In honour of celebrating World Ocean’s Day (8 June), and this year being designated as the International Year of the Reef, I would like to take this opportunity to recognise some amazing people who are making waves in Ocean Conservation. These incredible souls are my personal heroes and legends in their own right. They are ocean conservationists who are indeed game changers. They are movers and shakers in the world of ocean conservation and are dedicated to creating a positive impact for the betterment of our oceans. They all share the common goal of protecting and preserving our oceans, marine life and precious coral reef ecosystems. They are all an inspiration. I am so proud to call these luminaries my friends, it is such a privilege to know them and be inspired by them. I admire them for all that they do to raise awareness about environmental issues and their ocean conservation efforts.
Ellen Cuylaerts, Underwater and Wildlife Photographer, and Conservationist
It is a true honour to know Ellen Cuylaerts. She has an incredible spirit, humble and a beautiful soul. As a world traveler, an underwater and wildlife photographer and conservationist, one is easily inspired by Ellen’s journey and passion for conservation. Ellen uses her talents as a means of promoting awareness for conservation and environmental issues. Her photographs are not only stunning, but absolutely moving. She has received multiple awards and high acclaims for her art and photography globally. She has a real artistry for telling a story through her photography. In particular, much of her photography focuses on sharks. Ellen has a tremendous love and respect for sharks. With this in mind, she is committed to changing the misperception that often taints the portrayal of sharks. Sharks are one of the most misunderstood animals in the world. Ellen, conquered her fears, learned how to dive, and swam with sharks. Whilst, embarking on this journey, she documented her ocean moments with sharks taking extraordinary photos that showcased the beauty of sharks in their natural habitat. The biggest takeaway is that it is a true privilege to see a shark. Sharks are not to be feared, but respected.
Brittany Balli & Aaron Hunt, Founders of Eco Divers Reef Foundation
Brittany Balli and Aaron Hunt, are founders of Eco Divers Reef Foundation. A husband and wife team devoted to the conservation of coral reefs in the Cayman Islands. As divers, they have a great love for the ocean and coral reefs. They are more than happy to take ocean enthusiasts, whether fellow divers or avid snorkelers, to see the many underwater treasures Cayman’s dive sites have to offer. Together they have established a wonderfully successful coral conservation program here in the Cayman Islands through their non-profit organisation, Eco Divers Reef Foundation. Their Coral Tree Nursery Program is celebrating its one year anniversary and has proven successful in helping revitalise fragile and/or damaged local reefs. A huge thank you to all of their dedicated volunteers who helped make the conservation efforts successful. Currently, there are 3 coral nurseries, and 10 “coral trees’ that are thriving with 6 unique genotypes to promote biodiversity upon each out plant reef site. In addition, to managing and maintaining the coral nurseries and out plant sites Brittany and Aaron, have just recently launched an online educational program about Ocean Conservation on their YouTube channel. They also regularly visit local schools to give talks and presentations about coral reefs and ocean conservation.
Force Blue, Non-Profit Organisation
Founders Keith Sahm, Jim Riiterhoff and Rudy Reyes have made it their mission to improve the lives of veterans through coral reef conservation. FORCE BLUE made their first deployment to aid in helping with the coral reef conservation efforts in the Cayman Islands. It was an absolute honour to meet the members of FORCE BLUE Team One. Listening to them tell their story was a moving experience and left a profound lasting impression on me. FORCE BLUE provides hope and a new mission for veteran combat divers. They are taught how to recalibrate their skills for the betterment of the environment through preserving coral reefs. The program offers veterans a new purpose and a means of maintaining a brotherhood whilst carrying out a noble mission, preserving the world’s coral reefs. Since, their first deployment in the Cayman Islands the team have assisted with coral reef conservation in both Florida and Puerto Rico.
FORCE BLUE is launching their “Be a Force Multiplier” campaign on World Oceans Day (June 8) to sponsor their six new recruits for FORCE BLUE’s TEAM TWO through their upcoming August Training Deployment in Little Cayman and the Florida Keys. TEAM TWO will undergo training and apply their new skillset towards coral reef conservation. If you would like to support FORCE BLUE and sponsor a vet please visit their website, www.forceblueteam.org Every dollar raised will go directly toward bringing one of these heroes onto their team.
Taryn Larock, Founder of Sage Larock, Sustainable Fashion Designer
Taryn Larock is a sustainable fashion designer and founder of Sage Larock , Sustainable Luxury— made in Los Angeles, California. Taryn uses sustainable fashion as a platform to raise ocean awareness with a focus on ocean plastic pollution and ghost nets. Sage Larock is proudly partnered with Healthy Seas. A fundamental component of Sage Larock’s ethos is putting the betterment of the ocean at the forefront. That being said, Sage Larock manufactures their swimwear using ethical and sustainable practices. Their swimwear is made from upcycled plastic debris and ghost nets found in the ocean or along the beach. A percentage of their swimwear sales goes towards ocean conservation.
Shilpi Chhotray, Plastic Pollution Activist and Social Entrepreneur
Shilpi is a Senior Communications Officer for Break Free From Plastic, the global movement working to stop plastic pollution for good (#breakfreefromplastic). Shilpi is responsible for the development and implementation of communications strategies that advance the goals of the #breakfreefromplastic global movement. As Senior Communications Officer, Shilpi builds alliances and communications flows between Europe, Asia, and North America and amplifies stories from Break Free member organizations to share with the world. Prior to joining Break Free, Shilpi worked at Mission Blue | Sylvia Earle Alliance to further their mission of igniting public support for a global network of marine protected areas. She comes with a decade of experience in ocean advocacy and conservation policy including coalition building around plastic waste prevention.
She is also the founder of Samudra Skin & Sea, where she is making waves raising ocean awareness using her sustainable skincare line as a platform. Samudra Skin & Sea is an ocean inspired skincare line featuring wild harvested seaweed.. Their ethos is putting ocean awareness at the forefront— a fundamental element of their business model. To ensure they are doing their part to help beat plastic pollution their packaging is sustainably made. As a small business, they are leading the way in the beauty and wellness industry to encourage positive changes and keep a focus on plastic pollution, sustainability and ocean conservation through setting a positive example for businesses’ to follow. Samudra partners with a number of organisations committed to protecting people and marine life.
Julia Barnes, Documentary Filmmaker
At the age of 16 years old, Julia Barnes embarked on her three year journey to make her first documentary, Sea of Life, which went on to win prestigious awards and high acclaim. Sea of Life is a film offering hope and imploring us to do everything within our power to create a positive change. Her documentary reminds us that we still have time to turn things around and work towards restoring fragile ecosystems, replenish declining populations and rejuvenate coral reefs through effective conservation efforts. Acting now and persistently is pivotal to ensuring a positive future for our oceans. Julia teaches us that no matter our age, we have the power to create change and make a positive impact. She reminds us through her debut as documentary filmmaker the importance of speaking up about issues that matter to us and utilising our talents for the greater good of raising awareness about important issues.