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Protecting the World’s Oceans with Elaine Leung of Sea Smart

“Our oceans are under great threat. Over 8 billion kilograms of plastic garbage is entering oceans every single year. This is equivalent to over a million elephants, or over 4 million SUVs. A huge amount of garbage.”

— Dr. Elaine Leung, Founder of Sea Smart

In this episode

Meet SheEO Venture Sea Smart! Founder Dr. Elaine Leung joins SheEO Activator Karley Cunningham to discuss the importance of protecting our oceans (even if you don’t live near one), empowering students with the ripple effect of change, and accessing unrestricted funding for charities.

They also discuss:

  • Exciting news from the Visa She’s Next Grant Program
  • The growing presence of microplastics in our environment + bodies
  • Collaborations with other Ventures in the SheEO community
  • How the SheEO community can support Sea Smart with monthly donations and corporate partnerships

Additional resources and readings from Elaine:

Learn more about SheEO Ventures who are tackling the plastic problem, and connect with businesses mentioned in this episode:

We invite you to join us as an Activator at SheEO.World.

Take action and engage with Sea Smart:

Don’t miss an episode! Subscribe to the SheEO.World Podcast.

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).

Elaine Leung 0:00
Our oceans are under great threat. Over 8 billion kilograms of garbage. Just plastic garbage is entering oceans every single year. This is a equivelant weight to over a million elephants or over 4 million SUVs. Huge amount of garbage.

Vicki Saunders 0:17
Welcome to SheEO.World podcast, where you’ll meet women and non-binary folks who are transforming the world to be more equitable and sustainable.

Karley Cunningham 0:29
Hello, and welcome back to the SheEO.World Podcast. I’m Karley Cunningham and I’m thrilled to be guest hosting this episode. I’m a SheEO Activator and the founder of Big Bold Brand, where we work at the intersection of business and brand strategy, communications, sales and marketing. We cocreate with changemakers, visionaries, innovators, and paradigm shifters. Those who charge towards difficult challenges, those who get excited about tackling the impossible and building the unimagined to create a more equitable, sustainable and healthier world. Just like those in SheEO. My days are spent helping entrepreneurs and business owners build the strategic tools and execution plans that they need to get clear on their vision and direction, develop clear brand positioning and impactful messaging to ensure that everyone is aligned, communicating the same message and story, differentiate themselves in the sea of sameness, and attract the right clients and investors needed for their business to thrive. All of this contributes to accelerating the growth and success of their venture. But enough about me, this episode is all about introducing you to Sea Smart, 2022 SheEO Venture and here to tell us about it is the founder, Dr. Elaine Leung. Welcome, Elaine,

Elaine Leung 1:45
Thank you so much for having me.

Karley Cunningham 1:46
I am so excited to have you here. And I understand that you have some news to share with our SheEO community.

Elaine Leung 1:52
Yes, 2022 has started off to be very exciting year for SeaSmart. Not only were we named a finalist for SheEO. But I just found out that Visa Canada’s She’s Next Grant program received over 2000 applicants from amazing women entrepreneurs. And Sea Smart is one of the top 10 finalists for this award.

Karley Cunningham 2:14
Wohoo, that’s amazing. Congratulations.

Elaine Leung 2:16
Thank you so much. And I highly encourage the whole SheEO community to apply for next year, because it’s a $10,000 grant. And it just empowers you to do more of the good work that you do.

Karley Cunningham 2:29
I absolutely agree. Having been a recipient of the Women’s Entrepreneur Fund grant, there is nothing better than, I’ll put in air quotes, “free money.” I know it always comes with a, “What are you going to do with it?” But these types of things are the things that fuel our ventures. So I absolutely agree. And congratulations again, I can tell by the smile on your face that you’re infinitely excited. So let’s talk about Sea Smart. It’s a charity whose mission is to deliver fun and solution based programs and projects for people of all ages, inspiring us all to make a positive and lasting impact on our oceans. In that, the word solution based immediately jumped out at me. And it made me curious about the problems that Sea Smart solves. Tell us about that. And who do you solve those problems for?

