World Ocean Day: Celebrating Nature and Sport

June 8 , 2024

Sport and nature have always been intrinsically linked. From the earliest Roman records of swimming, today’s athletes, organisations and sport-loving members of the public continue to draw inspiration from the great waterways outdoors. Writes Annie Button

To mark this year’s World Ocean Day (on the 8th June), it’s time to reflect on the important connection between watersports and nature, and look at some of the valuable efforts being made to protect marine environments from the sporting world. .

It is also an opportunity to shine a light on the shared vision (in the UK and globally) to reduce pollution, stop sewage dumps and protect waterways from the impact of climate change. 

Whether you’re into outdoor swimming or will follow sailing at the Marseille Marina during this summer’s Olympics, safeguarding our waters is important so that everyone can enjoy sports in coastal, river and lake environments long into the future.

What is World Ocean Day?

World Ocean Day is an annual event celebrated on June 8th to raise awareness about the crucial role the ocean plays in our lives and the importance of protecting it.

The theme for 2024 is ‘Reviving the Ocean: Collective Responses for Ocean Action’ emphasising the need for collaborative solutions from all sectors of society. With the ocean facing unprecedented threats from climate change, pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction, raising consciousness and driving tangible change has never been more pressing. These actionable initiatives include:

  • making the best use of all existing climate solutions 

  • accelerating a just transition to clean and renewable energy

  • halting fossil fuel extraction, including oil, gas and coal 

  • phasing out single-use plastics as advocated in sustainable sport

  • amplifying the voices of leaders to implement collaborative action within communities

  • protecting and restoring natural coastal and ocean ecosystems, and

  • creating more solutions at the local, national and international levels.

Healthy Bodies of Water Matter

Water sports are popular and healthy activities for millions of people across the planet. In recent years, the popularity of wild swimming and the emergence of Paddle Boarding are a testament to people’s continued love of the ocean and natural waterways. The ongoing drive to respect and clean up our sea, rivers, canals, reservoirs and lakes is vital for outdoor swimmers, holidaymakers and sport-lovers who deserve the right to enjoy waters safely for sport. 

This is not a recent problem either, and historically the popularity of wild swimming declined in the mid-20th century because of concerns about water pollution. Today’s renewed love of outdoor swimming has encouraged people to search for healthy swim spots and opt for salt water swimming pools that use less chlorine and require minimal sanitation work compared to traditional designs.

Meanwhile, the plight of the UK’s waterways remains topical for individuals, wider organisations, and professionals. In recent years, Olympic sailing champion Hannah Mills emerged as an influential voice on purer and less polluted waters. After witnessing the "soul-destroying" sight of plastic waste in the oceans during competitions, she resolved to be a "voice for the sea”, creating a documentary ‘Plastic Dreams’ to raise awareness and inspire fellow athletes.

Collaborative Efforts to Safeguard Waterways

In April this year, seven sporting bodies united to create the Clean Water Alliance. British Rowing, British Triathlon, Swim England, Angling Trust, GB Outrigger, Paddle UK and the Royal Yachting Association have united with a common purpose to campaign for the UK government to go “further and faster” on tackling pollution in our waterways. 

In addition, British Rowing has unveiled an ambitious Environmental Sustainability Strategy. Their aim is to become one of the UK’s leading sustainable sports bodies. Notably, they have partnered with the Clear Access Clear Waters campaign to remove litter and promote recreation without pollution on Britain's waterways. 

Another major catalyst has been the Royal Yachting Association’s (RYA) joint environmental programme with British Marine, called The Green Blue. This initiative is focused on minimising the impact of recreational boating with sustainable practices, such as eco-conscious antifouling, sustainable marina development, and marine life protection. In addition to being educational, it advises on environmental legal obligations, biosecurity planning, oil spill preparedness. The programme also raises awareness via clubs and at major sailing events, and calls for "a sustainable maritime community that ensures an abundant ocean and coastal environment for future generations."

Formal Policies to Protect Bathing Waters

The UK's Environmental Agency has announced its ‘Cleaner Seas’ campaign to monitor, sample and test bathing waters and keep the public informed and warned about pollution. Their platform, Swimfo, looks at over 600 designated bathing waters and reads the results of weekly assessments measuring water quality and forecasting pollution risks.

Inviting Participants to Join Conservation 

When individuals get directly involved in coastal cleanups and conservation activities, it can forge an even deeper connection to nature and personal investment in protecting it. Initiatives like the Great British Beach Clean invites thousands of volunteers to coastal locations across the UK in September to help clean the beaches of plastic, debris, and other litter. 

Likewise, the Big Paddle Clean Up sees communities of paddlers, rowers, sailors and swimmers to take action against litter in the very waters they cherish. Over 80 canoeing clubs participated in the first of many these events. Such campaigns not only pull communities and people together to preserve natural waterways and shorelines, but are an impressive force for good to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the world’s waterways.