WSL We Are One Ocean Campaign

World Surf League's New Campaign Joins Global Efforts to Address Ocean Fragility

Original article published 25 February, 2021

Note: article updated on 16 January, 2023 with revised campaign name 'We are One Ocean' which supersedes the original '30 x 30' initiative name. 

​​[10 minute read]


Rewind a few years back...

5 December 2017, the United Nations declared a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, to be held from 2021 to 2030. In the UN's words, this critical decade will provide a common framework to ensure ocean science can fully support countries’ actions to sustainably manage the Oceans, and more particularly to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Back to 2021...

Enter the World Surf League (WSL) and their newly launched, We Are One Ocean Campaign, urging world leaders to agree to an ambitious, but necessary, international target to fully protect at least 30 percent of global oceans by 2030. Wavechanger has registered as a member of their NGO coalition driven by WSL Pure - the environmental advocacy arm of the wider governing body of the WSL.

Here's the campaign abstract taken from the official We Are One Ocean website:

The World Surf League's (WSL) fans, staff and Championship Tour surfers know as well as anyone how important the ocean is to our global surfing community. The ocean is our office, our playground, our place of worship, and whether you live on the coast, or thousands of miles inland, its health is vital to the health and well-being of everyone. To show our support for our favorite place and to ensure a healthy ocean for us and for generations of surfers to come, WSL and partners recently announced the We Are One Ocean campaign, encouraging world leaders to protect 30 percent of our global ocean by the year 2030.

Given the typical nature of being at the top, it's no surprise that the WSL is an easy target for criticism - and there's already been some strong words from corners of the fishing industries. One day after the campaign launched there was a prompt response from the WSL, with a nod to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that allow for low impact fishing. A quick response to ensure diplomacy, bridge-building and an understanding that there's not one entity being singled-out for criticism or blame.


Unwanted Species

Ask anyone what they think is the biggest threat to our oceans and they're likely to say the invasion of plastic. It's not a surprise to see plastic becoming a common sight in our oceans, we've all seen the countless images and campaigns of floating plastic trash and the dire consequences - many of which we're yet to see. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlights the most harmful impacts on marine environments, with the most critical impacts felt by marine wildlife, impacts on our food and health, on climate change and on tourism. The most visible and disturbing impacts of marine plastics, according to IUCN, are the ingestion, suffocation and entanglement of hundreds of marine species. 

Ricki Hersburgh, Executive Director of Plastic Oceans Australasia, calls for a change in our habits:

“Spreading to every corner of every sea, the ocean’s most unwanted residents are making their permanent mark. The plastic species has quickly become an existential threat to life in the ocean. To combat the impact of ocean plastic and preserve our precious aquatic environment, we all need to change our habits now for the health and wellbeing of every species.”

The Centre for Biological Diversity states that all five of the Earth's major ocean gyres are inundated with plastic pollution. In the first decade of this century, humans have made more plastic than all the plastic in history up to the year 2000. Unfortunately, plastic is so durable that the US Environmental Protection Agency reports “every bit of plastic ever made still exists.” And there's been an exponential growth in plastic, reports Greenpeace, ever since World War II when the production of plastic grew by almost four times during a critical period (1939 to 1945) where it was being used to make anything from bazooka barrels to aircraft components.


Management of Sustainable Fisheries

The UN Food and Agriculture Agency (FAO) states that the increase in intensive fishing has compromised the survival of 33.1% of commercial species, leaving them without time to recover between catches. For example, in 2018, the FAO published a report that stated overfishing in the South-East Pacific and the South-West Atlantic affects more than 58% of the fish populations that inhabit them, while in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea the figure exceeds 62%.

Tim Silverwood, co-founder of Ocean Impact Organisation highlights the importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs):

"Marine Protected Areas work, it's as simple as that. After decades of mismanagement (and often no management at all), the declaration of protected ocean regions to allow species and ecosystems to bounce back will provide profound positive benefits to people and vulnerable species for decades and centuries to come." 

European NGO, Seas At Risk, state that fishing communities often face hurdles when trying to switch to less damaging fishing techniques. Well-designed policy measures, they've suggested, can significantly contribute to reduce such hurdles and encourage a shift towards environmentally sustainable fisheries.

Ultimately it can only be governments that take the necessary action, as the regulation buck stops with them. Pressure from NGOs and all kinds of activism, campaigns and well-intentioned noise are critical moves in a delicate dance that's restricted only by time. ​This notion is highlighted by Karine Toumazeau, CEO of Blue Stark:

“Protecting the ocean is a no-brainer. While everyone has a role to play, world leaders have a responsibility to walk the talk by taking action and showing results. Time is the only variable that we cannot bend to our advantage. There isn’t a minute to waste.”


Healthy Competition

The future of our oceans is now being taken more seriously than ever before, with a steep increase in the number of individuals and groups driving action and inspiring others.

Here in Australia, there’s been some encouraging collaborations and friendships between a growing pack of conservation organisations - all with a similar purpose and a burning desire to facilitate change. Rather than being rivals and jostling for the same airspace, a mix of well-established and emerging change-makers have been actively communicating, sharing ideas, suggesting who to get in touch with, and delivering outcomes faster than if we'd chosen to operate within a perimeter shrouded in secrecy. This momentum is also evident with surfboard shapers who, for the most part, have been demonstrating a fresh attitude to materials, production methods and waste reduction.

Collaboration and openness are critical in tackling such a global, shared problem of such epic proportions, to ensure outcomes are delivered quickly by engaging specialists from all areas of ocean expertise. The internet, while a curiously contentious mechanism for tackling environmental issues, is now an essential tool for global conversations. Covid-19 has provided a catalyst for the recent boom in video calls that enable the rapid sharing of research and developments. At the very least, this sharing of knowledge has a degree of positive peer pressure, which we're certainly feeling, to keep up with other organisations and the fantastic work being done. Kudos to the WSL for creating a coalition of NGOs as part of their We Are One Ocean campaign; a timely example of bringing people together for the same fight.


Leading by Example

The WSL have previously stepped up to necessary societal change, for example with their progressive stance on awarding equal prize money to all athletes. They're now using their global reach to tackle conservation projects (and perhaps next, regeneration projects) in a demonstration of responsible action as world surfing's governing body.

This article isn't just a pat on the back for the WSL, it's also a friendly nudge from our corner, to use their power to regulate the type of surfboards used in competitive events with a countdown on phasing out petroleum-based equipment. We're seeing the outlawing of harmful consumables around the world, which often starts with a transitional step such as a levy or tax (as seen with plastic bags) with a view to a total ban not long after.

Imagine if the WSL could boast, not only about their impressive equal pay for athletes and their campaigns for ocean protection, but also their stance on responsible materials and production methods for the primary tools involved in surfing.

What does this campaign mean for surfers and the surfing industry beyond its plea to sign a petition? A reminder and an opportunity to empower yourself or your business/organisation to be a custodian of our oceans and beaches that play a huge part of our lives. These actions will have a ripple effect on younger generations who, through natural osmosis of information and watching our behaviours, will treat this sort of attitude to environmental protection as an instinctive, everyday responsibility.


Sign the We Are One Ocean petition here - it takes less than a minute and you'll be joined in solidarity with the global surf community in protecting our one ocean.

Thank you Karine, Tim and Ricki for your valuable input.

More reading and contributors' info:

Back to blog