The Ocean A-List: Meet the heroes and heroines of ocean conservation

Agnès B

Designer and co-founder of Tara Expeditions Foundation

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Since acquiring Tara, a 36 metre research schooner in 2003, Agnès B and her son, Étienne Bourgois, created Tara Expeditions. It is a project developed from their shared passion for the ocean, designed to take action, protect the environment and promote scientific research. To date, Tara has completed three major expeditions to the Arctic and Mediterranean as well as a round-the-world “oceans” voyage to study plankton and coral species. This year Tara continues with another odyssey, started last May, of nearly 54,000nm that will see her criss-crossing the Pacific from the Panama Canal to the Japanese archipelago and New Zealand to China, to study the evolution of coral reefs in response to climate change and the pressure of human activity.

“Over the years, I’ve seen Tara sail off with her captains and sailors at the helm, carrying on board our dear scientists and artists,” says Agnès B. “We now have reliable analyses concerning the contents of this vital element – the sea. So many possibilities will come from these discoveries.”

Helena Christensen

Model and environmentalist

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"I have wanted to be a mermaid since I was a little girl,” says Christensen, who grew up in Denmark, spending summers in the family’s seaside cottage. “I have huge respect and admiration for the sea. There is hardly anything more magical; its power is infinite and ever-changing. Ocean life depends on a thriving coral reef and we are destroying it. I went to an ocean conservation gathering in the Maldives a few years back at the Six Senses Water/Wo/Men Event and we went diving to see with our own eyes how the corals had turned colourless and dusty, looking like a site after a nuclear bombing. It was heartbreaking and chilling.”

An ardent supporter of the Turtle Conservancy’s annual Turtle Ball in New York, Christensen says: “This initiative has made me realise how much our precious sea life is now hugely dependent on humans committing to conserve it.” Spending much of her free time combing beaches on both sides of the Atlantic for harmful plastic rubbish, she says: “I will bring a large bag with me and pick up whatever waste I see. I curse people who enjoy nature only to leave their waste behind. Such behaviour is atrocious.”

Plastic Oceans Foundation

Educational charity

This pioneering charity was set up by TV producer Jo Ruxton and lawyer Sonjia Norman when Ruxton was making A Plastic Ocean. This impactful documentary film, first shown in 2016 and now on general release, is a heartfelt call to action in response to the neglectful way we dispose of plastic and the heinous effect it has on marine life and consequently human health as it enters the food chain. “I wanted the film to have a legacy,” says Ruxton. “I wanted to take it forward through education and science programmes. The film is the first of our education tools, but it’s just the beginning because there is so much work to be done.”

What started as an expedition to the Pacific garbage patch in 2009 has turned into a life’s mission to change people’s behaviour within a generation. Ruxton is working with exam boards that operate in 170 countries to get this issue into the curriculum. “Once people realise what’s going on then the right minds are going to come up with solutions… it’s the most crazy situation we’ve got ourselves into and it’s the easiest one to solve.”

David Miliband

President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee

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As co-chair of the Global Ocean Commission, which ran from 2013 to 2016, the former UK foreign secretary took on an unpaid role to highlight problems and promote the protection of the high seas – vast areas of ocean that make up 45 per cent of the world’s surface but lie beyond the jurisdiction of individual states. With plastic pollution, pirate fishing (often using slave labour linked to drugs and weapons smuggling) and the future risk of illegal dredging and geological mining at stake, “it’s the ecological equivalent of a financial crisis”, said Miliband. Working with former Costa Rican president José Maria Figueres and South Africa’s former finance minister Trevor Manuel, the commission set out practical proposals for action, most notably a call for an international ocean police force to prevent plunder and pillage on a massive scale. “We are living as if there are three or four planets instead of one and you can’t get away with that,” Miliband has said.

Sandra Main

Global brand president, La Mer

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In an industry that operates largely on face value, La Mer has taken a deep dive into protecting the marine habitats it relies on for its Crème de la Mer anti-ageing skincare range. Championing the sustainable harvesting of sea kelp (only the top prongs are hand picked, twice a year, to keep the plant and ecosystem intact) and partnering with world-renowned oceanographers such as National Geographic Society’s explorer-in-residence Dr Sylvia Earle, La Mer is committed to raising awareness of marine conservation. “The ocean is an integral part of La Mer’s brand heritage and we are always looking to expand our support of programmes that improve the health of it,” explains Sandra Main, its global brand president.

The company also established La Mer’s Blue Heart, a philanthropic effort that raises awareness with limited edition jars of face cream (released on World Oceans Day) and has partnered with charities such as Oceana in previous years to help protect more than 16.4 million square miles of diverse ocean habitats around the world.

Marc Hayek

President and CEO, Blancpain

"For more than half a century, Blancpain has been intimately connected with the ocean,” says Blancpain’s president and CEO, Marc Hayek. “While our legendary Fifty Fathoms timepieces have played a central role, we see our mission as extending far beyond the creation of the world’s finest diving watches.” In 2014 the company launched its Ocean Commitment programme, which supports a large number of scientific endeavours including exploration initiatives, underwater photography and environmental forums. The company also launched a limited-edition Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Ocean Commitment watch and donated the proceeds of €250,000 to a range of oceanic endeavours and charities including the 2014 Gombessa Project, a marine expedition in French Polynesia. Following the success of this project, which is now studying newly observed hunting patterns of sharks, a Fifty Fathoms Ocean Commitment II watch was launched in October 2016 and proceeds from every sale will be donated to the Ocean Commitment programme.

Ralph Lauren

Designer and philanthropist

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Honoured by Riverkeeper for leading the Ralph Lauren Corporation with a deep commitment to protecting the environment, the fashion mogul gave $100,000 to the New York charity. Riverkeeper has worked for 50 years to reverse the decline of the Hudson River and ensure more than nine million New Yorkers have clean, safe drinking water. Lauren landed the coveted Big Fish award at the 50th anniversary Fishermen’s Ball last May. “I’m a New Yorker. I was born here. I was married here. I raised my children here. The Hudson is my river – it’s our river,” he said.


CLEARWATER initiative

Y.CO, the luxury yacht broker and management company, is leading the charge with its CLEARWATER initiative, which will educate crew and in turn owners and charterers on reducing the environmental impact of yacht operations to protect the oceans. “We’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time,” says Hatty Campbell, who is spearheading the programme. “We manage almost 100 yachting operations around the world and I think the idea of influencing, inspiring and working with this number of yachts and crew is exciting.”

The war on plastic is the mission for 2017 as it plans to reduce the impact of plastic bottles on board the yachts it manages. Y.CO has teamed up with the creators of the documentary A Plastic Ocean to educate crew on the dangers of plastic and has partnered with the reusable, chic stainless steel water bottle company S’well. “But it’s going much, much deeper than that,” says Y.CO co-founder Charlie Birkett, who hopes crews will ask themselves “how are we as a boat going to do something that is environmentally friendly and, for example, help an island in the South Pacific?”

It was, after all, the Y.CO-managed Dragonfly that provided lifesaving relief to the outer islands of Vanuatu when Cyclone Pam struck in 2015. With plans to get scientists, charities and marine biologists on board to educate crew, and an idea to create official accreditation for those crew that go the extra mile, Y.CO is at the forefront of how the industry can show a brighter way of thinking.

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