Sailing for conservation

Navigators Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have been a successful sailing team on the water for many years. Together, the two New Zealanders and OMEGA ambassadors have become Olympic Games champions, America’s Cup winners and World Champions and have founded the Live Ocean Foundation which supports marine conservation work. We sat down with them to talk about their sailing endeavours and discuss how they’re advocating for a healthier ocean.  

An interview with Peter Burling & Blair Tuke
Photographs by Matt De Roe, Richie Robinson, Gareth Cooke, and Josh McCormack

Oceanographic Magazine (OM): When did you first connect with the ocean? Does one moment in your childhood spring to mind? 

Blair Tuke: “Growing up in the Kerikeri and Tauranga in Aotearoa New Zealand, we’ve spent our lives in and around the ocean. It was where we spent all of our spare time. Our childhoods are full of memories sailing, waterskiing, surfing, and diving.”

Peter Burling: “It has been a massive learning experience for us both, we’ve spent our careers sailing on the ocean, but it’s the stories we’ve heard, the changes we are seeing that have spurred our knowledge around ocean health and how important it is to have a healthy ocean for us to have a healthy future on this planet.”

OM: Why is sailing so special to you? What do you most love about the sport? 

Blair Tuke: “There is something so special about being out on the ocean and harnessing the power of nature.”

OM: What makes you, as a pair, so successful? How do you complement each other?

Peter Burling: “We started sailing together in 2008 and have developed a pretty good understanding of how each of us operate, and where our individual strengths are.”

Blair Tuke: “With multiple campaigns on the go at a time, dividing responsibilities based on our knowledge and specialties has allowed us to grow stronger as a team.”

OM: What’s the most exciting or memorable moment out on the water you’ve experienced so far? Can you tell us a bit more about what made it so special? 

Peter Burling: “There have been many different highlights for us but as a pair it is hard to look past winning gold for New Zealand at the 2016 Rio Olympics.”

Blair Tuke: “It was the culmination of 8 years of work to stand on top of the dais – going on an unbeaten run of 28 regattas in the lead up to Rio, the honour of carrying the New Zealand flag into the opening ceremony and winning gold on Guanabara Bay which was a dream result. We are so proud to represent New Zealand on the global stage. We put everything we could into that campaign, and then coming out on top – it’s something we will never forget.”

OM: In a professional sailing environment, what has, in your opinion, most elevated your skills to the next level?

Peter Burling: “Sailing is a sport that like many things in life requires a diverse skillset to be at the top. Our attention to detail and drive to improve every day has set us up. The sport of sailing has seen significant progression over the last 10 years. Foiling has made racing a lot faster and more engaging for fans but has also meant we need to progress, learn and adapt how we sail as well to stay competitive.”

Peter Burling (left) and Blair Tuke (right). Photograph by Subzero Images
Photograph by Josh McCormack

OM: You both competed against each other in The Ocean Race a few years back. How did that feel after being teammates for so long? 

Blair Tuke: “We both really enjoyed our experience doing The Ocean Race. It’s an awesome combination of adventure and competition. When it came down to the last leg of the race, we were in a three-way tie. It was a little strange looking across the dock at your mate that you are normally so used to going into battle with, being one of the boats you want to beat.”

OM: What’s the hardest aspect of competing in The Ocean Race? How do you navigate in those open ocean passages during around-the-world races?  

Peter Burling: “Being out in the elements for prolonged periods of time, combined with fatigue. It’s such a mental and physical challenge. But for all the tough times there are amazing experiences too – we’ve been to parts of the planet that very few have.”

OM: You created the Live Ocean Foundation to support marine conservation. Why did you decide to set the foundation up? Was there a core moment that made you realise you wanted to do it? 

Blair Tuke: “We’ve never had a ‘single moment’ when we realised how urgent the issues facing the ocean are, but it became clear when we competed in the Volvo Ocean Race and saw the interconnectedness of the world through the ocean. It feels a lot smaller than we perhaps thought it would and realised that we really need to do something to look after it.”

Peter Burling: “We set up Live Ocean in 2019, supporting the work of exceptional marine scientists, innovators and communicators to scale up action for a healthy ocean. Through our sport, we champion action for the ocean, taking this message to the world.”

OM: What work is the foundation doing to advance marine conservation and a healthy ocean? 

Blair Tuke: “Live Ocean amplifies and funds science, innovation and research. We are New Zealand based but want to focus world attention on how critical the ocean and all its life is to the planet’s health. We have supported projects that so far have included the plight of the Antipodean Albatross and working to stop their freefall into extinction, mapping fragile areas of the coastal seabed to understand our impact on the marine ecosystem and supporting research to understand the role of kelp forests in carbon sequestration.”

Poor Knights marine reserve, Project Kahurangi.
Live Ocean racing.
Live Ocean - Restoring kelp off Little Barrier Island with Pete Burling and Blair Tuke. Photograph by Richard Robinson

OM: How has Omega supported your ocean conservation mission? What makes them a great commercial partner in your endeavours? 

Peter Burling: “It’s really significant to have OMEGA back Live Ocean, spanning the foundation and racing. OMEGA is supporting Live Ocean Foundation, funding the work of exceptional marine scientists, innovators and communicators, but they have also come on board as a major partner of Live Ocean Racing, a sailing team that champions action for the ocean.”

Blair Tuke: “OMEGA has an awesome history with sport and sailing in particular and we both share a passion for protection and restoration of the marine environment. They have been with us during a vast amount of our sailing careers and so to have them with us championing ocean health is incredibly special.”


Photographs by Matt De Roe, Richie Robinson, Gareth Cooke, and Josh McCormack

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