April 23rd, 2019


Vice President of Partnerships, US Water Alliance

Climate Scientist, Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University

Founder and CEO, Sustainable Ocean Alliance


From regulating the temperature of the planet to generating half of the oxygen we breathe, oceans are a vital part of sustaining life on Earth. Moreover, global temperatures would be soaring even higher were it not for the powerful heat-trapping properties of oceans. In the 1980s  it was considered a good thing that the oceans were absorbing both heat and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But that understanding has changed.

“What was once thought of as a service that the ocean was providing to humans is now seen as something damaging that humans are doing to the ocean,” says Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at Stanford University. A warmer ocean is damaging to marine life, most notably to coral reefs, and carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean acidifies it, further causing further harm to marine life.  

But what does marine life have to do with human health and well-being?

“The ocean affects and impact all of us,” says Daniela Fernandez, Founder and CEO of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance. ”Even if you're living in the middle of the United States, even if you’re living in a hut where you may never see the ocean, it truly is our life support.”  

SOA is a global organization that helps young entrepreneurs create startups that have a positive impact on oceans. “The reason why I founded Sustainable Ocean Alliance was because young people were not having a seat at the table,” Fernandez explains. “It’s truly about getting young people globally to feel that they have responsibility can take part in changing the ecosystem of the ocean, and making it profitable is the way to go.”

Sara Aminzadeh, Commissioner of the California Coastal Commission, agrees that fostering a connection to the ocean is important, but it needs to be coupled to a public policy that doesn’t leave people out.

“I think a lot of people across the country feel like going to the ocean and the coast is the part of their culture and a part of their family and is a right,” she says. “I would like to see a much more effective lobby effort where leaders and decision-makers [and] the next president knows that they have to take action because it's something that their constituents are gonna hold them accountable for.”

The mission of Aminzadeh’s agency is to make the ocean coast a place for everyone to enjoy, and to do so responsibly. “I think we do want more people to use the coast but in doing so we need to embrace a culture of care and stewardship.” For Ken Caldeira, that means rethinking much of our relationship to the ocean.

“We've been treating the oceans as a resource that we’re mining and we’re essentially just extracting things out of the ocean without thinking about sustainability,” he explains, “and really, the mindset has to be that this is an endowment that we have to pass on to future generations and that we can live off the interest but we can’t eat into the capital.”

Related links:

California Coastal Commission
Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Global Ecology, Stanford University
Sustainable Ocean Alliance
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch

This program was generously underwritten by Bank of the West.