Ocean hope at Mission Blue: A collaboration experiment comes good

Posted by: Tedstaff

ABOVE: Sylvia Earle welcomes us to Mission Blue Voyage.

How to describe what happened last week? A Galapagos sea-voyage of 100 people (including Sylvia Earle, Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton, Glenn Close, Elizabeth Banks, Steve Case, Ted Waitt, Bill Joy, Jackson Browne, Damien Rice, Chevy Chase, Jean-Michel Cousteau and 30 of the world’s leading marine scientists) turned into an epic event that may have significant impact on global efforts to save our oceans. It happened because the individuals and organizations on board chose to abandon the obstacles that often engulf nonprofit work, and engage in a process of emergent collaboration that I, for one, found truly thrilling.

Eight separate initiatives were kickstarted, aided by $15m in commitments from the individuals on board. These included:

  • $1m to complete a package to protect the waters around Galapagos themselves
  • $1.1m to launch a plan to protect the 1m-square-mile Sargasso Sea and commitments to raise a further $2.5m to see the plan through to success
  • $350k to boost ocean exposure in schools
  • $3.25m to commence a campaign to end fishing subsidies
  • $10m to kickstart a new partnership to fund longer-term ocean projects

Not bad for 4 days’ work, especially as these commitments were not pre-planned. They emerged organically from the discussions on board in an untried process that worked better than anyone dared hope for.

In addition, we recorded more than 20 fabulous talks on ocean issues that are to be shared with the world on TED.com in the coming months, and which will end up being seen by literally millions of people.

So how did this come about? Here’s the story:


her blockbuster acceptance speech at TED, she declared her wish “to ignite public support for a global network of Marine Protected Areas, hope spots large enough … to restore the blue heart of the planet.” The speech inspired hundreds of offers of support, including a $1m pledge from investor/philanthropist Addison Fischer.


TED Prize team, headed by Amy Novogratz, worked intensively with the most promising offers, and plans were drawn up to embark on a new global awareness campaign. The agency Razorfish, working for us pro bono, came up with superb branding — active, exciting and ambitious. Mission Blue was born. But to mark the launch we decided to do something bold to kickstart interest. With Addison’s underwriting, and the confirmed availability of a perfect ship operated by Lindblad Expeditions, the Mission Blue Voyage to the Galapagos was born. The vision was referred to internally as “TED-at-sea.” By bringing together leading marine scientists with philanthropists and with thoughtful celebrities interested in this issue, we thought we could at a minimum:

  • record memorable TED talks to boost understanding of — and passion for — the oceans
  • give a transformative experience to people in a position to act
  • raise money by charging passengers $20,000 to come

Three months before the scheduled departure date, things were not looking good. No famous names were signed up, and we had yet to sell our first ticket. In late January, in a conference call of interested parties, we had three options: postpone, cancel, or redouble our efforts. We decided to go for it. By the time TED2010 was held three weeks later, Chevy Chase and Jackson Browne had confirmed their interest, along with a few leading members of the TED community. And the speaker lineup was looking fantastic. We presented the trip as an epic voyage for those willing to engage in one of the biggest challenges to our future. By the end of TED, we knew our boat would be full.

But the question remained whether anything other than awareness-raising could be achieved.


TEDx program is the latest evidence of this, spawning 1,000 TED-like events in little more than a year.) So we decided to go for a different approach, and two weeks ahead of the trip, we invited all of our participants to consider influencing the outcome of the trip by becoming an “Idea champion.” This meant proposing an idea around which a group could form to plan specific action for the oceans.



WildAid, which has been working successfully in Galápagos for many years. Plus there was a clear sense from everyone that given the shocking threats to the ocean, this could not be just a pleasure trip. The celebs played a key role here. For example, on the very first evening, Ed Norton argued passionately to me that it was critical we came away with something concrete for Galápagos itself. And from the stage, Chevy Chase interrupted his own hilarious monologue with an eloquent plea for action.

Mission Blue (courtesy Wolcott Henry)


http://mission-blue.org. Instead she agreed to a bold alternative. Let the support go directly to the organization leading each initiative. This massively multiplied the potential for action. By allowing the idea champions to work out their own plans with their groups, and then secure their support directly from individuals on board, real action plans snapped into place with astonishing speed. And it was done largely in a spirit of collaboration not competition. The participating organizations — including WildAid, Conservation International, Oceana, National Geographic, the Nature Conservancy, NRDC, IUCN — acted respectfully toward potential funders, and I overheard several celebrating each others’ successes. Hard to believe, but for some reason last week, that happened.



Comments (21)

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  • Andy Sharpless commented on Apr 15 2010

    What a great summary, Chris. It was truly exciting to be a part of this journey. Thanks to everyone who made commitments to protect the oceans, whether with my organization (Oceana), or any of the other participating organizations. Mission Blue proved that together we can do way more than raise awareness — we can make in-the-water change happen.

  • Tim Ray commented on Apr 14 2010

    when are people going to realize….that tourism to these island increases 10% every year and they are destroying the very islands they are gawking at…stay home…watch the BBC’s Wild Pacific…dorks

  • Peter Burgess commented on Apr 14 2010

    Dear Colleagues
    Sorry to throw cold water on your enthusiasm … but the sad fact is that corporate profits, stockmarket prices and GDP growth are the only metrics that matter. The fact that corporate and societal behavior is heading towards the killing every living thing is not a part of any serial metrics. Listen to Bloomberg News for a little while and you will hear absolutely nothing about meaningful metrics that matter.

