Witnessing the death of something you care about deeply would cause many people to give up fighting. If anything, it spurred on Richard Vevers.

When Richard first conceived of a documentary about coral, he wanted to make people fall in love so that they would join him in saving it. But as he and the crew of filmmaker Jeff Orlowski (Chasing Ice and The Social Dilemma) followed coral bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef, they realised they were witnessing the death of an ecosystem on an unprecedented scale.

The resulting film, the award-winning Netflix Original Documentary Chasing Coral, made the impacts of climate change on the world's reefs impossible to ignore.


“Communication is by far the most effective – and cost effective – way to make change, and do it at the speed and scale we need,” says Richard. He uses the strategies he learned in advertising to turn outrage into the kind of action that makes a real and tangible difference.

Richard didn't plan a career in ocean conservation although he was always drawn to the sea. “I grew up in England,” he says. “As a kid I used visit my grandparents near Scotland, and just loved spending the time on the beach and in the water.” His love for diving had unlikely origins. “I started diving in quarry pits in Leicestershire. I was 16 – that was the earliest you could sign up for a dive course. There was maybe one fish in there, and about six inches of visibility, but I loved it!”

Years later, Richard took the plunge more seriously: he quit his job in advertising after a “really bad meeting” involving toilet paper, and bought a non-return ticket to travel. He ended up in Australia, where the diving was decidedly more inviting. “That's when I realised there was so much that needed to be done with the ocean.”

Richard's wake up call came via weedy sea dragons. He first met them diving off Sydney's Bondi Beach, and it was love at first sight. “They're like seahorses, but about three times the size, and just unbelievable animals.”  And then they disappeared. “No one cared, no one was interested in the story. And I realised it was a communication challenge more than anything else. You know, 99.9% of people don't dive, so they don't understand the issues. And I figured I could use the skills from my advertising background to be able to bring something different in.”


That ‘something different’ became the Ocean Agency, a non-profit agency that uses a combination of creativity, technology, and powerful partnerships to fast-track ocean conservation action.

Their first project was to find the most interesting underwater locations and reveal them on Google Streetview. “We couldn't believe the success of it.” Through ongoing conversations with scientists, Richard came to understand the scale of the issue – and became shocked at the lack of investment in marine science.

“We are learning – just not at the speed we need,” Richard says. “We should be doing much more of this now to be prepared for the next 10 or 20 years.”


The Ocean Agency is about finding ways for people to witness extraordinary marine events – even if, these days, they are as tragic as they are mesmerising. ‘Glowing Gone’, developed together with UN Environment, tracks how some corals glow in fluorescent colours in a desperate bid to protect themselves from underwater heat waves caused by climate change. “It's a fascinating thing that coral does – a last gasp indicator that shows we’ve reached a tipping point, not just for coral reefs, but for the planet. We are on the verge of losing entire ecosystems on which we depend.”

The ‘50 Reefs’ project identified a global portfolio of coral reefs with the best chance surviving the impacts of climate change. There is now a global fund to protect them and to help repopulate neighbouring reefs – but it's still very small compared with what is needed. “This is an ecosystem that's worth 2.37 trillion for the global economy, and we've just got a few million to help protect it. It needs to be far more than that if we're going to make a real difference.”

The Ocean Agency is not just about funding research, but making it easily accessible. The Seaview Survey project uses pioneering technology to create the most extensive standardised global baseline record of coral reefs, and make it freely available to all. They've also teamed up with UNESCO for the Ocean Decade, working with 100 photographers to create an image bank and making imagery freely available to help support ocean science and conservation communication.


Addressing the climate crisis calls for a radical behavioural shift. But behavioural change doesn't come easy. “Raising awareness alone doesn't create action,” says Richard. “You need powerful storytelling that gets people emotionally engaged.”

Human nature is not really about reality, but about perception. “Once you understand that, you can change mass behaviour almost overnight.”  The trick, he says, is to hit certain ‘tipping points’. He cites ocean plastic as a prime example. “It was an ugly problem that no one wanted to talk about. The conservation and scientific community were screaming about it, and no one was interested. But as soon as celebrities got involved, then brands got involved, and it became a mainstream issue. Suddenly all the politicians are falling over themselves wanting to put legislation in place because it's a vote winner.”

Coral is at just such a tipping point. At a minimum we are probably going to lose 90% of the remaining coral reefs,” Richard says. “That's a pretty awful statistic. But we can still focus on what needs to be done. We can target our action to save enough coral reefs so that they can bounce back over time.”

Richard believes that with more public understanding of the scale and speed of the issues, and the fundamental importance of coral reefs, we can get the investment needed to be ready with the solutions.  

“Coral reefs are in danger of disappearing completely. This is the first time in human history that we'll have lost an entire planetary scale ecosystem. I think more and more people are understanding that this is why even a small increase in global temperatures has a dramatic and profound effect. Every fraction of a degree matters.”


The younger generation were born into this crisis, and understand this better than anyone. “I think this next generation is going to change everything. They don't want to work for companies that do harm, and they're not going to buy from companies that do harm. Then the companies are going to change the governments. It's just a matter of time before kids change the world.”

But can it happen fast enough for coral reefs?

We lose 99% of the remaining coral reefs if we go over two degrees of global warming. “That's a shift from losing individual species to losing ecosystems of 800,000 species. This is a new era in biodiversity loss. And, you know, these ecosystems we're losing are ones upon which we depend. It starts off with coral reefs, but others are on their way. So it's about ensuring that two degrees is a line that cannot be crossed.”


During their survey of the Great Barrier Reef the Chasing Coral team identified seven species of coral that were new to science. Richard has a special place in his heart for one of them. “They were looking to name one of them after me – so there's now a coral called Veveri,” he says. “But even before it's actually formally written up, that coral may disappear.”

If anyone understands the sheer scale and extreme urgency of the coral crisis, it's Richard Vevers. “But I still think we've got time to turn it around for coral reefs,” he says. “And if we've got time to turn it around for coral reefs, then we've got time to turn it around for pretty much everything else.”

Now it's over to you.

Read about more Ocean Agency projects here.

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