The Ocean League: Using Creativity as a Catalyst for Ocean Conservation

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Oct 27, 2020 4:30 PM ET
Campaign: Diverse Voices
A healthy coral reef in Australia. Photo: The Ocean Agency/Adobe Stock.

Originally published by Print

The Ocean League is a new global awareness campaign. Using Adobe tools, Ocean League aims to inspire support for ocean protection through creativity and gather more than a million pledges to influence policymaking at major United Nation events in 2021. The Ocean League Pledge, powered by Adobe Sign, captures people’s desire for greater ocean protection. Additionally, Adobe has created specially designed ocean-themed Adobe Photoshop Camera Lenses, giving everyone the opportunity to express their creativity and show their support visually.
Here, Adobe Stock’s Lindsay Morris hosts an oceanside chat with Richard Vevers of Chasing Coral and Julie Lake of “Orange Is the New Black.” The trio discuss the power of imagery, how creativity can change the world and, of course, the creative call to action that is The Ocean League.

Richard Vevers, Julie Lake and Lindsay Morris

Morris: Richard, tell us about your beginnings with The Ocean League.

Vevers: The inspiration for The Ocean League came from the film Chasing Coral. We had been racing around the world photographing what was happening to coral reefs and the mass die-off caused by climate change, and we wanted to do something to help on a large scale. What is really needed to save ecosystems such as coral reefs is global government action. And to get policymakers’ attention, you need to come up with a unique approach. We want to show creative support for coral reef conservation and ocean protection, and that's really what The Ocean League is all about.

Morris: Julie, how did you get involved?

Lake: I am an ocean lover. I love to snorkel and swim and scuba and surf. If I could live in the ocean, I would. I watched Chasing Coral, and at the end of the movie, [Vevers] shows the culmination of [his] work with the before-and-after images of the bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef. It was so devastating to see. It’s unbelievable that it’s happening so fast and it’s happening in our generation. It isn’t like it’s happening 50 years from now or 100 years from now. It’s happening right now, and those images moved me so much. At the end of the movie, I think it said, “If you want to help, go to this website,” and I thought, OK, I'll go to that website! Through that I got in touch with Richard, and it all happened from there.

Morris: I actually had a similar experience to you! I’m an ocean lover, as well. One of my favorite things to do growing up (and still) was playing in the tide pools on the Oregon coast. There are so many beautiful, mystical, otherworldly creatures that inhabit those pools, and it always sparks my imagination. When I watched Chasing Coral for the first time, I had never even heard of coral bleaching. I had absolutely no idea that it was happening—and I’m a millennial, I know about everything! But I didn’t know about it, and I was shocked by what I saw.

Coral bleaching in the Maldives during the height of the Global Coral Bleaching Event, 2016. Photo: The Ocean Agency/Adobe Stock.

In the film, Richard said, “The ocean is out of sight and out of mind—and that is an advertising issue.” That’s what really clicked for me. When you see the actual underwater footage of the devastating effects of coral bleaching—right there on your screen—you can’t look away. I immediately wanted to help amplify the work you were doing. Imagery can be such an impactful and motivating catalyst for change. So that’s how we ended up partnering together for The Ocean Agency collection on Adobe Stock. And that led to the collaboration on the Glowing Glowing Gone design challenge, and now The Ocean League campaign.

Lake: That’s so on point. It is a publicity issue! That’s what is so brilliant with the film, and the work you’re both doing through The Ocean League.

Vevers: Thank you. What’s exciting is that people like Lindsay—employees working at large, influential companies—have approached us as a result of the film. What has gotten me really optimistic is the power of the individual to make a difference. It only takes someone who is passionate and persistent, especially within a big organization, and suddenly you can get global brands involved in a cause. That’s the catalyst for change. Some people think that they don’t have much power as an individual, but when you really have that passion and persistence, anyone can make a massive difference.

Coral restoration efforts in Makassar, Indonesia. Photo: The Ocean Agency/Adobe Stock.

Morris: Getting Adobe involved has been a really rewarding experience. We want to give storytellers the tools to create rich, immersive stories that can help inform, educate and ultimately sustain a world impacted by overlapping crises. The Ocean League campaign is an amazing example of creative storytelling. The Photoshop Camera lenses we’ve developed that allow people to show their support for ocean protection are inspiring, fun and optimistic, but they also have a really important message. Same with the pledge powered by Adobe Sign. We want people to really think about what they’re supporting and how they can make a difference just by raising their hand, signing their name and sharing it within their network. At Adobe, we know that creativity has the power to change the world.

Lake: I believe deeply in the power of storytelling. I was on the show “Orange Is the New Black,” which is a show that speaks about so much of what is going on in our country now—the Black Lives Matter movement, corruption in prisons, overcrowding, privatization, mental health issues, trans issues—and I think that if you haven’t had personal experiences with these issues, it’s hard to care about them unless you are brought in on an emotional, visceral level. That’s why storytelling is so important. It’s the same with the ocean and coral reefs. The visuals in Chasing Coral make us care.

Vevers: Absolutely. Pictures can tell the whole story instantly. It’s kind of funny thinking about the process we went through, literally chasing coral all over the world, painstakingly trying to take the exact same shot before and after bleaching, but those are the shots that really made the difference. We want to do a lot more of that.

Morris: Yes! There are so many examples of ways imagery and storytelling have changed the world. When people see something, certainly in the environment, and also in diversity, inclusivity and many other important topics like Julie just mentioned, it changes how we see each other, how we see ourselves and how we understand the world around us. The world needs more people, more voices and more stories, because it leads to more creativity and innovation.

