Ocean rebellion - all hands on deck

Hugo Tagholm has previously led the ocean campaigning charity Surfers Against Sewage and is the executive director and vice president of Oceana in the UK. In this column, he outlines why we must continue to bring the ocean rebellion to beaches, streets, and capital cities worldwide.

Words by Hugo Tagholm
Photograph by Mat Arney


Our seas are boiling and our forests are burning yet our governments so often still drag their heels on the urgency of real action when it comes to the growing climate and biodiversity crisis. The seas around the UK are currently four degrees warmer than they should be – a marine heatwave that scientists warn can kill fish and other sea life on a colossal scale. The Met Office puts this down, in large part, to human-caused climate change and, potentially, other natural and anthropogenic factors driving temperatures up further. These record temperatures are catapulting us into ‘uncharted territory’ they say. We are effectively already living in the climate emergency.


Pioneering community projects planting saplings, reforesting our seas, and restoring seagrass meadows are yet to truly keep pace with even a fraction of the scale of the despoiling of our ocean. Despite the power of documentaries including the End of the Line and, more recently, Seaspiracy, industrial fishing fleets with huge trawl nets scour Marine Protected Areas to process biodiversity and biomass for supermarket shelves and pet food stores.

Protected Areas, sometimes referred to as Paper Parks, are often a way for governments to feign environmental progress and protection to the general public – and provide cover for industry to get away with blue murder, quite literally. Commercial interests are pushing hard to mine minerals from the deep sea – yet more pristine areas put up for sale to the highest bidder. It’s a race to the bottom in every sense. Once deep-sea minerals are exhausted, where will we go next?

Despite the rhetoric of investments in green energy, the insatiable appetite of Big Oil to tap into new, ever deeper and environmentally catastrophic fossil fuel reserves, grows by the day. Governments commit to environmental targets and deadlines at shiny conferences, only to renege on their commitments under the intense pressure of corporate lobbyists and money washing around Westminster, Washington, and global corridors of power.

Our leaders are blowing holes in carbon and biodiversity budgets and commitments by the day.

We live in dangerous and deeply divided times. The ocean emergency is as stark and clear as it could ever be, and accelerating by the day. We are all watching it play out in real time as the fallacy of infinite growth and endless consumption remain the shared doctrine of the wealthiest countries of the world. A doctrine which can only ever end in disaster and mutually assured destruction.

Carving up the sea into blue fields, monocultures and industrial sites is not our way out of this existential crisis for our society. Using up ocean resources to reinforce an economic structure that isn’t working is a crazy proposition. This is just digging a deeper hole for us and delaying the inevitable. We absolutely need to reinvent our relationship with Planet Ocean if we want to remain as permanent residents of this incredible blue spaceship we call home.

We can’t just tech our way out of the nature crisis, we have to nature our way out of the crisis. And we need real hope to return in these sometimes desperate times of the daily news cycle. This is why the ambition of the historic High Seas Treaty is so important providing the world’s first legal framework to protect the High Seas. These dominate over half the planet, yet shockingly only 1% are currently protected. This treaty is a dramatic win for all life on Planet Ocean, and will be central to governments delivering their commitments to protect 30% of seas and land by 2030. It offers us all hope – to reboot ocean life and protect the natural systems that protect us all, and allow humans to flourish.

We must turn the ‘environmental doom’ into ‘environmental doing’ as fast as possible. The political will is growing by the day and together, as a global community of ocean activists, we can demand the change we want to see. From ending new offshore oil and gas, to stopping overfishing, from making single- use plastics a thing of the past, to making thriving, fully protected marine areas a thing of the future.

We must continue to bring the ocean rebellion to beaches, streets, and capital cities worldwide. Your voice, your action and your passion will be crucial in the rebellion. Planet Ocean needs all hands on deck.

Photograph by Mat Arney
Issue 31
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This column appears in ISSUE 31: NET LOSSES of Oceanographic Magazine

Issue 31
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_crew
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_crew

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