Monday, 5 September 2011

Building a Turnstile on the Sea

In 2010, I along with the world, watched in horror as the disaster of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion unfolded. Over the following weeks my sense of helplessness and frustration about what was happening to the marine environment and the local communities impacted upon by this tragedy  grew. And I knew I had to do something to make a difference.

For the previous ten years I, and my dive-buddy Rachel, had seen for ourselves a change in marine environments all over the world. Coral bleaching, less abundant fish, more rubbish on beaches and in the sea, polluted seawater and so on. It was becoming obvious that the sea was in trouble. We were no marine experts, just two people who loved the sea and felt privileged to be able to enjoy its beauty when we went diving. It was becoming hard to ignore the problems.
And then one day last year we had an idea….the way that we could make a difference - our thinking went like this:
  • No one has ever directly asked us to contribute to marine conservation or to give something back in return for the privilege of enjoying the sea.
  • We love the sea and want to make a difference.
  • Millions of other people who enjoy the sea (diving, sailing, surfing, going on boats) must have sometimes felt like we do and want to make a difference too.
  • It should be possible to harness that passion, which so many of us have for the oceans, to make a real contribution to marine conservation.
And out of this rambling conservation came a very simple idea…..
Imagine if there was a turnstile on the sea and every time anyone went diving, for a surf, sailing or on a cruise they were somehow asked to give a pound, a dollar or a euro as a kind of entry fee…..you could raise millions for marine conservation.  It would also make the person enjoying the sea feel good, and lots of small contributions like that would make a huge difference to the amount of money available for marine conservation work.

Out of this embryo of an idea grew the concept that eventually became Sea-Changers, a charity set up in May 2011 with the sole purpose of raising funds for marine conservation (www.sea-changers.org.uk).  We haven’t quite set up a gigantic turnstile that anyone can see, but we are starting to create a slightly different variation on this basic idea. Our main fundraising model is simple - we develop partnerships with retailers who are selling something to sea-users: a cruise holiday, a dive trip, a new piece of boat kit, a wetsuit. The retailer offers the customer the opportunity to make a small contribution to marine conservation when they are paying their bill. The donation is entirely optional. Other fund raising models we are developing include our text approach which will target sea-users more directly - after a great day on the beach or in the sea we want to encourage people to text their “turnstile” payment to us.

It is early days for Sea-Changers. We are building relationships with other charities, membership organisations and most importantly with our future partners – the retailers. In September we start fundraising with our first retail partnerships which include a dive holiday company and a boat and boat supplies retailer. Several more partnerships are coming on line over the next months including a sailing training provider. All our work is carried out on a voluntary basis and we have benefitted from the generosity of family, friends, colleagues who have contributed money, time, ideas and services to help get us started – it has been amazing and wonderful.

When we talk to retailers about the idea of Sea-Changers reactions are mixed, some are sceptical:
  • “It’s a great idea, but it wouldn’t work here”
  • “Customers won’t bear any additional costs in the current economy”
  • “It will be difficult to administer and we don’t have the time”
  • “Our customers don’t care about contributing the sea”
But then there are others who respond differently:
  • “It’s easy and simple to do, why wouldn’t we do it?”
  • “It will make us look good too, so count me in”
  • “Our customers will love it as it makes giving really easy for them”
My view is that Sea-Changers’ vision of raising money has huge potential. I firmly believe that those people who enjoy the sea would be prepared to make small contributions to say thank you for the enjoyment it gives them. And I also believe that retailers involved in our ‘opt out’ approach benefit from being seen as giving something back and being socially and environmentally responsible.They become Sea-Changers...something to be proud of.

Over the coming months I will keep you updated as to how Sea-Changers develops. In the meantime we would love your help:
  • If you know of any retailers who may be interested in working with us, get in touch and tell us about them. We are on the lookout for holiday companies, ferry and cruise companies, retailers who sell to surfers, divers, sailors, marinas, boat operators and so.
  • Spread the word about Sea-Changers - it is vital that we work to raise our profile. You can follow us on Facebook, or Twitter, or register for our newsletter.
  • Volunteer for us – there is masses to do…and never enough time in the day. Your support and skills would be appreciated.
  • DonateSea-Changers is run purely on donations at the moment, although we are looking for funding to support the project. If you would like to make a donation, visit our website at: www.sea-changers.org.uk

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