To save our oceans, urgent action is required on a global scale. The key challenges facing our marine ecosystems, from reducing plastic pollution and overfishing to addressing the impacts of climate change, can seem insurmountable.
The Volvo Ocean Lovers Festival started in 2019 with a vision to “inspire and engage the community on ocean issues and provide hope by showcasing solutions and innovation that are improving the health of the ocean”.
The Festival founders, Anita Kolni and Carolyn Grant, are committed to showcasing the latest scientific research in the program, with a goal to “use the power of entertainment, art and science to connect people and engage them in behaviour that positively impacts our ocean”.
Science plays a crucial role in not only providing the data and facts that help everyone understand the situation, it is also a rich source of inspiration for artists and entertainers who are committed to protecting and restoring the health of our oceans for future generations.
The 2023 Volvo Ocean Lovers Festival ran from 15 to 19 March 2023, presenting a program of workshops and talks for school groups during the week, and a packed weekend program of talks, market stalls, competitions, yoga on the beach, trashion shows, a beach clean, an ocean swim, film screenings, art exhibitions, workshops for young children with their families, and a fabulous sandcastle/marine animal building competition in the front of the Bondi Pavilion.
Alick and Albert screening
The opening night of the festival featured a screening of the film Alick and Albert, a sensitive exploration of the relationship between internationally recognised Torres Strait Islander artist and cultural leader Alick Tipoti, and the Prince of Monaco. Alick casually invited Prince Albert to his home while exhibiting a work at the Tabu Naba exhibition at the Oceanographic Musuem of Monaco. The prince took him up on the invitation, travelling to the remote island of Badu a few years later. Their shared commitment to maintaining marine diversity and mitigating the impact of climate change on the oceans led to an unlikely friendship.
We then had the pleasure of a conversation with Alick himself, who reiterated the message of ‘two worlds, one ocean’. It was a fitting opening to the festival that acknowledged the vital role of Indigenous knowledges, art and culture in understanding all forms of marine science.
Inspiring NSW was proud to support the Sea Science Showcase, a free program open to the public over the weekend. The Bondi Pavilion was the venue for talks and panels with scientists, researchers, activists, artists, writers, campaigners and entrepreneurs, all with a common commitment to understanding and preserving our precious marine environment.
The casual format allowed people to just drop in to see what was happening. Audience members ranged from kids with their families, to surfers still dripping wet and carrying their boards, to groups of curious tourists.
Conservationist and filmmaker Valerie Taylor was undoubtedly the star attraction. After numerous festival commitments including judging the sandcastle competition, she joined a panel ‘Sharks – Good, Bad or Ugly?’ Asked what had changed in her 30 years of campaigning for better understanding and protection of sharks, her answer was direct: “Not enough.”
She remains concerned that the whole marine food chain is under threat with the loss of the apex predators – sharks. On a brighter note, it was reassuring to find out that Australia still has the most diverse shark and ray population in the world with 328 species, half of them endemic to this country.
The Gamay Rangers were another hit over the weekend, on site with their boats and available to talk to everyone about their work. They are six indigenous rangers employed by La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council to patrol the waters around the Kamay National Park, the Gamay. Only established in 2019, they monitor marine life, care for sea country by collecting debris and removing it, and are now increasingly forming partnerships with research institutions such as UNSW to monitor marine life.
In the panel ‘Ancient Wisdom meets Modern Science’ Gamay ranger Robert Cooley talked about the relationship between indigenous knowledge and western science, and how science helps us understand problems but can’t solve them alone. “People, not science, caused the problems, so people have to solve the problems,” he said.
Kataya Barrett from Country Needs People has studied with marine scientist Professor Adriana Vegas from UNSW, and now works to both provide a connection to science for her community and to proudly share her culture to help Western science. “Culture and science: we can’t have one without the other if we want to save Sea Country,” she said.
The best title of the panels went to the fun ‘I get by with a little kelp from my friends’. Founder of the Kelp Forest Alliance, Aaron Eger, outlined his motivation to set up the alliance when he realised there were no international treaties to protect the kelp forests that cover one third of the world’s coastlines. The Alliance in now a global movement, set up to protect and restore four million hectares of kelp forests around the world by 2040. The Alliance has already documented 193 restoration projects underway around the world, with a significant cluster on the NSW coast including Operation Crayweed.
Professor Shauna Murray from UTS provided some fascinating facts on phytoplankton that were unknown to many in the audience. Not only do phytoplankton provide more 50 per cent of the oxygen we breathe on earth through photosynthesis, there are estimated to be between 5,000 and 30,000 phytoplankton species. Ocean warming and acidification is having an impact on phytoplankton reproduction, and the long-term impacts on the marine food chain could be devastating.
The weekend culminated with an incredible parade of trashion, fashion made of rubbish, litter or discarded objects, by the award-winning artist Marina DeBris who uses the confronting costumes to raise awareness of ocean and beach pollution.