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Noble Marine 2022 YY - LEADERBOARD

Dona Bertarelli of the Spindrift Sailing Team on her efforts to help ocean ecology

by David Schmidt 22 Nov 2023 16:00 GMT November 22, 2023
Dona Bertarelli, Media Reporter, Maxi Spindrift Sails of Change © Chris Schmid / Spindrift racing

If you follow offshore ocean-racing records or share our love for big, fast, globe-girdling trimarans, you're familiar with the Spindrift sailing team, their 121-foot (37 meters) maxi trimaran Sails of Change (nee Spindrift 2), and their attempts to break the Jules Verne Trophy record. There's no question—the yacht, the sailing team, and its co-skippers Yann Guichard and Bertarelli (they're married)—are impressive, but to just call them a sailing team misses the work that Bertarelli and company have been putting in to trying to help ensure ocean health and biodiversity.

While Bertarelli's dedication to ocean conservation stretches back many years, most recently, she participated in the recent Climate Week New York City (September 17-24), where the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Sports for Nature partners called on other sports organizations to join the cause.

The resulting Sports for Nature Framework (the Framework) was co-created by the IUCN, the International Olympic Committee, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Bertarelli and the Sails of Change Foundation also collaborated in this creation. Collectively, these organizations are working with sports organizations and athletes to raise awareness, and to work towards ocean (and environmental) protection and habitat restoration.

I checked in with Bertarelli to learn more about the efforts that she and her team are making to help ocean ecology.

Can you please tell us about how you became interested in environmental issues? Also, were you already sailing at this point? When did you decide to wed your love for sailing with your interest in environmental issues? Did this happen all at once, or was it a gradual progression?

My interest in nature started very young. My parents were nature lovers, and I still remember our family holidays in the mountains, on the lakes or at sea. I've been sailing since I was a little girl, and I have always been fascinated by the ocean. Its beauty, its richness, its mysteries. Everything that a young girl full of dreams and craving adventure could hope for.

The ocean seemed to me like a new world where anything was possible. The ocean was a huge part of my upbringing.

Some of the most precious moments in my life have been on the water. Sailing with my parents and my brother. Sailing Ladycat to a Bol d'Or victory with a female crew. Sailing with my son Duncan, sharing the experience of offshore races and transatlantic crossings. Sailing around the world with my husband, Yann Guichard, and the Spindrift team, aboard the maxi-trimaran on our first Jules Verne Trophy around-the-world record attempt. Becoming the fastest woman to sail around the world.

But over the years, I also realized how fragile the ocean was. As a sailor, I have witnessed how an ocean once full of life has lost its biodiversity at an alarming rate. I've sailed through waters polluted by human activities and seen the indisputable fingerprints of climate change on marine ecosystems.

I also learned that the fate of humanity is closely linked to the health of the natural world, and especially the health of the ocean, which covers two thirds of our planet and plays a central role in providing oxygen and regulating our climate.

So, my interest in environmental issues really came from that. And my decision to become an ocean advocate was very much inspired by Dr. Sylvia Earle, whom I met many years ago now, bringing marine science to the public. There was so much to be done in ocean in conservation, and I started to realize what my role could be.

Through my travels, I have seen first-hand how coastal communities rely on a healthy ocean for their livelihoods and how precious and vital the ocean is for humanity. The more I committed my time to preserving the ocean, the more I wanted to do.

In 2008, through the Bertarelli Foundation, I launched initiatives in marine conservation policy, working in partnership with communities, local leaders, philanthropic partners, Indigenous groups, government officials, and scientists to advance the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs).

Building on these first successes, I partnered with The Pew Charitable Trusts to found Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy. Our objective is to accelerate the creation of large scale, fully or highly protected MPAs, and to connect entire ecosystems to increase the benefits of protection. To date, between us, we've supported governments in protecting more than 13 million square kilometers of ocean. An area larger than Europe. However, there is no meaningful marine protected area without proper design, management and enforcement.

This is why I partnered with Global Fishing Watch to develop Global Fishing Watch Marine Manager, a technology portal that provides dynamic and interactive data on ocean conditions, biology, and human-use activity. Marine Manager is now a key tool used to support the design and management of marine protected areas around the world.

Today, less than four percent of the global ocean is meaningfully protected, when science tells us we need to protect at least 30% by 2030. To put things into perspective, we have seven years left and we would need to protect approximately 15 million square kilometers every year to reach this target, and [to] significantly slow biodiversity loss and mitigate climate change. So, there is still much more to do!

In 2014, at the same time as our first attempt to beat the Jules Verne Trophy record, my husband and I created Spindrift for Schools, an educational program to share our passion for the ocean with future generations.

In 2021, I created Sails of Change with my children and my husband, to build a community of sports and nature lovers who want to create a sustainable future for our planet. I feel lucky to be able to share this deep connection to the ocean with my husband and my children. Last year, we launched Sports for Nature, a program to encourage sports organizations to play their part in protecting nature.

