How Sailing Can Foster A Deeper Environmental Identity

green team, sustainability, clean regattas
green team, sustainability, clean regattaswater refill, green team, clean regattas, sustainability
Investigating the relationship between sailors, the ocean, and how we can make sailors into stewards for a healthier ocean

One of our favorite parts of working at Sailors for the Sea is speaking with sailors and boaters about how they got involved with our programs and why they remain involved, year after year. Whether it be through our Clean Regattas program or KELP, there’s a growing army of sailors who consistently give their time and energy towards making a difference for the ocean, and extending a hand to help as many other allies as they can in the process.

One of the questions we constantly ask is why do they do this? What creates that initial spark and how can we help facilitate that spark into other sailors?

Obviously, it has something to do with people’s connection to the ocean. There’s a growing body of scientific literature that suggests being connected to nature counts as a crucial predictor of pro-environmental behavior. People with high environmental identities are more likely to behave in pro-environmental ways such as acting sustainably and acting for conservation.

When we create opportunities for behaviors that combine the nature of the ocean to the inherent nature of sailors and how they interact with the ocean, we can create pro-environmental opportunities that invite action. This does not necessarily have to relate to the aesthetic of the ocean (how much plastic we see or how dirty the ocean appears to be), but it can also relate to the function of the ocean (think about climate change and ocean acidification).

“The best part of educating others is spreading the word about sustainability and protecting our environment,” says Stephanie Taylor, Clean Regattas Coordinator for the 2018 Windmill National Championship Regatta.  “This is the 5th Clean Regatta that I have coordinated or mentored someone as a coordinator.  At the regatta dinner, I do a 10-minute multimedia presentation with embedded video to show participants the damage that is being done to our environment and how they can take action now and '"Be the Change"'.

Time and time again, it appears that there is an inextricable link between outdoor activities, environmental identity and pro-environmental behaviors. Research suggests that when athletes like sailors are interacting with nature and they realize they are part of nature - this realization can also enhance their emotional connection to the environment.

To deepen this environmental identity, changes must be made to everyday behavior. These changes can include “epiphany experiences” in nature (like finding plastic floating around you everywhere), but more often than not they are characterized by behavior changes.

And this is where Clean Regattas come in. It’s our thinking over here that if we can influence sailing events to include beach cleanups, recycling, composting and other sorts of pro-environmental behaviors, we can deepen sailors’ connection to the ocean world and to their own environmental identity.

Over the next few weeks and months, we’ll be highlighting select regattas and telling their stories. Why is it important for them that their event became a Clean Regatta? What challenges did they face and how did they overcome them? What advice do they have for other organizers?