Mutually assured blue salvation

Hugo Tagholm leads the national marine conservation and campaigning charity Surfers Against Sewage. He is part of the Edinburgh University Ocean Leaders programme and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science by Exeter University for his services to the marine environment.

Words & photographs by Hugo Tagholm


We are living through troubled times, with a cascade of seismic global challenges reverberating across society. We’ve been thrown from one catastrophe to the next – the pandemic, the financial crisis, the climate emergency, regional wars and the grinding threat of World War Three and mutually assured destruction. 

We’ve been gripped by the awful events of the global pandemic for the last two years, the tragedy unfolding in real-time in all corners of our planet. A plague that instilled fear in the heart of global society, from which we may only just be emerging and recovering. 

The news of the scale and impacts of the global climate and biodiversity crisis is filling news channels with apocalyptic scenes from around the world. Wildfires, floods, displaced people and summer temperatures soaring in frozen parts of the world. The recent IPCC report laid it out more starkly than ever before that billions of people will suffer unless we act now. If COP26 was a wake-up call, COP27 must bring all hands onto deck to tackle the climate emergency with the pace, scale and vigor required. 

The ocean emergency has also continued to grow, as it becomes increasingly apparent that it is the horrifying nexus of so many issues from global food security and climate regulation to plastic. The new buzz term, the Blue Economy, masquerading as a sustainable way of ‘harvestig our seas’ brings with it the spectre of exploitation, overfishing, deep-sea mining and the industrialisation of all monetisable corners of our global ocean. The ocean, and connected economy, perhaps represents a race to the bottom that no-one should be aiming to win. We now know that to protect the climate we must protect the ocean, and to protect the ocean we must protect the climate.

Perhaps, above all, we have all been transfixed by the horrific events unfolding in Ukraine. A war and act of global terror that has created another wave of unimaginable suffering and displaced millions of people in Europe. The threat of mutually-assured destruction making an unwelcome and all-too real reintroduction to our daily conversations, maybe even more vividly than during the Cold War.

These issues are however all interconnected to a global system that is failing. As countries compete for space and resources. As people and communities compete for more stuff that makes them less happy.  As the ‘haves’ take even more from the ‘have-nothings’. As some feast, others famine.

Environmental action needs world peace. And world peace needs environmental action. Inequality, resource depletion, climate change, biodiversity loss and damage will only lead to more conflict. Our collective war on nature will only bring more conflict in society.

However, our governments have shown us how they can mobilise record levels of funding, resources and cooperation in the face of some of these crises. They have shown us just how quickly they have been able to act when there is clear and present danger. We have seen how communities have come together to support each other through the pandemic. We have seen how global communities have come together to support the people of Ukraine. In the face of these dangers, we have acted and accepted new ways of being, almost overnight. We must learn from this and demand that governments go further, faster, now – for the health of our ocean.

The ocean offers us an opportunity to deliver mutually assured salvation. It is one of our last great wildernesses that must be kept intact. Alongside the great forests of the world, we cannot afford to dismantle the global, natural systems that it provides to sustain and entertain us. 

Global leaders must act as if our lives depend on it, and they really do. The threat inaction poses may not be as immediate as world leaders pressing the detonate button, but the consequences are equally disastrous.

The ocean can save us, if we give it the chance. It’s our job to make that a reality. 

Issue 24
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_princess

This feature appears in ISSUE 24: Rainbows of mud of Oceanographic Magazine

Issue 24
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_princess
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_princess

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