By Brandon Tidwell, Darden Restaurants
The oceans are some of the world’s most vital and productive natural resources, impacting our food supply, climate, biodiversity and global economy. World Oceans Day reminds us of the opportunity to bring attention to these critical issues, raise awareness and address the many challenges facing our oceans. Pollution, acidification, overfishing and runoff from agricultural production are just a few of the pressing threats we must work to overcome given the challenges they present now and for the future.
Unfortunately, the global demand for healthy proteins will soon outstrip the ocean’s ability to deliver resources. With the world’s population approaching nine billion people by 2050, and the rising middle class, the demand for seafood will continue its upward trajectory. The quandary before us is that the health of our oceans is at the greatest risk when their ability to produce food is needed most.
Many multi-national organizations and influential policy makers are shifting their focus toward the world’s oceans, including the World Bank, the Clinton Global Initiative and the U.S. Department of State. These organizations, and many others like them, recognize that our oceans provide invaluable resources for the growth and health of both developed and developing nations. Any threats to this “economic engine” will have a detrimental impact on many nations.
Thriving oceans mean thriving economies
Commercial and recreational fisheries in the United States alone employ 1.9 million workers. Entire communities and regions depend on the ability of these fishermen to harvest the oceans for food. Recently, the Ocean Health Index, a tool designed to regularly assess the state of our oceans, specified that four of ten critical indicators relate to the economic generation of the oceans, including food provision, artisanal fishing, natural products and coastal livelihoods. Simply put, oceans are factories of natural capital driving economic growth and development.
The economic benefits of our oceans are increasingly being recognized by members of the financial community. Marc Tercek, a former Goldman Sachs executive and now head of The Nature Conservancy, dedicated an entire chapter of his recent book, Nature’s Fortune, to the importance of protecting the oceans, not just for biodiversity, but also for food provision and economic development.
Progressing ocean health from a corporate perspective
Advancing the health and economic yield of our oceans demands that we identify how we can increase their production now and in the future. This requires not only the improvement and management of wild harvest stocks to generate perpetual harvests, but also the expansion of environmentally sound aquaculture.
With the U.S. importing 91 percent of our seafood from overseas, domestic aquaculture is an opportunity for the U.S. to improve ocean health, create jobs, protect valuable wild harvest stocks and create a healthy, sustainable protein to feed the nation. Advances in the science and management of aquaculture, along with certification bodies of the Global Aquaculture Alliance and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, provide a clear path for businesses and conservationists to work together.
At Darden, we have been involved in sustaining our oceans from the day we opened the first Red Lobster in 1968. We recently began development of an integrated lobster aquaculture park in Malaysia; support fishery improvement projects in the north Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean; and work with global entities to ensure a sustainable supply. We work closely with many institutions including The World Bank’s Global Partnership for Oceans, the New England Aquarium, and the Clinton Global Initiative to improve the health of the world’s oceans and the economic benefits they provide.
Managing the world’s oceans is an important challenge that our world must address, both for our ecological and economic future. This demands collaboration among the private sector, governments, civil society and consumers. In the end, we are all connected to the ocean from the air we breathe to the food we eat, and this shared resource deserves our every effort to deliver today and in the future.
Brandon Tidwell is Manager of Sustainability for Darden Restaurants, Inc. Brandon is responsible for the development and implementation of corporate sustainability strategies and policies across all of Darden, integrating environmental considerations into the operations, culture, and supply chain, which includes more than 1,500 suppliers in 30 countries. Brandon is a candidate for a Master’s in Business Administration at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business. He holds a master’s degree in Social Work from Baylor and a certificate in Philanthropy from New York University.