    I know something of the world of water having been the CFO of an international shrimp fishing company … where I learned more than anything else a huge respect for the environment and the dynamics of fish populations and their environment. Later I was involved with the refit of Cousteau’s old Calypso … but knowledge and events are not enough. There has to be serial value metrics in order to enable paradigm shift in behavior. Change the way the game is scored … and you change the way the game is played!

    • Jennifer Clark commented on Apr 14 2010

      Peter, all cold water comments must be accompanied by a suggested solution. Its the rule!

    • Joseph Ahdoot commented on Apr 15 2010

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Being an organization psychologist/consultant I have to deal with this same issue on a micro scale all the time. In fact, I so believe in the idea behind your comments that I am willing to work on creating some kind of movement toward popularizing more meaningful metrics (assuming that there isn’t some other group already working on this that I could simply join). Are you interested?

      • Chris Ke-Sihai commented on Jul 2 2010

        Joseph, I think what you’re saying is related to what many others (such as Jane McGonigal and Rory Sutherland) have said recently on TED.

        As long as money is the prime metric, rather than a tool to be used in achieving goals which are measured in some other way, then we’re stuck with this mess. Someone needs to come up with a new ‘currency’ that is tradeable for money in order to keep shareholders and employees happy.

        Any ideas?

  • Sergio Saleh commented on Apr 14 2010

    Hi everyone,
    I’m a broadcast designer and run a broadcast design studio called Lumbre.
    This year, we have designed the hole package for the National Geograhic’s Earth Day 2010 Global campaign. The theme that NatGeo choosed this year is THE OCEANS and they have called it OCEAN10.

    Check out our graphics, IDs and Vignettes with Oceanographers (including Silvia Earle!!!).

    Hope you like them!


  • Don Levy commented on Apr 14 2010

    Count me in in supporting the education component. And thank you to all the participants who lead by great example.

  • Thako Harris commented on Apr 14 2010

    Commence, Kickstart, Boost, Launch… These words inadvertently leave me feeling that significant change is still lurking just beyond the visible horizon. Is launching a plan equivalent to executed action? Are commitments for further fundraising producing actual results?

  • Wallace J Nichols commented on Apr 14 2010

    Thank you Sylvia, TED and everyone involved.

    I don’t find celebrating each other’s successes and collaboration “hard to believe” at all…it’s the heart of the ocean revolution, and in Sylvia’s DNA.

    Onward in audacity…

  • Gerald Graham commented on Apr 14 2010

    Sounds exciting- particularly the $1 million commitment to Galapagos marine conservation. I had the privilege of visiting Galapagos in July 2008, and am slated to go back there to help them with their oil spill planning. However, everything seems to have been put on hold, seemingly owing to red tape. Even when they have the funds and terms of reference for a study, there seems to be lack of commitment. Meanwhile, another Jessica-type spill is bound to happen one of these days. And will they be any better prepared for the next big spill than they were ten years ago? That’s the big question. Meanwhile, I am preparing to serve as an advisor to First Nations and marine environmental groups on the EA of a supertanker project for British Columbia’s coast, what some call The Galapagos of the North. The press see this as the latest in a series of herculean coastal battles fought over the course of the past 2 decades, pitting conservationists against developers, especially over clear-cutting.

  • Hunter Dickson commented on Apr 13 2010

    Evolution of the Heart, Mind and Soul. Evolutionary thinking involving the feelings that come up when exposed to great potential disaster; Our oceans, bold and vigorous, aging, dying and being reborn with the help of mankind, deciding, then acting on the decision.

    This is happening with the speed of “enlightenment”. That enlightenment actually has a velocity, and that is of mankind including their heart in their intelligence. Within one year such a miracle took place. The ripples will be magnificent.

  • Casson Rosenblatt commented on Apr 13 2010

    Often we believe problems are so big that individuals can’t be a source for change. It is wonderful to hear how this voyage is the start of just the opposite for the ocean – a path from one person’s wish to many people’s commitment to the world’s participation.

  • Amy Novogratz commented on Apr 13 2010

    Four days perfectly summarized. An unbelievable moment for the TED Prize and a transformational trip for many. I am confident that through both the knowledge and feelings the attendees carried off the boat and the remarkable talks being released on TED.com, this trip will really change the way our oceans are treated. The voyage and campaign launch are just the beginning – there is a lot more work that needs to happen to truly fulfill Sylvia’s dream of saving the oceans. Learn more and get involved: http://www.tedprize.org/sylvia-earle/

  • Nathalie Molina commented on Apr 13 2010

    My ancestor is Antonio Gil, there is a statue of him on Baltra just outside the airport. He single-handedly dessimated multiple species on Isabela and other islands in the Galapagos. In college I worked with the Darwin institute and with various NGO’s looking to limit the amount of tourism to the islands, with little progress. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to read about this trip and these iniatives. A lot of the success here has to integrate locals and contribute to education and empowerment of locals to fight the fight and protect our precious resources.

    Look very much forward to learning more (and getting involved)!