Elaine Leung 3:13
It might sound grandiose, but we are solving problems for the entire world, because over 70% of our planet is covered by ocean. So our oceans produced over 50% of the air we breathe, and controls the weather and temperature. Our oceans are a huge carbon sink as well. So they’re instrumental in mitigating climate change. Our oceans’ coastal ecosystems sequester over 10 times more carbon than the equivalent area of terrestrial forests. So I hope you’re understand that our oceans are important for everyone, including those who don’t live anywhere near our oceans.

Karley Cunningham 3:50
Absolutely.

Elaine Leung 3:53
Our oceans are under great threats. So whenever I talk about threats, I don’t want to talk about in a way where it’s really overwhelming. I want it to sound like a solution base. But that doesn’t change the fact that our oceans are under great threats. Most of the world is treating the oceans like it’s a garbage can. And there’s estimations that over 8 billion kilograms of garbage, just plastic garbage, is entering oceans every single year. This is an equivelant weight to over a million elephants or over 4 million SUVs. Huge amount of garbage. And this problem has actually exacerbated during COVID, where most personal protective equipment is disposable and single use. So there are estimations that just within one year, the global use of single use mass is enough to cover all of Leeton and most of this plastic, again, most of this PPE is ending up in our oceans again. People always ask why is all this garbage ending up in our oceans and it’s mainly even if people put garbage in the garbage can if it’s not put in properly. If it’s windy, or rainy, and the garbage gets washed out of the garbage cans and onto the ground, all the rivers, lakes and streams end up connecting to our oceans. So eventually, the elements of weather will direct all this garbage towards storm drains or directly into the water systems and ultimately flows into our oceans. And there’s research that shows that it’s about 17 rivers in the world that are responsible for the majority of trash into our oceans. At the same time, over 70% of the world’s fishing stocks are also overfished. And over 4 billion people on the planet rely primarily on seafood as their main source of protein. So you can see how these problems are really intricately connected, and why every one of us needs to care about protecting our oceans. We teach about these huge problems to our students. And some of our students are only in kindergarten, and we teach from kindergarten to grade 12. And they are learning about these big problems of ocean acidification and climate change, sea level rise, overfishing, but what’s really important for us is that we teach in these really simple action oriented ways, so that people know the simple actions they can take to help and make a difference. And we always tell students, that they have important responsibility by being part of Sea Smart. Not only do they learn how to love and protect our oceans, but they we ask them to share that knowledge with their families and their communities. And this is really powered of this ripple effect of change around the world.

Karley Cunningham 6:23
Brilliant. What I love is your ability to make it imaginable. Right? You can say, a gazillion tons is dumped into the ocean, but who can who can visualize what that looks like. And so that I love that you’ve broken it down into things that I can see in my mind, because you answered my question, but I was gonna say to you, on your website, there’s this bold statement that says no oceans know us. And I immediately reacted to that, which is fantastic. You always want people to have that visceral. What, wait, what reaction, you’ve described the ocean as our life support system. And for someone who grew up, essentially in a landlocked area in Ontario, I now live on the coast with you in Vancouver, but I was exposed to forests, and I was taught that forests were the source of air. So thank you for breaking that down and helping me and our listeners understand why the ocean is just important as trees and our forests, and it does similar things. So that’s fantastic. And I really love your ability to teach. Talk to us about some simple actions that anyone can take to help save our ocean, even if they’re not near the ocean.

Elaine Leung 7:32
I love this question because there’s something that we can all do, regardless of how near or far you live from the ocean. So we just talked about the plastic pollution problem. Reducing your single use plastics is one of the key things that you can do. Because not only does a lot of this plastic end up in our oceans, but there’s a lot of climate change related impacts to creating, transporting, and then disposing of plastics. And this is why I love SheEO there are so many amazing Ventures who are tackling the plastic pollution problem. So going to package-free grocery store, trying to carry around tupperwares, or cutlery or reusable mugs or water bottles. Those are very simple actions you can take. Eating sustainable seafood, or eating even less seafood in general, are amazing ways that you can help and organizing neighborhood cleanups. On Saturday, we just did an Earth Day shoreline cleanup in Solana Beach, we had over 150 people come out from the community and we cleaned up over 150 kilograms of garbage. This is something you can organize anytime with your friends and family in your neighborhoods. Because as I mentioned, anything that actually gets littered or ends up on the streets will ultimately end up in our oceans, since all the rivers, lakes and streams are connected through our oceans.

