Save The Waves Coalition Building A Movement in Ocean Conservation

Hi guys, welcome back to the Mojo Maker Podcast and to my guests Executive Director of Save The Waves Coalition, Nik Strong-Cvetich and Founding Circle, Playing Bigger co-founder Al Ramadan.

In this episode we chat about stewardship, clear KPI’s and community involvement in a protection program that is built to last.

Today’s show is about setting up a legacy, not only for sustainability in terms of our planet, but how we work in communities, clubs  and across different foundations by finding a common way to connect and care when you align what you’re passionate with. 

Just before we start: I’m always setting up in some random place in the middle of the world. Luckily, this time I’m in my own backyard of glorious Noosa with two  incredible individuals above who I know, like, and trust a lot.

I can’t wait for you to discover a couple of the key subjects on today’s show – most importantly how we interact with our surf spots and the impact these iconic locations have on our community and conservation for future generations.

Listening In

I know that time is precious. It’s the one commodity we can’t make more of. So we hope this episode will be engaging, punchy and simple to grab the essence of leading a vision as one of many crucial ocean conservation programs.

  • As you listen to today’s episode, or watch this video, I want you to think about how you can step in and take action if anything resonates and become the change that you want to see.
  • Or maybe it will prompt you to think about something that is local to you that you can get involved in…we are all part of the picture from micro to macro.

Who are Save the Waves

Save The Waves protects coastal ecosystems around the world in partnership with local communities, utilising a unique combination of protected areas, economics, and direct action.

Save the Waves Goal?

There are 5,000 non-surf spots in the world. The goal is to protect 1,000 of them that have ticked all those boxes in the heritage framework by 2030.

Dive into the full interview below

Al: Well, pleasure to be here Nikki. I joined Save The Waves about two years ago. I met Nik at a conference and fell in love with him and the mission. I’d always been wanting to have something nonprofit that I could give back and this ended up being that vehicle. I’m just delighted to be part of this thing and super excited to be doing this.

Nikki: It connected with you because you’ve got a strong history of surfing. We spoke before about there’s a club, a founding circle of your own and all the guys get together. What’s that called again? 

Al: It’s called the Founders Circle. We created it about two months ago. It’s about getting people connected to the mission of protecting waves around the world and protecting certain ecosystems. Nik should tell us what actually Save The Waves does.

Nikki: Nik as a as a relatively young CEO and someone that has been involved in this right from the beginning. Could you just tell everybody what Save The Waves Coalition essentially is about?

Nik: Sure. I’ve been CEO for about seven years now. It started actually in 2003. We’re coming up on almost twenty years.

It really started as surfers bonding together to protect their surf spots against things that were happening. It was really important at the time, but it was a reactive type of organisation. In some ways this bad things happening we’re going to try to stop it with whatever means we can. 

Nikki: So in the early days it started like a defence strategy?

Nik: A little bit of a defense strategy. I think when we’re looking at it like “those are our waves”! They’re going to be destroyed. It actually probably wasn’t a scalable paradigm. So we pulled everything back and said,

“What are we really doing here?”

We said, “What we’re actually doing is protecting surf ecosystems.” That’s our very simple mission is to protect and serve ecosystems around the globe.  

Nik Strong-Cvetich, STW

Not just about protecting a “surf spot” – its about protecting an ecosystem

When you think about a surf spot, it’s more than just watery skateboard ramp.

It’s a bunch of stuff that’s all together.

  • Surf spots, geologically and geographically are really, really rare around the world.
  • There’s only about 5,000 of them.
  • We found each one of those spots. They’re formed by a really unique set of geophysical properties. 
  1. So either a watershed or a reef or deep water channel or sand dune that makes the banks and makes that breakaway was actually pretty rare.
  2. Then on top of that, what we’ve also found is it’s a really unique ecosystem of plants and animals that have grown up around that unique set of geologic features.
  3. Then third in the surf ecosystem is people and probably most important. It’s important for people’s wellbeing. 

Save The Waves – Natures Playground

Like Noosa! Every morning, there’s somebody up swimming, kayaking, standup paddling, surf skiing, surfing, or just walking on the beach.

They interact with that for your fundamental started your day.  What we also see is that it’s great with the Noosa Festival of surf – that those surf ecosystems are also a cultural legacy, too. It’s a big deal for the town of Noosa that have all this history and culture.

Save The Waves is Culture and Economy

We put those three things together: the place, the plants, animals, and the people – that’s the package that we’re protecting, that offers a lot of value around the world.

