Dominion Marine Media kicked off the Miami International Boat Show by naming David Rockefeller, Jr., as the 2013 YachtWorld Hero.
Now in its third year, the YachtWorld Heroes initiative recognizes individuals and their organizations that have leveraged their love and respect for our oceans, rivers, lakes and streams into a higher consciousness among boaters and the general public.
Rockefeller, chairman and founder of Sailors for the Sea, was voted 2013 YachtWorld Hero from among five finalists by an independent group of boating journalists and marine industry members. As a passionate sailor and lifelong friend of the environment, he set out in 2004 to create an organization that could speak with one voice for sailors’ interests in protecting the ocean. Since then, Rockefeller has helped Sailors for the Sea find meaningful ways to take on the challenges that increasingly put marine life and coastal environments at risk.
“Ten years ago, Sailors for the Sea was founded with a dream and a deep love for the ocean. It is quite an honor to be named the 2013 YachtWorld Hero, and speaks to the excitement that the boating community feels for this organization, and for protecting the oceans upon which we sail,” Rockefeller said.
Under Rockefeller’s leadership, Sailors for the Sea has thrived, steadily raising its profile and growing its programs, including Clean Regattas, a certification program that helps sailing events implement sustainability practices and achieve higher environmental standards. Its adoption by the America’s Cup in San Francisco led to an 81-point plan to minimize any negative environmental impacts of the event.
The other four finalists were Joel Aberbach, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary; Betsy Alison, Paralympic coach for the U.S. Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider; Dieter Paulmann, Okeanos Foundation for the Sea; and Jeanne Socrates, who completed a single-handed, nonstop circumnavigation of the globe at age 70.
After the announcement, Boating Industry caught up with Sailors for the Sea president Mark Davis and Rockefeller to learn more about the nonprofit organization he started in 2004.
Boating Industry: How did Sailors for the Sea get started?
Rockefeller: Let me give you a quick history. In the early part of this century, there were two national commissions studying the health of the oceans. There was a Senate commission and there was a private commission financed by the Pew Charitable Trust. I was asked to serve as a commissioner on the Pew commission. I spent three years traveling around the country … and found that the condition of our coastal waters was far worse than people realized.
Most dramatic was the declining fish population. This had been going on for 50 years, but we were just waking up to the fact that our capacity to catch fish – I’m not talking about recreational fishing, I’m talking about commercial – had way exceeded the ability of the fishing stock to rebound.
I’m not a professional in this field, but I’m a lifelong sailor and I thought, “What could I do?” So I decided I’d use my sailing background as a way to form a new organization to encourage my sailing buddies to get active on these issues.
Boating Industry: What are the goals of the organization?
Rockefeller: The premise is that there are people who love a part of nature, who love the recreation and want to protect their access to it.
We found that recreational boaters and sailors were really not very knowledgeable [about current conditions]. So our business has been to educate the boating community and activate them on behalf of the oceans. We’re reaching at least 100,000 principally sailors, but boaters of any kind we consider our constituency.
We have focused principally on the U.S waters, but we now have an affiliate, Sailors for the Sea Japan and another in Portugal. Our aspirations are to reach boaters worldwide.
Boating Industry: How are you helping boaters take action?
Davis: Our signature program is called Clean Regattas, a certification program that helps regattas green their events. There are 19 best practices, and regattas can do one to 19 of them, depending what level they want to be. We have certified over 550 regattas.
Rockefeller: We’re helping boaters be more mindful of their actions and their impact on the oceans. Ultimately, the oceans have a big problem. We’re really not the problem, but we can be a part of the solution. That’s really the message.
Boating Industry: What are the goals for Sailor for the Sea in 2014 and beyond?
Rockefeller: My goal would be to mobilize thousands of very active boaters in the U.S. to become an army of ocean stewards. That’s a modest percentage of all the boaters.
Boating Industry: How can people get involved?
Rockefeller: Connect to our website at Sailorsforthesea.org. We are a nonprofit, so donations, however small, are a great thing to do. I think getting active is important. When you get active and you see the impact of a beach cleanup, or do snorkeling and learn about the conditions of the corals. When we get people into the water with knowledgeable people, scientists and others, we will achieve our goals.