More Hope for Our Oceans Than We Think

"The rational man finds that his share of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them. Since this is true for everyone, we are locked into a system of "fouling our own nest," so long as we behave only as independent, rational, free enterprisers."

-- Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons," 1968

The oceans are the last remaining commons on our planet. They are places of no sovereignty, and therefore no protection. We read stories of oceans full of trash and devoid of fish. These are problems that threaten not only the wonderful, yet fragile ecosystems of our marine environment, but also our health and our economies.

But amidst all the doom and gloom of the stories you'll read and hear this June 8, World Oceans Day, there is cause for hope. Groups of people all over the world are pioneering new ways to protect the ocean and to keep the fish in and the plastic and chemicals out. Taken individually, these efforts can seem insignificant, and they certainly can be easy to miss. But taken collectively, they represent an unprecedented groundswell of consciousness and action about the role the oceans play in our lives and livelihoods. They give us great hope for the future of our oceans, as well as all that we as humans hold in common.

Concepts such as risk pooling, permit banking, territorial use rights for fisheries (TURFs), and marine protected areas (MPAs) are techniques being deployed on both local and global scales all over the world.

In Indonesia, The Nature Conservancy has created a Marine Protected Area in the Lesser Sunda region, critical for its biodiversity, and in Chile they have just inked a deal in the Valdivian Seascape to set aside a no-take territorial use right for local fishermen.

Rare Conservation, a global organization that works locally to change communities' relationship with nature, is using no-take zones and TURFs in the Philippines to incentivize to local fishers to fish sustainably, and is also working in Chile, helping to turn around decimated fisheries and revitalize local economies.

Closer to home, risk pooling, a concept long used in the insurance industry where companies come together and build a pool that protects against catastrophic risks like natural disasters, is restoring the vital ground fishing industry in California, and permit banking is bringing back the fisheries in Maine.

Organizations like One World One Ocean, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Ocean Conservancy and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, all have extensive programs to combat ocean plastic, marine debris, and pollution in our seas.

Even my business, Method, has developed a way to turn plastic floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch into usable bottles. Going "beach to bottle," we have created a way to raise awareness about an important issue, and more importantly, point to the solution we already have before us: using the plastic that is already on the planet.

These efforts are changing the way we conserve, restore and manage our oceans, and ultimately, how we think of them. They are also models for managing finite resources in the face of ever increasing demand.

Amidst the din of corporate press releases and presidential statements, 'holidays' like World Oceans Day can be hollow, passing by quietly with no more than a thought. So while some will ask you to join a movement or put forth some undeniable call to action, what I ask is something more simple, but more powerful. Take a moment to consider all that is being done to protect and preserve our oceans, and just appreciate it. Appreciation is a necessary ingredient of hope, and hope leads to progress.