Furthering those really important elements by what we’re doing in protecting steward and defending our world heritage sites.

Save The Waves is Stewardship

Nikki: I love the word stewardship. Tell me a little bit about the choice of using this word stewardship in the growth of the coalition.

Nik: I think it comes from a pretty simple equation. When we set this big idea of protecting surf ecosystems and setting a big goal of protecting a 1000 Surf Spots around the world. 

Nikki: That’s your goal?

Al: By 2030, we’re at about 150 right now.

Nik: That’s right. I think where I was going with that is that we have to say, what does it actually mean to be protected?

We’ve put together a little bit of an equation that says:

  1. you need legal protection
  2. you need an effective stewardship
  3. enforcing those guidelines

i.e legal protection being a state park or a national park like here in Noosa, effective stewardship. So taking care of the place, which is trash and water quality and erosion. 

Then when it’s already protected, you need to stand up for those guidelines and say, “This is not okay in the place that we love.”

It’s a combination of those three things of legally protected place, effective stewardship and mobilise community. That’s what actually protects a place. 

Al: This is the first time I’ve actually engaged with so called Local Stewardship Committee. 

Nikki: Here in Noosa.

Al:  Here in Noosa, there’s about a dozen people. We had essentially a strategy session to identify what we call the threats.

  • What are the things in Noosa that could screw up if you like the surf ecosystem here? There’s a few.
  • One of them was the socio economic element – which is people’s behaviour and cultural norms. All that things in the water in particular. 
  • Second one was, this is built on the sand. It’s got rising seas and erosion
  • Then the third one, the expansive freshwater and everything behind that and how that interacts with this whole area which is fascinating. 

Stewardship as a benchmark

There’s a dozen people in this community. All different kinds of people from Noosa, we took responsibility for

a.) Getting nominated as a world serving reserve

b.) Getting it to happen dedicated, that’s what we had the other day.

Then c.) The ongoing stewardship which is a long term plan 5,10, 15 years.

Hopefully they have the same impact is that the people in the 60s to put the National Park here that in 50 years, we’ll look back and say, “We were able to actually protect this place.” 

The Challenges In Saving the Waves

Nikki: With what have been the biggest challenges for you in setting this up between your vision and ideas and then grounding that and the steps that we’re talking about rolling that out and getting people to do that trifecta.

Nikki: How would you get nominated to be a world serving reserve?

Nik: It’s a long process. Actually, as the folks in Noosa can tell you. It was a long journey.

a) We have an application process online.

There’s a degree of outreach that we do let people know about it. There’s a degree of demand that comes up. We just did our 11th world surfers as our vote and approved when we were on the Gold Coast, but we selected it. The final application from five different applications from around the world. Many of these people have applied two years in a row.  

These are not easy applications to get through.

It basically entails putting together a write-up on four criteria that we select.

There’s some criteria that we work through to vote on it, but the four criteria are

1. The surf, consistency, and quality, and also diversity within that.

We like to see, are there waves a lot of the time, and are the waves good? Are the waves actually available to a lot of different types of surfers? 

2. The other criteria is environmental characteristics.

What does it offer in terms of biodiversity or ecosystem services or endemic species or sensing what degree of threats are to the place?

We look at all that.

3. We look at the history and culture as well.

Does this place really important in either natural history or the culture of the area or surfing culture at large? 

4. Then last really is the most important. It’s the local support and capacity.

We need to have a really good team, a really good coalition on the ground to be able to walk step by step with us as we do this. Because we’re not coming and saving people’s places for them. 

Setting up the Frameworks To Activate Save The Waves

Save the Waves have a 20 person vision council represented by 13 countries.

They vote each time. We have a ranking.

We rank all of them with numeric scores. Obviously, there’s qualitative things that won’t come out in the numerical ranking that we then discuss and that final one’s voted on. 

Save The Waves by Creating a Legacy that Lasts

How does Save The Waves keep momentum with so many people in the program and on your committees. How do you keep momentum when you have so many decisions to make? 

And B) how do you cut through the clutter and help people get on board when there are so many ocean projects at the moment and plastic free and everything else?

Nik: It starts with the value added of Save The Waves in general.

I think a lot of the environmental sector is really guilty of shaming people and making them feel depressed and sad about the very large times. We have this fear button that became the button to sound the alarm which works, but there’s so many issues that’s overwhelming.

People just turn up when you’re like, “Okay, and this ice sheet broke off, and it’s melting. There’s more plastic than fish. Then this turtle died because of the straw on its nose. Then this whale died and they pulled out 50 tons of trash.” 

