What if?

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 talks about why we need new stories of hope and inspiration to light the way.

Words by Hugo Tagholm
Photograph by OCEANA, Juan Cuetos


What if we walked tidelines free of the kaleidoscope of multi-coloured plastic pollution? What if we saw the return of whales up and down our coasts? What if we saw fish populations rebound in size and scale? What if we could jump into a crystal-clear river and be carried seaward into a pristine estuary? What if waves peeled onto beaches free of sewage pollution? What if local fishers saw the return of abundance? What if properly protected Marine Protected Areas became the engines and generators of life across the global ocean? What if seabirds flocked in cliffside colonies nationwide? What if our seas were free from industrial factory fishing vessels? What if the only energy source we extracted from the sea was the infinite and abundant wind blowing across the seascape? What if we saw the end of Big Oil?

We must imagine and create the future we want to see for our ocean. All our actions will depend on a hopeful vision of the future. Our future seas will depend on visionary and hopeful ideas. Everything humankind has ever done started in the mind. An idea to be brought to life. We need to believe in what we can achieve. We need to develop radical hope for our ocean. Think big. Deliver even bigger. We must respond to the accelerating climate and biodiversity crisis with big ideas, new stories, new visions, infectious hope, collective inspiration, and a blueprint for a future that people want to live in. A future we can all get excited about again. Protecting and restoring our ocean will be central to this. Blue hope will carry us all to a better future.

But we’re not there yet. Whilst the world talks up the ‘sustainable blue economy’, it risks losing the only economy we all depend on. The economy of nature. The economy of a wild ocean. Left alone to do its thing. Given the space to thrive. Biodiversity loss is happening at an alarming rate, and a staggering number of species are at risk of extinction. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, many within decades, primarily due to our activities. This is the toll of the current economic model and approach we have. 

We need to be bold, progressive, radical, and rapid. We don’t have time to waste. We need to create the future we want to see. A future where we live in harmony with nature. A future where we live within our limits. A future where less is more. This will take some radical shift in mindsets. We particularly need to give hope back to younger generations.

It is crucial to take urgent action to protect biodiversity and preserve the natural world for future generations. This includes the need for Herculean efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect and restore habitats, eliminate the industrial pillaging of wildlife and natural resources, and raise public awareness and support about the importance of biodiversity restoration. And, if we look around, there are many examples of where we have achieved huge results in the face of seeming doom, from the near extinction of whales to the global pandemic. Times when we have united people around an idea and action. We can do the same for our seas and the environment.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) implemented the moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, and even though some countries continued to engage in whaling under objection or with special permits, the success has been clear. Before the moratorium, an average of 38,000 whales were killed annually. Since the moratorium, this number has dropped to fewer than 2,000 per year. The number of countries engaged in commercial whaling has also decreased, from over 20 countries in the 1950s to just three countries in recent years – Japan, Norway, and Iceland. 

We must create a similar story and vision for fish. The ecological recovery of our seas will depend on addressing overfishing. The fishing industry has been exploiting the ocean for far too long, resulting in the depletion of fish stocks and the disruption of marine ecosystems. It’s time for a new story. It is time for governments to implement more sustainable fishing practices and protect marine biodiversity. This can be achieved through the establishment of Marine Protected Areas, the adoption of more selective fishing methods, and the strict enforcement of fishing quotas and restrictions.

And of course, it will also depend on addressing the climate crisis. The accelerating impact of climate change on the ocean cannot be ignored. Rising temperatures and ocean acidification are devastating marine ecosystems, including the bleaching of coral reefs and the disruption of food chains. We need to take colossal action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming – through the rapid adoption of renewable energy sources, the promotion of energy efficiency, and the reduction of our carbon footprint. 

Whilst the scale of the task ahead is daunting, our society can rise to the challenge. We saw this through the pandemic, where rapid change across our global communities practically happened overnight. This was seemingly in some ways a dress rehearsal of what is to come. Rather than a gradual shift, I believe we will see some dramatic and sudden changes to how we live. But positive ones. Governments will be forced to mobilise funds, collaborate, and innovate in record time as new shocks come. Our world is changing, and we need to focus on inspiring people of what it can become rather than entering a doom spiral of news and dismay.

We still have so much to protect and restore.

Rather than Gross Domestic Product and endless financial growth, we should be thinking Great Dreams Produced and endless natural growth. As I write this, NGOs, businesses, and civil society are congregating in Westminster for a huge rally – ‘The Big One’ – to demand faster action to tackle the ecological crisis. This tide is rising and will be impossible for governments to ignore. 

We all need an inspiring and hopeful new story of what our beautiful ocean planet will look like in 100 years. 

Photograph by OCEANA, Juan Cuetos
Issue 30
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_krystal-300x123-1

This column appears in ISSUE 30: BLEACHED of Oceanographic Magazine

Issue 30
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_krystal-300x123-1
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_krystal-300x123-1

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