The sandstone felt cold and coarse as I traced my five-year-old finger along a groove carved out by the Aboriginals thousands of years earlier. I smiled at my dad as crisp morning light filtered through the forest, dappling its warmth on his broad-shouldered, six-foot frame. The cave entrance where we stood was underneath a small waterfall and completely obscured from the small bush track we followed a few minutes earlier. This special place was a secret passed down between friends and family who spent their free time in these National Parks scattered along Australia's eastern coastline.
Because this place's beauty and value was recognized by those before me, it has remained protected and I feel fortunate to have grown up immersed in its wonder. I fondly remember time spent surfing with Dad and my sister as Mum collected shells and made bacon, eggs and tea over a campfire. When the surf was down we would explore the rocky foreshore for treasure while fish eagles returned from an ocean teeming with life clutching their own catch.
As time passed and my passion for surfing became a career on the WSL Championship Tour, these National Parks became a training ground for me to hone my skills. As I ventured beyond my own shores and my environmental conscience expanded, I realised that not everywhere I travelled had been nurtured or protected.
In 1989, I took my first trip to the magical Island of Bali. I fell in love with the gentleness of the Hindu culture and rituals, the serene palm-fronded rice paddies and temples, and of course, the endless green Indian Ocean swell marching in perfect unison onto volcanic reefs. I relished the feeling of gliding along those waves, and years later, it's where I won a world junior title fuelled by the passion and bond I had for the island. I went on to marry the love of my life overlooking those same waves.
But in that same timespan, I've also watched Bali struggle to breathe. A once pristine ocean, with ample fish and marine life is now being degraded and depleted. As a professional surfer, I've had the fortune of exposure to so many coasts, waves and cultures. I've also had the misfortune of witnessing the harsh reality of our collective impact on our planet. Though each place is home to a unique wave, they are all connected by our one shared ocean and face the same challenges.
Rising temperatures, overfishing, habitat loss, pollution from drilling, extraction, plastic, and more… The issues seem insurmountable and endless, but our ocean is resilient if only we give her a chance. That chance I believe, along with many of our top scientists, hinges on us creating a network of fully and highly protected marine parks spanning at least 30 percent of our world ocean by the year 2030.
It's encouraging to see so many diverse organizations getting behind We Are One Ocean, which joins the dots between our global call for 30x30 protection and the on-the-ground work necessary to make it happen. After all, the ocean is our global climate control system. It produces the oxygen we breathe and provides food for so many around the world. At this time of great inflection and climate crisis, our generation will be judged on the decisions we make collectively. As my friend Tim Silverwood says, "Without a healthy ocean there is no healthy us. It is the Blue Beating Heart of our world."
While I've witnessed the negative impacts we've had on our ocean and planet, I remain hopeful. Because in my lifetime, I've also seen the power of collective action and the promise of protection. I've heard tens of thousands of voices speak out to successfully protect my home waters from development. I've seen the remarkable Australian humpback whale migration rebound. Where we were once lucky to see a single whale in a season, we now marvel at a horizon littered with spouts and breaching pods. Imagine protecting entire ecosystems across our planet; we have a chance to be stewards of nature's biodiversity and give future generations the opportunity to experience an ocean teeming with life.
Now with three children of my own, I am grateful to share with them the special, protected places Dad once showed me. Becoming a father has not only deepened my sense of custodianship for the ocean and planet, but also brought a palpable sense of urgency to protect it. The waves and tracks that nurtured me and generations before must remain to enrich our children. Imagining otherwise is simply not an option. Join me and add your voice to the collective call to protect our one ocean.
Sign the petition at WeAreOneOcean.org.