Karley Cunningham 8:49
On a personal side of that one day last summer, we live near Hastings Creek, and we walk by it every day. And after all the water rains had stopped last year, my wife said, let’s go out and let’s keep clean up the stream. And so there’s me and her walking all over the slippery rocks full on in the water pulling things out. And I was shocked to see what people leave behind and throw in the water. So we found soccer balls, basketballs, we found obviously cans and plastics. There was a shopping cart left in and I can’t even imagine once it gets to the sea what chaos and destruction this causes.

Elaine Leung 9:27
And plastic pollution is a huge threat to our oceans because there’s so much plastic in their oceans now that virtually every single marine organism from microscopic plankton to large as a whales have been known to eat plastic. And for those of us who eat seafood, this plastic ends up back in us. But what’s more disturbing is that plastic is so prevalent now in our environment. Scientists are finding microplastics in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and now they’re starting to find it in our blood as well. This is ultimately the impacts of our addictions to single use plastics in the convenience of having single use plastics.

Karley Cunningham 10:03
That’s a really great way to put it. I mean, great, I use that loosely, but our addiction to single use plastics, that just puts it in a whole new perspective. And you mentioned we do have a ton of organizations, be it companies or nonprofits and charities in SheEO. I can think of NADA, I can think of Saponetti, I can think of the ladies in New Zealand who are making biodegradable plastics. I think the list goes on. So Steph might not like me for this, but I’m gonna say, hey, Steph, I know your listing, because you’re producing, can you put a list of our SheEO folks who are helping us eliminate plastics, she gave me the thumbs up. So there we go. So we’re gonna bring the whole community into this podcast. She’s like, “Great, thanks, Carly, you just made more work for me.” Talk to us about, you said you have programs for all ages. So volunteering, doing a beach cleanup, you can do it yourself without even having to contact Sea Smart. But tell us a little bit more about your programs specifically, they’re pretty darn cool.

Elaine Leung 11:08
Thanks. So we do work mainly with kids from kindergarten – grade 12. And we usually work with this big age range through school workshops, we’ll go directly into schools again, but big, different oceans threats about aquatic species at risk. So these are animals that live near oceans that are at risk of extinction. And also both freshwater pollution and basically just trying to get their interest into how cool amazing the oceans are, and why we should care about protecting them. We also do summer camps at the beach. And these are for kids from 6 to 10 years old. Pre-COVID. We were running after school programs from kids from 6 to 9 years old. And we also do online programs. And this is for a diversity of age ranges on a whole wide range of different fun topics, you can learn not only about the awesome animals that live in our oceans, but we partnered with a scientific illustrator. And he actually teaches you how to do these incredibly beautiful drawings of all these different animals while he’s teaching you all these cool facts about the animals. And we’ve also had lots of adults keep saying to us, hey, I want to learn about the oceans too. Why don’t you do adult programs. So we do lots of corporate programs as well. And this really helps companies with boosting their CSR and helping facilitate team bonding. So this can range from lunch and learns that are virtual or in person to pay monthly sustainability challenges to shoreline cleanups.

Karley Cunningham 12:31
So hey, SheEO-ers. Did you hear that? They have really kick ass? Can I say kick ass? Well, Steph can edit it out if I can’t. But they have really cool CSR learning opportunities for your team to get involved in. I’m just going to drop that there. So talk to me about why you chose to focus on kids because I watched True Callings video on your site, which is brilliant. And I encourage everyone to check that out. But why kids? Why the next generation not why all of us adults who need to change our addiction here.

Elaine Leung 13:00
To be honest, I started working as a marine biologist over 15 years ago, mainly for governments, universities studying some of the world’s most threatened marine animals. And when I finished my PhD, I realized that over 30 of the species that I’ve studied, will go extinct within a lifetime. This realization sent me into like these massive spirals of depression and anger and frustration, overwhelm, feeling like there was nothing I could do, because the world’s problems are so big. And the same time there’s always been this fire inside of me to make the world a better place. And I just refuse to give up. My experiences working for governments universities, made me realize that governments will almost always choose to make money instead of protecting the environment. And that adults are pretty set in their ways. Not only because we’re stubborn, but also we have so many different priorities in our lives that, you know, if you’re a parents, your main priorities are getting your kids to school on time getting your work done buying groceries cooking there. That’s it. You don’t have really the time and energy to think about what can you do differently, because a lot of times, it might be considered an inconvenience. Whereas kids, kids are just so fresh and open. And they aren’t set in their ways, but they’re also just so willing to try different things. And kids have so much potential to be ocean’s superheroes. All you need to do is just have them and spark that curiosity, love and connection with nature. And then they can do amazing things and change the world.

