Bringing together the next generation of ocean changemakers

The world’s oceans are facing an existential crisis. A new global programme for professionals, hosted by the University of Edinburgh, is bringing together emerging ocean leaders, from different sectors and different countries, and supporting them to identify solutions. We caught up with some of the people involved.

Coastal village in Indonesia

As Executive Director of Planet Indonesia, Adam Miller leads an organisation that helps rural coastal communities tackle social-economic inequalities in an environmentally sustainable way. When he wakes up in his home in Pontianak, western Indonesia, his phone is already buzzing with messages from colleagues in the United States, asking for updates from the field. This is a crucial time for Adam and his team, who are working with remote coastal villages to help them manage their fisheries sustainably. Right now, they are overseeing one of their largest-ever temporary fishing ground closures. A three-month ban on fishing allows stocks to recover and harvest rates to go up. Its success requires cooperation with seven villages across several thousand hectares, several of which don’t have access to mobile phones.  As Covid-19 hit, everyone was keen to go ahead with the project, but some big changes needed to be made. Adam explains: “We saw this coming in January, and quickly adapted our strategy and our funding models. Among other things, we made funds available to communal cooperative businesses that we work with, so they themselves can pay for the patrol groups that enforce the fishing ground closures. These patrols are crucial to the closures’ success.”

Adam’s team is now speaking directly with villages that have mobile phone access, and are able to send messages to those villages that do not have a phone signal, using a rotational communication system with field staff.

“Indonesia has a culture where everything is done face-to-face, so pivoting to video calls was a learning curve for lots of people,” says Adam.

That evening, Adam logs on to a video call with three people on the other side of the world in Scotland, to talk through his management of the situation. Sandra Morson, the programme’s leadership coach with decades of experience, is helping him understand his personal leadership style and approach by talking through some options. Together with Edinburgh Ocean Leaders programme founders, Sandy Tudhope, Professor of Climate Studies at the University of Edinburgh, and Dr Meriwether Wilson Senior Lecturer in Marine Science and Policy, they provide objective yet insightful feedback on some of Adam’s strategies for creating a shared vision for the changes that are needed, and for empowering his team.

When Adam was selected to become an Edinburgh Ocean Leader earlier in the year, before the Covid-19 outbreak, the world was very different. “I was looking forward to learning and sharing ideas in person with this inspirational group of leaders during meetings in Edinburgh and Monaco. Despite the meetings now taking place online, the programme has come at a crucial time for me, because it is really helping me overcome these unexpected challenges. Knowing this personalised support is there is giving me comfort and confidence in my decision making.”

Adam Miller
Adam Miller is one of six participants in the first-ever cohort of Edinburgh Ocean Leaders.

Adam is one of six participants in the first-ever cohort of Edinburgh Ocean Leaders. The programme, hosted by the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, aims to develop and accelerate the leadership skills of talented young leaders who work for the benefit of oceans and coastal communities. It was due to launch in March 2020 with a series of meetings and events but, like Adam and his team, the programme’s Directors quickly switched to a remote approach to support the first cohort of young leaders in Indonesia, Chile, Australia, Panama and the UK. The programme’s initial phase is supported financially by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. However, the ambition is to grow and expand the programme beyond its first three annual cohorts. Professor Sandy Tudhope, explains: “The next year or so is crucial for securing the continuation of the programme. We are already seeing the benefits for our leaders, and our aspiration is to build on this and to create a programme which, through its leaders, will have transformative and positive impacts on the health of our marine environments for decades to come.”

So what is next for Edinburgh Ocean Leaders? Dr Meriwether Wilson explains: “We designed the programme to support our Leaders through a blend of online coaching, learning and discussion, combined with face-to-face meetings and field missions. A key element is our collective participation in the Foundations’ annual high-level meeting, the Monaco Blue Initiative. This year, due to Covid-19, we have had to do things a bit differently, but we have learned some powerful lessons along the way.

“Our philosophy is to support our Ocean Leaders in situ, so they continue to deliver transformative change where it is most needed. The current situation makes this mission even timelier, as we help remarkable leaders navigate exceptional change across the world. We have enhanced our online support, and will continue to explore a field mission later this year. And, of course, we all hope to be together in Monaco next spring!”

Who are the 2020 Ocean Leaders?

  • Adam Miller, Co-founder and Executive Director of Planet Indonesia
  • Charlie Gough, Head of Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning for Blue Ventures
  • Harriet Harden-Davies, Research Fellow at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security
  • Hugo Tagholm, Environmental Campaigner and CEO of Surfers Against Sewage
  • Shirley Binder, National Director of Environmental Policy at the Ministry of Environment in Panama
  • Yolanda Sanchez, Developer of educational programmes in marine conservation and researcher of ocean literacy in Chile

Related links

Find out more about Edinburgh Ocean Leaders