Celebrating Our Ocean, Together

This article originally appeared on this site.

“One can begin to feel suffocated — like a deep, night dive on an empty SCUBA tank…”

profound reflection from my good friend, Dr. Wallace Nichols, or “J”., on how I imagine we all feel when hearing about the state of our ocean. The overwhelming negative headlines can make us feel alone, hopeless.

However, like J., I want to change how we feel — from frustrated and powerless to hopeful and optimistic.

J. is a beacon of light for ocean health. His research has uncovered water’s healing properties, regardless of how we experience it, demonstrating a powerful connection between humans and the sea. Through beautifully narrated scientific insights , J. has also provided conservationists a new way to talk about ocean health, moving the conversation away from one of doom and gloom and towards one optimism.

It is my hope that J.’s work will lead us in building a global community that values the ocean and its marine animals. Just as the surfing community has begun to do.

Surfers are by definition ocean lovers and work hard to protect their beaches, but did you know that commercial surfboards are often made from toxic petrochemicals and resins? When brought to the beach, these boards are harming the environment their sport is meant to honor.

Sustainable Surf, a non-profit I met through my company SHFT.com and which I am now revisting as a co-founder of the Lonely Whale Foundation, is working to address this issue. Through an educational initiative called ECOBOARDS, Sustainable Surf is creating an environmentally friendly alternative. They hold workshops with the surfing community on ocean health, helping surfers not only understand but also talk about the impact rising CO2 and sea levels are having on their sport.

Sustainable Surf’s efforts have proven successful in galvanizing the community, winning support from the world’s leading surfers as Ambassadors for their cause. Perhaps most notably is the current World Champion of the WSL’s Big Wave Tour, Greg Long. Not only is Greg supporting ocean health on a global scale, but he’s also promised to support me as I prepare for the swim of my life! More on that soon…

Melati (14) and Isabel (12), two sisters living in Bali, are another example of the power to affect change through community.

An island nation in the Pacific Ocean, Bali has a severe plastic pollution problem. Every day Bali produces 680 cubic meters of plastic garbage, the equivalent to a 14-story building. In 2014 a tsunami of plastic trash covered Bali’s coastline for a week. Melati and Isabel were tired of seeing their beaches coated in plastic and when walking home one day asked each other, “Why should we wait to be grown up to be significant?” So together they started an initiative to activate their classmates and put an end Bali’s production of plastic bags by 2018. They have since been recognized by the UN for their work.

Those who know me well know that my commitment to community is personal. My house has an open door to family, friends, friends of friends… I fill my personal space with those of different backgrounds because I find it critical to learn from one another, to share stories like these about what’s working well. They offer us a way to connect and provide examples for how we can work together and create change.

While I am certainly excited that there are a growing number of individual organizations committed to building communities of environmental action, it’s also important to recognize that we can’t create change in isolation. To be truly successful we need to come together across communities.

This week Richard Branson challenged me to do just that, nominating me to join him in a swim across the Italian channel. While I might be Aquaman, I’m no Greg Long…and I may have hesitated, but ultimately accepted. In preparation for our swim, Richard and I are banding together our communities, Ocean Unite and the Lonely Whale Foundation, to raise awareness for ocean health and inspire our global community to do the same.

Each one of us is powerful and has a unique way to create a healthier ocean and planet. I hope you’ll join Richard and I in sharing your story of community action with #makeasplash.

When we work together we can go further, faster and build more blue minds.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Ocean Unite and the Lonely Whale Foundation,an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action. The series is being produced to coincide with World Ocean Day (June 8), as part of HuffPost’s “What’s Working“ initiative, putting a spotlight on initiatives around the world that are solutions oriented. To read all the posts in the series, read here. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #MakeASplash.

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