Nature and Biodiversity

This is how we can inspire people to feel connected to the ocean

waves crashing into the shore as birds fly overhead

The ocean is our planet’s life support system but if we’re not careful, we may need to put it on life support. Image: Unsplash/Frank McKenna

Carlie Wiener
Director of Communications and Engagement Strategy, Schmidt Ocean Institute
Jyotika Virmani
Executive Director, Schmidt Ocean Institute
Lisa Hynes
Head of Communications, Nekton
Oliver Steeds
Chief Executive, Nekton
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Beyond the ocean

  • Never before in history has the ocean been more accessible to global audiences.
  • In this UN Ocean Decade, we need to rethink how we rally the world to protect its ocean.
  • To connect the ocean to people, we need to connect culture to the ocean.

The ocean is our planet’s life support system but if we’re not careful, we may need to put it on life support. Before that happens, we need to inspire a deeper awakening and recognition of our wonderous ocean. Humanity must remain alive to the gifts of the deep before it’s too late. We know it can be done.

Turn to Space. The broader public connection to space is reverential – it fuels our imagination and inspires us with stories of human exceptionalism and progress. By contrast, the broader public connection to the ocean is mundane, woven with issues of poor health. Something clearly needs to change. Just like mankind’s journey to space, the ocean can be a story of our journey to a brighter future, a place of new encounters and hope. We now have the technology to discover more of the ocean, and more of our planet, than we have in the last 10,000 years. But on its own, this knowledge is not enough to change hearts and minds.

In this UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, society must go further to rally the world to protect its ocean. We can’t rely on ocean community alone. To connect the ocean to people, we need to connect culture to the ocean. We must interweave the arts, sport, music, fashion, gaming, news, television, film, social media, consumer choices, religion and more, with the undersea world to influence human behaviour in favour of the ocean. We are already seeing everyday people inspiring new connections with the ocean.

Take Scottish singer Nathan Evans for example. His 2021 sea shanty known as Wellerman brought global audiences together during the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. The whaling song, which opened with the iconic, “There once was a ship that put to sea, The name of the ship was the Billy of Tea…” became a viral TikTok hit that was sampled by many across the world. And just like that, the world was singing about the ocean. A ripple.


Here are some other ripples of individuals who, through the course of their work, have made the marine realm more accessible to global audiences.

Back in 2012, scientists discovered a new species of hairy crab in the hydrothermal vents near Antarctica. They named it ‘The Hoff’ because of a passing resemblance to American actor David Hasselhoff. It became one of the most reported marine science stories of the year. Another ripple.

In 2019, former Seychelles President Danny Faure gave the first subsea presidential address in a submersible deep below the ocean’s surface. He called for citizens and leaders of the world to protect the blue heart of our planet in an address that was broadcast live in over 100 nations. More ripples.

The overexploitation of fisheries is something the world has been aware of for decades. But it took the confrontational and controversial Netflix documentary, Seaspiracy, to get people talking. Yet another ripple.

Meanwhile, seventh generation cobbler Galahad Clark invented ‘barefoot shoes’ to allow our feet to feel the ground. This was because science shows that our feet have more nerve endings than any other part of the human body, so shoes with padded soles can, and often do, cause knee and back injuries. His company, Vivo Barefoot, has now made the first shoe out of algae. Throw away the script.

Artist, sculptor, and conservationist Jason de Caires Taylor, whose works include underwater sculptures like Ocean Atlas, The Silent Evolution, and the Rising Tide’s Four Horsemen of the Climate Apocalypse, reframes the ocean aesthetic, inspires wonder, and like any great art of its time, asks us to think differently. His works are considered some of the Top 25 Wonders of the World by National Geographic.

Have you read?

From song to social media, news to documentary, art to industry, the ocean is beginning to be heard. And yet, more needs to be done. Many of us in western cultures are having to overcome a cultural history that has instilled an ancient fear of the ocean, once depicted as the lair of dragons or where sailors battled storms. That thalassophobia, or fear of the ocean, still prevails for many. But there is another way. We can turn our involvement with art, history, sports, and industry into action.

With the world’s attention focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, there is growing interest in all forms of science. This is a flame we need to fan. Scientific discovery and humanity’s ability to push forward the frontiers of ocean exploration through a multiplicity of avenues, can drive progress. As we have shown, there are ripples of progress in many non-scientific spaces. We can turn those ripples into waves that seep into all walks of life, culture and society to create wonder and inspire ocean protection. To make a difference, we need to do things differently.

The white paper, Ocean Rising: The Quest to Inspire the Public, is available here.

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