Karley Cunningham 14:39
Brilliant. And I’ve seen the tenacity of kids when they want to do something, they will literally drive their parents bananas until they get what they want. So I love that you’re influencing these young minds. We have a niece and nephew who are passionate about nature. And an organization like yours just makes me so happy that there are people out there that are teaching them about marine animals? Because that’s where they nerd out. But also weaving in why is it important that we do something? So it’s about that give and take no love that. So one of the things that I learned about your charity that I think is incredibly smart is you’ve made it possible to help and support very easily in accessible ways. Can you share what those are for listeners who are feeling called to support Sea Smart after listening to this episode.

Elaine Leung 15:24
One of Sea Smart’s missions is to make all of our programs accessible to anyone who wants to do it. So we offer bursary programs where schools or families or students with financial need, we do a lot of focus free programming on at risk youth and any marginalized youth, especially working with Indigenous communities. And we are really lucky in that we are able to act unrestricted funding to fund these free programs. So is it okay if I talk a bit about what the charity landscape is like and went restricted, unrestricted funding is?

Karley Cunningham 16:00
Absolutely because I have no idea. And I gather that’s important.

Elaine Leung 16:04
So the majority of funding for most charities is grants from foundations and from governments. And this is usually restricted funding, because you can only use it for very specific project deliverables. And sometimes it doesn’t even allow you to cover staff time to run these programs. So then something you always hear with charities, especially with donors is, “I don’t want to support overhead.” Because there’s this misconception that overhead, a charity that has high overhead and means that they aren’t being impactful or effective. What people have to realize is that most grants will not cover any type of operational funding, like insurance, having a website, even a Zoom account. But think about salaries. I’m someone who has over 15 years of experience, as a marine biologist and a PhD, my entire role is considered overhead. Yet, Sea Smart cannot run without me. It cannot run without my expertise. And it cannot run without my passion, which is what makes connections with everyone and help spread the word about Sea Smart. So unrestricted revenue can come in different forms, like monthly donations, corporate sponsorships, or program revenue. And by increasing these unrestricted revenue streams, this is actually one of the main focuses for most charities in the world is how to bring in more unrestricted funding, so that we can focus on doing more good work, instead of spending a lot of time fundraising?

Karley Cunningham 17:28
Thank you for that. Because I know having worked with nonprofits and Charities, it’s it’s an ever growing challenge of the one sided messaging that gets put out into the world that can influence how people think about it and consider and donate. So that’s super helpful. So we have an important Ocean Day coming up, which is June 8, it is World Ocean Day, and do you have anything exciting plans that we might be able to participate in?

Elaine Leung 17:54
Yes, definitely. This is actually one of the busiest times of year for us, because this is when corporations all get excited about celebrating the ocean and getting your team involved. So we will be doing lots of different corporate programs around this time. For the general public, we will be doing a big beach cleanup around Vancouver, the location and specific dates to be announced. But you can definitely plan on lots of fun webinars from us, in-person programs like shoreline cleanups and in lots of different lunch and learns, if your business is interested in that.

Karley Cunningham 18:26
Fantastic. I know we’ll circle back to this at the end. But because we’ve mentioned it, where are the best places to follow Sea Smart to find out this information for our World Ocean Day.

Elaine Leung 18:35
If you go through our website, seasmartschool.com, and you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll find out about all the fun events that are coming in. But don’t worry, even if you’re not in Vancouver we share lots of events that are happening across Canada. And we also give ocean friendly tips in our newsletters.

Karley Cunningham 18:52
Amazing. So let’s circle back to SheEO for a minute. With regards to becoming a Venture this year, can you share with us your reflections on becoming a part of the community and how it has positively affected your organization?