I have worked in ocean protection for nearly two decades now, and my commitment for ocean conservation and biodiversity protection is stronger than ever. I see it as my life's work to advocate for the ocean, for nature, and ultimately for people.

Can you explain how Sails of Change came to be a part of the Sports for Nature Framework?

I always try to include what I've learned through my philanthropic work, in everything that I do. Sailing and sport have been such a big part of my life, it was important to me to work on a program that would connect the dots. The Sports for Nature program is a result of all these years.

We hope to create a Framework for the sports community as a whole, by joining forces with partners who bring real expertise. The Framework, that we launched in December last year, was developed as a true collaborative effort between the IUCN, the International Olympic Committee, the United Nations Environment Program, and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and of course, Sails of Change.

We have with these partners a shared vision of a future where we can all practice sport in a clean environment and thriving nature, where sport venues and events do not compromise nature's well-being but instead support and help it flourish, and where, through sports, nature is respected and part of local communities.

The Framework strives to build on and complement existing initiatives and efforts such as the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. We aim to bring together sports and nature conservation communities at all levels and in all regions of the world, from local clubs to global sport organizations.

Sailing is clearly where we can bring together sports and nature, and sailing associations can play an important role - so I am thrilled that World Sailing and The Ocean Race have already joined the Framework, alongside Spindrift. I hope many more sailing organizations and teams will join us, too.

How did you come to select an offshore multihull as a vehicle for spreading environmental awareness and change? Also, how well do you think the boat is serving in this capacity?

As part of our first attempt to break the Jules Verne Trophy record back in 2015, I was already sharing the importance of ocean and land protection. The Jules Verne Trophy is a huge sports adventure and human challenge, and benefits from the enthusiasm around it. So, it lends itself naturally to elevating these values and raising awareness about the ocean and the environment. We wanted to infuse these values, which are so close to our hearts, fully within the Spindrift team and its program.

Far from land, on the open sea, we sailors witness the ocean at its wildest and most fragile, and this environment is now threatened.

Our sails carry the colors of the 30x30 global campaign we support through Sails of Change, a campaign whose objective is to raise awareness to protect 30-percent of our planet's ocean and land by 2030. This is a growing call from the scientific community to protect and regenerate biodiversity. The entire crew carries these values, and we are delighted to be able to share these messages and embark as many people as possible on this journey.

Where does your lake sailing fit into the Sails of Change picture?

In-shore sailing is another way for us to engage, and in some ways, easier for the public to connect with as it's a bit easier to take part in the experience. And our colors are blue and green, green for the land which surrounds us while sailing on lakes or close to the shore. If you think about it, the water in the lakes came from glaciers, mountain rivers, underground sources and rainfall, flowing from the lakes on into rivers and eventually into the ocean.

No matter where you are on earth, even in a land-locked country like Switzerland, you are connected to the ocean and rely on it for the very air you breathe.

And that's what we're trying to raise awareness about through Sports for Nature, that no matter where you practice your support, you rely on nature for clean air to breathe, and have a responsibility to protect nature in return.

What do you see as the biggest challenges that you have faced since you and Yann Guichard co-founded Sails of Change? Also, how did you and your team overcome these challenges?

As athletes, I'm aware that whatever we do, sports have an impact. Yet sport is also a great platform - a platform to help inspire change and transform perspectives. Athletes, both globally renowned and those beloved in local communities, have a voice that resonates. From groundbreaking world records to the daily practices of local sports organizations, we believe that individual actions can bring about change.

However, we quickly understood that sport is just one part of the solution. Knowledge and understanding are the starting block from which to take action, so we needed to find a way to bring science into the heart of Sails of Change. Partnering with the right organization has been key.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world largest environmental network with more than 1,400 governmental and non-governmental organizations, and is a true reference when it comes to nature conservation. This is why we joined forces with IUCN, to harness the power of sports to protect the nature it depends on.

What do you see as Sails of Change's three biggest accomplishments?

Perhaps I'll continue with Sports for Nature. Our aim is to bring to life a Framework designed to help sports organizations mitigate negative impacts on biodiversity and climate, but also regenerate nature and help drive change. More concretely, the Sports for Nature Framework provides clear targets for sports organizations and we're developing training programs and toolkits to support international federations, Olympic committees, sports associations and clubs who sign up.

Sails of Change and IUCN seek to inspire and engage with athletes, associations, fans, sponsors, local communities, and policymakers.

Then there's the World Surf League Copa Sails of Change held last year in May, and again this year. We sponsored the very first surf competition in the Galápagos, which brought a World Surf League event closer to this amazing region of natural beauty, encouraging young surfers to join. It was also an opportunity to shine a light on the newly expanded marine protection around the Galápagos, and Ecuador's leadership in developing policies that preserve and value the ocean.