There’s all these depressing images. Let’s reverse that paradigm. Let’s think about it in a positive manner.

Let’s take something we love, and we do every day surfing, and then not say, “We want to protect that thing we do every day because we’re personally connected to it and put that up, rather than abstract.” 

Generally, I’ve found that if you lead with something you love, you do everything you can for that. If you have something that you fear, you do the basic minimum necessary to not have that happen—

Relevance and Resonance

Al: The cool thing about Save The Waves is, every one of us is in some way related to the ocean and related to the ecosystem in some ways.

My wife Christine doesn’t surf, but she is really related to the islands and the whales and the ocean life. Surfers are a wonderful channel for because they will mobilise. They will do things when there are threats.

We’ve seen that across the world. We’re seeing it here in Noosa. People who are running the local Stewardship Council here for the most part of surface and they want to protect it. That’s a really powerful force. 

I think one of the challenges that Nik has and something that I’ve been working with him on is, this is a network model. We now have 10 world surfing reserve.

There’s 10 organisations, essentially independent in many ways who are out in the world.

How to ensure sustainable success

  • Making that knowledge flow and best practices – the combinations that they’re all dealing with more accessible.
  • The mix of if you revenue or income.
  • “Next level leadership” with much more individual donors and contributors. The Founders Circle is one example of that. 

Nikki: You continue to educate yourselves and our responsibility of long term success for the organisation.

Yes for sure – Nik went on an education fellowship, which was helping him come to terms with how you run a nonprofit. The result? This nonprofit just crossed the million dollar mark. It’s about 12% who actually make that. Amazing for us to see.

Nikki: As a supporter people need to know their money’s going when they get involved with a nonprofit.

How does Save the Waves Utilise Investment and Support – with a a trifecta

a) There’s obviously the financial capital that helps a lot. It makes lights go and all that. There’s much more. 

b) There’s your social capital as well. Who else do you know that you could bring into this? Bring your network.

c) Then there’s intellectual capital. What good ideas have we not thought of that you can add into the mix here?

Nik: We have a robust of corporate sponsorship model as well. We have a lot of consumer brands and tech brands who are working with really successfully to tell stories about what we’re doing an impact, but also involved that brand in the impact. We’ve got a number of folks that we’re working with and that lane. Then I think third, the individual out there, I think that’s really important is how I do something. I may not have a bunch of money to contribute. I don’t run a corporation. I just want to help out. We also have a mobile app that helps people actually monitor their own coastlines. We map that out in terms of data across the world on the things that you’re seeing on the ground to be able to share with our network. 

Save The Waves – Getting On Board

  1. Are you passionate about surf ecosystems and the ocean?
  2. Are you looking to co-contribute whether it’s time, investment, network or daily practice of how you conserve your local surf spot?
  3. Even if you’re not near the ocean every day – does this cause resonate with you and your own values?

For example: Al’s contribution to this was to really be a partner with Nik on this, define the category of serve ecosystem conservation, and to then create these compelling stories and messages about why people need to be involved in this thing.

My wife’s a huge green. She has been for a long time and is really troubled by global warming and climate change. There wasn’t really a place for her to go. Whereas STW is a really tangible thing. It’s ‘get involved’, if you put together your own stewardship committee for your own break, for your own area, for your own state, if necessary. You can do it at any level you want, but be passionate about so if you just this is more than matter.

Al Ramadan

It’s what you do when no one’s watching. 

Go check them out: Like any business Save the Waves must scale and grow as more people are involved, there is a power not only in having a clear trajectory for that, but the importance of being face to face and harnessing that network.

Leading with heart is so essential, but don’t be deceived by a non-for profit status as it requires a robust approach to ensure it sustains vision. Save The Waves is run robustly. It’s run with sustainability, with each pillar carefully put in place.

The relationships and values that bind the start of this coalition, are what are going to carry it forward.

So before we go!

If you love this and you want to hear more, how you can get involved either as an individual or school level, club, community or corporate level. All the links are below.

It’s always humbling to be out there sharing messages of people that are leading in life. I encourage you, you can do just the same.

Until next time, stay healthy, wealthy, and wise. Thanks for having us. Noosa and special shout out to Phil Jarrett for bringing all these people together for causes that make a difference.

Yours in Mojo,

Nikki

LINKS

For more information to get involved including on a corporate level head to savethewaves.org

To listen to previous podcasts with Al Ramadan

Al Ramadan Playing Bigger

Al Ramadan on connection

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