Elaine Leung 19:04
Becoming a Venture has been a dream come true. We have so many incredible Activators reaching out to share their skills and expertise and their passion. And almost every day I’m having meetings with someone from SheEO, who was just so inspired to be part of our journey to help. And it’s been incredibly inspiring. And there’s also been lots of different collaborations that have come up. And this is something that I want to actually mention to the SheEO community to the listeners is that Sea Smart as a charity can be your charity partner in grant application, assuming we are missions and values aligned. As an example of this, NADA and Sea Smart just submitted a grant application for an investment readiness program to really help promote our different organizations but also enable us to deliver more zero waste and plastic pollution workshops in all the areas that NADA is expanding to. So there’s just so many different exciting collaborations that are happening. Same as with be free cup. And I’ll, we’re talking about collaborating to launch some menstrual education programs because period products are a huge source of plastic pollution or oceans as well. So we really want to work with our partners to raise awareness to young girls, about how just every single month by switching to reusable, menstrual products, you can have a huge impact in reducing plastic waste.

Karley Cunningham 20:32
I love how you’re working together again, to paint the picture of how can we make a difference, and you’re tapping into the power of our amazing community and network. So in the spirit of radical generosity, do you have an ask for our listeners in the SheEO community? How can we help you achieve your goals and more success this year?

Elaine Leung 20:52
Well, as I mentioned, increasing our unrestricted revenue is one of the most important ways that we can keep powering more waves of change around the world. I’d love to mention that in less than six years, we’ve taught over 700,000 people in over 30 countries with our free online educator resources in over 40,000 people across Metro Vancouver with our in person programs. A lot of this work, especially the work powering waves of change around the world, comes from unrestricted revenue. So being a monthly donor is actually one of the best ways you can help. You can donate $10, $20 a month, cheaper than a cocktail. And having steady monthly donations provides us with the sustainable, recurring and restricted revenue that allows us to keep, again focusing on creating positive impact, and spending less time on fundraising. Corporate sponsorships are also another incredible way for us to continue doing good work. And we’re really excited to share that Native Shoes has just donated $25,000 to Sea Smart and we’re using all this money to fund free programs for SabreTooth Nation’s school students. So we’re doing lots of exciting programs, though. And also, I’m a marine biologist, I don’t really know anything about fundraising. So if any of you are phenomenal fundraisers, or storytellers looking at you currently, we love to chat with anyone who feels like they’re a passionate fundraiser, or an amazing storyteller.

Karley Cunningham 22:20
What we can absolutely have another conversation about that post this interview. But I appreciate that it is hard to ask for money, and that you’ve just done that. But it’s also hard to ask for support. And so for our listeners who are passionate about the sea, love the sea animals, and maybe you already have a charity that you’re donating to but you have some expertise, please reach out to Elaine and let’s chat and let’s get some more funneled into the organization in any form of energy that can help us save the sea and the animals within and effectively ourselves. So please tell us again what is the best way to get more information about Sea Smart and to connect with you and follow you what platforms are you on and which do you prefer.

Elaine Leung 23:04
So seasmartschool.com, if you go and join our newsletter, that’s the best way to find out what we’re up to each month you’ll receive one newsletter with upcoming events and different ocean friendly tips. I’m actually a social media does. So you can follow Sea Smart school. We’re @seasmartschool on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. For me, my personal social media is pretty nonexistent.

Karley Cunningham 23:31
I have visions of Elaine being out in the middle of the Bay on a paddleboard and just with a big smile on her face is that, is it accurate?

Elaine Leung 23:39
I actually, not a huge paddleboarder. But I do love surfing. And one of my favorite things in the world is just to sit past the break and just watch the waves coming in. Hence my background.

Karley Cunningham 23:50
The background. So for our listeners who can’t see the background, which is all of you, it’s this beautiful rolling wave of the sea. And it’s just absolutely stunning and the colors are are beautiful. So thank you for being here with us today telling us about Sea Smart, providing some education. So for those of us landlocked, uneducated, ignorant, sea people who, you know, this one now lives on the edge of the sea can learn and thank you for making it accessible. And thank you for doing the work that you do in the world.

Elaine Leung 24:20
Thank you, Carly for helping us elevate our voices.

Karley Cunningham 24:23
My pleasure. All right, folks. Until next time, we will see you soon.

Vicki Saunders 24:30
Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Like, comment, subscribe, and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women and non binary folks at SheEO.World.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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