2013 where she learned that fisheries could collapse by 2050 affecting the global economy, food chains, and eco-tourism, Fernandez decided to take action. This led her to organize the first annual ‘Sustainable Oceans Summit’, which convened Millennials, NGOs, business executives and policy leaders to discuss the challenges and potential solutions surrounding ocean sustainability.
Under her leadership, two annual Summits have broadcast globally engaging 30 universities, U.S. embassies and over 2,000 participants. Along with Fernandez’ work on the Alliance and her course work, she has also been a contributor to The Economist Insights blog and was a special guest at The Economist World Ocean Summit in Portugal. Daniela has spoken at U.S. Capitol Hill Ocean Week, at the World Affairs Council Conference, at WE Day Illinois to a crowd of 15,000 people, and has been invited to the United Nations to present a petition on behalf of the millennial generation in anticipation of the Sustainable Development Goal vote.
She has been recognized for her work by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, named one of Glamour Magazine’s College Women of the Year, received the Peter Benchley Ocean Youth Award, has been named Student Leader of the Year by the Georgetown McDonough School of Business Global Social Enterprise Initiative and has been recognized as a Green 2.0 environmental leader.