Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions Co-Director Jim Leape spoke recently about his involvement with Friends of Ocean Action, a global initiative launched on World Oceans Day (June 8) to help conserve and sustainably use the world’s oceans. Friends of Ocean Action includes global leaders and influencers from business, civil society and the public sector who are committed to driving actions that implement the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 14 on ocean conservation and sustainable use. The launch coincides with the G7 Summit occurring June 8-9 in Quebec, where oceans are on the agenda.

Leape has over three decades of environmental conservation experience, including serving as the chief executive of WWF International from 2005 to 2014. He has worked with government, business and civil society leaders to catalyze large-scale sustainability efforts.

What is the Friends of Ocean Action?

Created at the invitation of the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Oceans, Friends of Ocean Action operates through the World Economic Forum. Friends will speak out both collectively and individually as champions for the ocean. It’s a group that can reach almost any decision-maker in the world and can connect existing efforts to help make change happen.

Why does the world need this group now?

This is an unprecedented moment in ocean conservation. We have never had ocean issues as prominent on the public agenda as they are today and, for the first time, we have a universally-agreed global strategy for addressing those issues through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Friends of Ocean Action capitalizes on this momentum as a unique opportunity to attack stubborn ocean problems. I am a big believer in the power of these kinds of multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Friends of Ocean Action met recently in Monaco. Why was that important?

Together we jumped into how this will work and what we can do – not as a new competitor in the ocean space, but as a group looking for opportunities to collaborate and spark change. For example, we see an opportunity to work with leading retailers, canners, NGOs, and tech companies to drive environmental and social sustainability into the global tuna sector – using cutting-edge technology to crack the problems of illegal fishing and human trafficking, and allowing consumers to trace their purchases all the way from the supermarket back to the specific trip of an individual boat.  A revolution in the tuna sector could be a big win for ocean conservation and also for economic development – especially in the small island states of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, many of whom rely heavily on revenue from tuna fisheries.

What is Stanford’s role?

Stanford’s role in the Friends of Ocean Action is two-fold. We offer deep expertise in many domains that are central to the work of the Friends of Ocean Action – expertise in ocean ecosystems and fisheries management; supply chains and sustainability; and in law and policy. And, of course, Stanford has long been on the vanguard of the data revolution, and sitting here in the center of Silicon Valley, we can help bring the power of remote sensing, big data, and artificial intelligence to bear on solving ocean problems. Stanford, and the Center for Ocean Solutions, are also well-positioned to bring experts and actors together in intensive collaborations to forge breakthroughs on pressing ocean challenges. We will be closely with the Friends of Ocean Action to help develop key solutions and translate them into action.  

How can technology be used to improve ocean health?

The technological innovations of the past few decades are transforming our ability to manage ocean resources. For all of human history, our relationship with the ocean has been defined by the fact that we have no idea what’s going on under the water or even on most of the surface. That is now changing radically. Thousands of satellites and millions of sensors of various kinds on everything from ships to surfboards are collecting data on what is happening in the ocean. Putting that information in the hands of communities and governments can give them the power to better manage their resources. That’s pretty revolutionary.    

Why is it important for science leaders to engage with political and business leaders through initiatives like Friends of Ocean Action?

I think the credibility and influence of a group like Friends of Ocean Action comes from its breadth.From these multiple perspectives and constituencies, you have a unified voice saying, “This is really important. We know scientifically that it’s important but we also know politically that this is something we have to do.” If you can pull these diverse actors together you can create a compelling voice, and a powerful force, for action.  

Why take action now?

As the world’s demand for resources continues to grow, we will increasingly look for how the oceans can support us more than they do already. What we have today is a dawning recognition that conserving the oceans is fundamentally important to our own well-being. In this moment, we have a chance to break through on ocean challenges that have defied us. We have a chance to bring together diverse actors, from different sectors and different parts of the world, to work together on this essential cause. That is what the Friends of Ocean Action is all about.  

Leape is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Learn more about the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions

Watch the Friends of Ocean Action press conference

Read the Friends of Ocean Action launch announcement