This year, we offered children in the community the opportunity to take part in educational activities designed to connect them to the natural world, through Spindrift for Schools.

The third one is the Sports for Nature Challenge, which aims to nurture and accelerate projects which generate positive change. We're the founding sponsor of the Sports for Nature Challenge, a competition to develop solutions for biodiversity conservation, linked to sport. In Switzerland, in May 2023, 75 teams from around the world presented their innovative projects, which ten of them where selected. The event included workshops to help them scale up and implement their projects.

Being an incubator for change-making solutions is also part of the DNA of Sails of Change.

I'd also like to mention our Arts for Nature program, which aims to raise awareness about nature through the arts. I am one of the executive producers of Deep Rising, directed by Matthieu Rytz, and narrated by Jason Momoa, UN Environment Program's Advocate for Life Below Water and the original Aquaman.

I felt it was important to support this documentary, because Deep Rising takes us to the depths of the ocean, the ancient and fascinating life forms down there and now, the risks coming from a potential new industry: deep-sea mining. It makes us realize just how much more there is in the deep-sea waiting to be discovered and how much we actually depend on a healthy global ocean, deep and otherwise.

It's so important to highlight this right now, because an international body that most of the public isn't aware of, the International Seabed Authority, is in the process of negotiating regulations to manage this industrial deep-sea mining. Deep-sea mining's potential for destruction must not be underestimated, and currently these regulations are being negotiated based on too little knowledge and inadequate representation of the people it would impact.

Already it's clear that biodiversity on the seabed would be wiped out, important fisheries disrupted, and the deep-sea ecosystems that support a regular climate globally, weighed-down under additional pressure.

We are at the thin end of the wedge, but still have a chance to pause and make a rational, science-based decision if we act now to consider what we are doing carefully.

Looking ahead, what are your three most important goals with Sails of Change for the next few years?

There are three key pillars which will be our main focus for the next years. Firstly, to Inspire. Each of us has the power to protect nature. Our aim is to inspire people and organizations to bring about positive change, helping them to identify practical ways to respect nature.

Secondly, to Unite. Nature matters for every one of us. We hope to bring together stakeholders, identify and promote solutions, and form a community with others in this space, so we can all learn from, and progress with, each other.

Thirdly, to change. And we seek meaningful change, addressing policy-makers and decision-makers. We will work with partners to help regenerate ecosystems, and support projects which protect and preserve nature.

In practical terms, for Sports for Nature, we hope to significantly grow the Framework, so it becomes a reference for sports organizations and clubs wishing to take action for nature. We will work with them on taking concrete steps to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which have a number of goals specific to Life on Land and Life Below Water, and ultimately, to nature.

I realize that Sails of Change has a strong environmental message, but I also know that running a maxi trimaran isn't without its carbon costs, from air miles to new sails, and everything in between. Aside from helping to raise environmental awareness, can you please tell us about any steps that you and your team have taken to lower the Sails of Change's environmental footprint compared to other Jules Verne Trophy (or similar) campaigns?

Yes, we are always trying to question ourselves about it. Spindrift, our sailing team, prepared for several months for an attempt to circumnavigate the world—without fossil fuels. It was a real challenge within a challenge. There is no combustion engine on board to ensure a power supply for onboard electronics, means of communication, desalination, and heating water to rehydrate our food. Instead, we have solar panels and two wind turbines. And just in case of a total lack of sun and wind, we installed a bio-methanol battery as a backup solution.

Apart from these important modifications to the Sails of Change maxi-trimaran, we also know how hard it is to collect data from remote areas and contribute to science about distant waters. In regions like the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, getting accurate scientific data is complicated, making it difficult to assess the impact of climate change and human activity on biodiversity. This is why we equipped the maxi-trimaran with onboard sensors that will collect environmental and climatic data to contribute to scientific understanding.

In addition, we have been working since the inception of Spindrift in 2011 to reduce the impact of our operations, whether it's simpler initiatives like collecting rainwater for washing the saltwater off boats, choosing electric vehicles wherever possible, managing our energy and resources usage carefully, even building specially designed tent structures around the maxi-trimaran's hull while it was being painted, to avoid the release of paint particles being emitted, or working with suppliers to find more sustainable options.

We also removed single-use plastic everywhere we could in our operations and are mindful of our food choices, preferring local, organic and plant-based meals several times a week. We also seek solutions to give our sails a second life, whether it is through the creation of bags (like the supply bags we use to take onboard), for on board equipment, flags for our Spindrift for Schools program or donating them.

Finally, we support the restoration and protection of biodiversity rich coastal ecosystems like mangroves and seagrass meadows through projects in India and Africa.

I also believe that the Sports for Nature Framework will be a helpful guide for all of us active in sailing.

So, to everyone in the Sail-World community reading this, we welcome you to join us onboard!

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