Meet Natalie Fox, who was a crew member on the eXXpedition Round the World Leg 1 voyage from Plymouth to the Azores. As part of our Ambassador Spotlight Series we wanted to share Natalie’s Superpower Story.
Can You Tell Me A Bit About Yourself?
I’m Natalie Fox, and I’m quite nomadic, but at the moment I am based in Portugal. I am addicted to surfing and am passionate about learning how we might monitor and protect our ocean.
I recently finished my MSc in Sustainability with the Anglia Ruskin University and Eden Project, where I spent two years understanding the interconnection between my two great passions – surfing and the ocean! I work for ECOP – The Early Career Ocean Professional Network Programme. I am their Communications Lead.
Alongside my work at ECOP, I am on a mission to channel my surfing community’s knowledge and love for the ocean into action.
How did you end up joining an eXXpedition voyage?
It all began with surfing. After spending 5 years learning to surf down in Newquay, I decided to pursue my new found love and move to Morocco, where I got a job coaching newcomers to the sport. It was when I was in Morocco, surfing in these big winter surges, that the reality of plastic pollution became clear. I became an Ambassador for Surfers Against Sewage, and spent the next 10 years doing anything I could to be active in creating change, alongside my coaching.
But, I knew that I wanted to do more than beach cleans – I wanted to learn more, discover more and inspire others to do the same. When I saw that Leg 1 of Round The World would be setting off from the same coastline I had learnt to surf along, it only felt right to apply!
What Did You Learn That Surprised You Most During The Voyage?
Throughout the first year of my Masters, the same phrase kept popping up in all the papers I was reading: “marine plastic pollution is ubiquitous and widespread”. So I knew going out to sea what to “expect” I suppose, but it was only after collecting all the samples, that the reality of that phrase became clear.
I am an experiential learner, so words mean less to me. I needed to feel what it means that “plastic is everywhere”. The voyage let me do this; it gave me that tangibility I had been looking for.
How would you describe your superpower?
Surfing, of course! I surf all the time – I love playing with the ocean, the water and the waves; it’s like a personal relationship. It gives me a perspective on the ocean that others may not have: to surf you have to be able to think of multiple things at once; you have to think about complexity, about systems, and about cycles. I think that same systems-thinking is what sits right at the crux of sustainability.
“…I love playing with the ocean, the water and the waves…It gives me a perspective on the ocean that others may not have.”
How has the voyage influence your work since?
I have been trying to incorporate my superpower into everything I have been doing. For my Masters’ thesis, I explored how surfing communities could be integrated into ocean sustainability strategies – which was recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health!
The voyage taught me how important storytelling was, and I knew I wanted to find a way to communicate my research to my surfing community. With the help of the surf retreat I work for, I created a video to communicate my findings in a way that would resonate with all the surfers coming through the retreat.
Aside from my research, I am the coordinator for ReGeneration Surf – a coalition of 4 Portugal-based organisations including Mossy Earth, Seaforester, Zero Waste Lab and Oceans and Flow, funded by the World Surf League and WSL Pure – to help restore lost Kelp forests off the Portuguese coast. We are currently involved in a pilot of a new technique called “Green Gravel” where Kelp plants get seeded onto small stones, in the lab, and once ready, we use surfers to deploy the gravel around the local coastline. Back in March some of the WSL commentators helped with the lab-seeding, and in May, we got a bunch of local surfers from Surfrider Foundation and Ocean Patrol, as well as three big wave surfers – João Macedo, Miguel Blanco and Joana Andrade – for the first deployment!
I am stoked to be able to put surfing at the heart of this project, and I am determined to keep it that way. We are due to do our first free-dive to check in on the Kelp’s progress this weekend at the Ericeira Surf Film Festival. If anyone wants to donate to the project, we have just launched our crowdfunding page!
eXXpedition gave me an incredible network of women to connect with, both on and outside of my own voyage. Emily put me in touch with Natalie Small from Caribbean 2016 Leg 1– founder of the Ground Swell Community Project – an NGO that provides surfing therapy for women experiencing trauma. I took part in the training over lockdown and last year we started a UK branch. With the help of National Lottery funding, we have launched our first pilot where we will be working with Reclaim the Sea over the next 8 weeks in Plymouth.
What Are You Most Proud To Have Achieved?
I am super proud to have secured a job in communications with The Early Career Ocean Professionals Network Programme (ECOP). It was endorsed in 2021 by the UN Ocean Decade and sits at the heart of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. By empowering and connecting the next generation of ocean leaders the Programme hopes to drive closer towards the “the Science we need, for the Ocean We Want” by 2030.
What Are Your Plans Going Forward?
For the Decade of Ocean Science, I have set myself my own challenge. I want to turn every single surfer – that’s 35 million surfers – into marine citizen scientists by 2030, and I want to use the global network the ECOP committee has given me to achieve it!
It’s a big goal but I’m determined to make it happen.
“I want to turn every single surfer – that’s 35 million surfers – into marine citizen scientists by 2030…”
What Keeps You Hopeful About The Future Of The Ocean?
I think we need hope, and seeing that hope in other people is what keeps me going. I see that hope in all the people I am working with at ECOP, and that keeps me motivation.
If You Could Give One Message To The World, What Would It Be?
It’s not your responsibility to do everything, but if you’ve found a cause you believe in, find your tribe, find your people. Don’t go at it alone. There are people all across the globe that want to make a difference. I found my tribe in something I love – surfing – and I can only recommend that others do the same.
Click here to find out more about Natalie.
Thanks to Joel Rollason, Julia Neeson, Sophie Dingwall, Sunny Breger, Bruna Rezende, WSL and Margarita Salyak.