Vevers: It is a fascinating time, you know, working on The Ocean League and seeing how environmentalism is changing. It has me really optimistic, seeing how the power of creative communication can get people to take action en masse. Everyone thinks we have to work logically and accept that progress will be slow like it’s been for the last few decades. But change can be catalytic if you get it right. It’s no longer just about creating outrage to get to action; that doesn’t work. What’s needed is positivity and creating excitement and optimism around these causes. I think it’s all about creative communication. When you have that, action can happen really quickly.

Lake: I also think educating children is so important. I’m sure learning about how amazing coral is will spark kids’ imagination and passion and they will take it with them, because kids are such little sponges. They have such imaginations! I think reaching out to them and fostering their care is a really important step to creating change, because they are obviously our future generation.

A bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef in 2017. Photo: The Ocean Agency/Adobe Stock.

Morris: There is so much to teach kids, and there is also so much to learn from them, too. I love how kids are so inherently optimistic and creative and uninhibited. If we can really tap into some of that in our process of working through these heavy topics, we can make a big difference. Kids inspire me all the time. Something else that’s a big inspiration to me is your 50 Reefs project. Richard, can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Vevers: Our 50 Reefs project is all about bolstering conservation efforts where they are going to be most effective. We worked with the leading scientists to identify the 50 reefs around the world that are least vulnerable to climate change and ideal for reseeding other reefs. As a result, millions of dollars have been committed to conserving these reefs.

What’s just as exciting is the progress being made to restore reefs like these. Some reefs are less vulnerable to climate change but have been severely damaged by pollution and overfishing. Scientists have developed a method using metal structures seeded with coral fragments to restore reefs. In just three years, you can get complete recovery of the reef, back to full-functioning status, with loads and loads of fish. The restored reef we went to photograph in Indonesia was one of the healthiest reefs I’ve ever seen. Taking before-and-after images of what’s possible in just three years creates optimism and gives people the motivation to support the cause.

Lake: I feel like that is what you need to show next! Show us these structures being installed and show the reef growing back over time, the same way you did the before-and-after of the coral. I want to see these images.

Morris: Me too. This is the second part of the story. How can you scale a project like 50 Reefs?

Vevers: It is estimated that we need seven times the current level of funding for coral reef conservation. So that’s where government funding comes in. But coral reef and ocean conservation is rarely prioritized by governments, even though it makes great sense economically. Protecting marine environments can deliver a fivefold return on investment because they are so productive and they bounce back quickly. That’s what always amazes me about the ocean—ecosystems are often able to recover quickly, as they are constantly being hit by storms and other impacts. The ocean is designed to bounce back if we let it. What we need to do is just take some of the pressure off.

Corals glowing purple in a desperate bid to survive during the last global bleaching event, New Caledonia, 2016. Photo: The Ocean Agency/Adobe Stock.

Morris: Wow. The ocean is actually designed to recover, and we’re still messing it up. It can heal itself if we let it, and we’re still managing to get it to its breaking point. I think the fluorescing coral you captured on film in New Caledonia is a fascinating example of this protective design. The way that coral creates its own chemical sunscreen when it gets too warm and emits these glowing colors. It is an amazing, haunting, beautiful, devastating example of their will to survive. They are literally screaming in color trying to get noticed. It’s breathtaking and heartbreaking all at once.

Vevers: Yes, the more you find out about the ocean, the more it draws you in and inspires you. Coral has been evolving for half a billion years. They’re so advanced they can grow their own food in their flesh. They can grow into these giant structures that dwarf our cities. It just goes to show that they are these super-evolved creatures. They planned for almost every eventuality—apart from us. If we can take the pressure off, they will bounce back quickly.

A coral reef fluorescing yellow in New Caledonia, 2016. Photo: The Ocean Agency/Adobe Stock.

Morris: Richard, you said something that really inspired me when we were working together on the Glowing Glowing Gone campaign with Pantone last year. You said, “Let’s take these colors of climate change and turn them into climate action.” And that call to action has really carried through to The Ocean League.

Vevers: It’s been great to see Adobe building the Glowing PS Camera lens inspired by the Glowing Glowing Gone campaign. Seeing the glowing colors of corals in real life and knowing the story behind it … it’s disturbingly beautiful, and I knew the colors could be used creatively to inspire support for saving the ocean.

Lake: When I was encouraging my castmates to support the cause and get involved, they wanted to know the significance of the neon colors in the Glowing PS Camera lens. When I explained to them that they are the colors that coral emits as their ultimate warning, they were amazed. I thought it was such a genius lens that you created.

Vevers: We hope it can spread some optimism and positivity in what is such a bizarre time for ocean conservation. 2021 is being called the Super Year for the Ocean because of all of the international meetings happening to set long-term goals for marine and biodiversity protection. It’s a pivotal decade for the ocean, and the targets that are set will determine how well the ocean can survive and recover. For coral reefs especially, this is the moment in time that we need to act. We need to make campaigning for ocean protection as popular in the mainstream as ocean plastics.

We’re aiming to get signatures to show support in numbers but use imagery to make the support real to policymakers at the key decision-making events. Our aim is to make it impossible to ignore all of the individuals, celebrities and brands involved, creatively showing support for ocean protection.

Lake: You know, all three of us had babies in the last year, and the saddest thing in the world to me is thinking that we might not get to share the ocean with them. It’s the most mysterious, exciting place on the planet. But the work you are doing is bringing me so much hope and inspiration.

Vevers: Thanks, I do believe we just need to be creative and to get much more of the ocean protected, so we can let the ocean save itself.

To join The Ocean League, go to