Ocean Sustainability for a New Generation


Daniela Fernandez (C’16) founded the Georgetown Sustainable Oceans Alliance, which will host a summit with leaders in government, science, business, and policy on April 25, 2015. Photo by Tess O’Connor.

April 21, 2015—On April 25, 2015, the Georgetown Sustainable Oceans Alliance (SOA) will host a summit to educate millennials on the dire state of the world’s oceans and call on world leaders to prioritize ocean sustainability.

SOA was founded by government major Daniela Fernandez (C’16) after a chance trip to the United Nations. Fernandez had the opportunity to hear Palauan Ambassador to the United Nations Stuart Beck discuss ocean sustainability. “I went to the U.N., and it was incredible. I was sitting next to the prime minister of Spain and the ambassador [from] Italy,” Fernandez said. But she was also the only young person in the room.

At the United Nations, Fernandez learned that the oceans’ fish could be gone by 2050, affecting the economy, food chains, and tourism. “I was honestly terrified of the repercussion of what’s happening to the oceans,” she said. “The message was just not getting out to anyone else in the public.”

Fernandez felt that her generation was key to bringing more attention to the problem of ocean sustainability. Although Ambassador Beck had tried to help start student organizations at various schools, the idea never took off. Fernandez felt things would be different at Georgetown.

“I came back with the idea of starting this chapter to educate the Georgetown community and making sure millennials, in particular, are empowered with the knowledge to do something about ocean sustainability in their careers—regardless of whether they are going into finance, banking, health, or teaching,” she explained.

About 35 students joined SOA, and the group began hosting events on campus. But Fernandez and SOA wanted to create a platform to bring together multiple universities and sustainability experts, which led to this year’s Sustainable Oceans Summit.

SOA has drawn an impressive list of guest speakers, including Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue and explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society; Beth Kerttula, director of the National Ocean Council at the White House; Greg Stone, senior vice president of Conservation International, and Monica Medina, senior director of international ocean policy at National Geographic Society.

Students from over 30 schools will come to Georgetown for the summit, which is free and open to the public. The summit will also be broadcast live via webcast.

“We have a lot of high-profile guests who are really excited about the idea of reaching millennials. They do these things all the time with their regular scientific community. That’s why this summit is very different. They aren’t going to be preaching to the choir, but explaining the issues to the millennial generation.”

Fernandez deliberately opened the summit to leaders in government, science, business, and policy. The world’s oceans are threatened, Fernandez says, by the complex interactions of many problems, including overfishing, ocean warming, rising sea levels, and underprotected marine sanctuaries. She sees a lack of collaboration as one the biggest obstacles to ocean sustainability.

Fernandez also hopes to show how individuals in any career can help ocean sustainability. An internship at the Case Foundation introduced her to impact investments and their potential in sustainable solutions. “Impact investments meet the double line—you get your investment back, but you also get a social return,” she said.

“That’s when I realized that I could mobilize capital to help other people in low-income communities or [help] the sustainable development world. I see oceans as one of the avenues through which impact investments can make a difference.”

At the summit, SOA also plans to unveil a petition to recognize the oceans as one of the United Nations’s new sustainable development goals. Only six goals will be picked out of those submitted to the United Nations this year. “If the oceans become one of the new sustainable development goals, there will be funding, resources, and scientific backing at the U.N. People will be forced to come to the table and bring their knowledge and expertise to talk about the [problem] at hand,” she said.

Fernandez hopes the summit will become an annual event, but this year her main goal is “to get people who have no interest in the environment or sustainability to leave the summit with a fresh perspective on how their actions are directly affecting the health of the oceans and how their actions can make a difference.”

—Elizabeth Wilson


Related Information

The SOA will host the Sustainable Oceans Summit at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business on April 25, 2015, 10:00–4:00 p.m. Visit the summit’s website to register and view a complete schedule of speakers. The summit is free and open to students and the general public.

Through the cooperation of the U.S. Department of State, nongovernmental organizations, and U.S. and international universities, the summit will be webcast live across the world. Join the conversation by using the hashtag #SOS15.

To sign SOA’s petition to add the oceans as one of the United Nations’s new sustainable development goals, visit the SOA page at change.org.

Georgetown’s SOA currently acts as the main convener for other chapters. Students interested in starting an alliance chapter at their university should can contact SOA, who can provide a framework for starting a chapter.