Conversaciones sobre el Decenio de los Océanos: Oskar Metsavaht (Embajador de Buena Voluntad de la UNESCO)

Conversaciones sobre el Decenio de los Océanos: Oskar Metsavaht (Embajador de Buena Voluntad de la UNESCO)

Conversaciones sobre el Decenio de los Océanos: Oskar Metsavaht (Embajador de Buena Voluntad de la UNESCO) 2337 1244 Década Oceánica

Oskar Metsavaht: “Taking care of the ocean is to act in favor of our future on this planet.”

In this edition of Ocean Decade Conversations, we sat down with Oskar Metsavaht, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, and talked about his passion for the ocean, sustainable fashion as a great tool to raise awareness for biodiversity conservation, the importance of art to communicate science, his endorsed Decade Activity Caiçara, digital empowerment for Indigenous Peoples and much more. Dive into this interview and discover the many incredible ways Oskar and his team are taking ocean action, inspiring citizen-science initiatives and contributing to improve humanity’s relationship with the ocean!

Oskar Metsavaht shooting the Decade Activity "Caiçara"

1 – Can you tell us more about yourself and how your connection to the ocean started?

The ocean has always been part of my life. My grandfather taught me the importance of respecting the sea since I was very young. Also, I’m a surfer since I was 9 years old. Surfing for me isn’t just a sport, it’s a biological, physical and art interface between us – human beings – and the ocean. I had a very deep education in nature conservancy and art from my parents. Our culture is a mix of Estonian minimalism, nature inspiration and respect, with an Italian sense of aesthetics and art history. And of course, our Brazilian melting pot culture with our exuberant nature and its biodiversity. Brazil goes from the enormous rainforests to the super large Atlantic Ocean coast. So, it’s an intense nature perspective in my mind and culture. I want my grandsons, and theirs, to have the opportunity to own the same relationship to the ocean as I do.

2 – We would love to know more about your endorsed Decade Activity “Caiçara”.

Along with other art films I developed in my artistic and spiritual immersions in the Amazon rainforest, now this release of my poetry, the short movie “Caiçara”, is about our relationship with the ocean through a young “caiçara” boy from an artisanal fishing community on the coast of Brazil, his very significant knowledge he learned from his father who learned from his grandfather and so on for centuries. I try with this film to touch people and showcase how this young boy from a favela in Brazil has so much respect and conscience about the ocean and its nature and how far we are from the ocean life and its literacy.

a) How do you think traditional knowledge from Indigenous and local communities can improve our relationship with nature and the ocean?

I believe that we have already much scientific knowledge spread around the world to understand the importance and urgency of changing our relationship with the ocean. Maybe to touch us in a deeper point of our contemporary mindset we need to ignite our archetype on relation to nature. We need another dimension of knowledge from our ancestral experiences to create a synergy with our technologies to realistically get into the sustainable economic philosophies of the agenda for the 21st century. We, society, know a lot about nature but we don’t connect to it, we don’t know to be part of it as our ancestral did. And by chance we still have some societies, communities, tribes, that still do until now. We have the chance to listen and learn from them, include them in our society and merge their knowledge into ours.

b) Involvement of Indigenous communities and knowledge-holders is a key component of the Ocean Decade. Can you explain what the project “Recode Pro Aldeia” entails and the impact it could generate in protecting and restoring ecosystems, and advancing Indigenous digital literacy in the Decade? 

It’s a project to empower young Indigenous to use digital technologies to develop new job opportunities or create their own companies. An independent instrument to diffuse their culture worldwide, also to educate the children in their own language and to protect their territories. The initiative also enables digital empowerment for Indigenous peoples to develop solutions, based on their experiences and perspectives, to keep the forest standing and good living in villages and urban environments. The project is designed for training in technology (full stack) for Indigenous people from all over Brazil, in a partnership that brings together Rede Recode, Osklen with Instituto E, Instituto Alok with Fundo Ancestrais do Futuro (Welight and Pacto Global ONU – Brazil).

431 young Indigenous people signed up for Recode Pró Aldeia. They are residents of 25 Brazilian states, representing 109 ethnicities. 63 candidates were selected (63.49% are men / 34.92% are women). This number comprises 39 specific ethnicities, mostly in the Brazilian states of Amazonas (40%), Pará (8%), Roraima (6.5%), Amapá (6.5%). There will be 540 hours of technical classes and development of socio-emotional skills to promote access to the job market and encourage entrepreneurship in the technological area. The course has four stages, including theoretical and practical learning, namely: selection process, bootcamp (current phase), talent fair and hiring.

"Caiçara" was presented in prestigious film festivals worldwide

3 – As a fashion designer yourself, you know already that the global fashion industry has a huge footprint on the ocean and planet. What inspired you to get involved with the sustainable fashion movement?

I had great chance, as I live in Rio de Janeiro, to be a part of and  understand the message of Maurice Strong to the Rio 92 UN Summit – for me, the most important event to give us a direction towards sustainability of the planet! I was a young artist and physician who had just launched my brand Osklen – it was in that time a very small outdoors clothing, one-store company. But its spirit was of course inspired by my own lifestyle related to nature.

Then two years later I did my first visit to the Amazon, and I had the chance to see and understand the richness of its biodiversity and ancestral cultures. But also, its enormous deforestation through mining, logging and other resources exploration. I couldn’t not become an activist, and my platform of expression was my brand. From my point of view, fashion is as great a protagonist in society’s behavior as art, cinema, dance, music, literature… Through design we transform natural and synthetic commodities in useful, significant, and beautiful instruments of individual expression to society. We create jobs, innovation, economy, and culture. But until the 1990s we didn’t know, as most of the segments of the economy and society, how to develop it in a socially and environmentally sustainable way. So, after searching sustainable materials and practices in this industry I could see that we didn’t have anyone besides Yvon Schouinard from Patagonia in 1992 with the recycling polyester. Then in 1998 I created together with a Brazilian institute of research in agriculture the first organic cotton project in the country with a social impact project through small farms cooperatives in a poor area of the northeast of Brazil.

Today we have developed more than 100 materials for the industry with INSTITUTO-E, a foundation we created in 2004. Osklen and Instituto-E have become one of the most recognizable laboratories for sustainability in the fashion industry in Brazil and the world. Sustainability is in the DNA of my work as an artist, as a designer, as an entrepreneur and as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Sustainability.

a) What kind of ocean action projects through ocean-friendly and ethical clothing are you and your team developing?

Throughout the last years we have expanded our line of clothing made of recycled materials. Developed by Osklen, AquaOne is the first sustainable fabric specifically designed for surfing created in Brazil. It is produced from post-consumer recycled PET in a process that reduces water and energy consumption compared to the production of virgin polyester. Over 450k PET bottles have been removed from the environment and recycled with AquaOne boardshorts production since its creation in 2017. By choosing this product, our consumer chooses not only to reduce water and energy consumption, as well as CO2 emissions in its production process, but mainly they choose a new perspective of circularity.

Another great project we have developed together with Instituto-E and Janeiro Hotel, is the e-bags produced from used fishing nets, recovered from the environment, and transformed in new products through a social inclusion project in Ilha Grande, in the south coast of Rio de Janeiro. While giving new meaning to waste and preventing these fishing nets from being left in the sea, the development of those products supports and empowers local vulnerable communities, generates income, and strengthens the local supply chain.

 b) How can these projects help understand and beat marine pollution – Ocean Decade Challenge 1, and change humanity’s relationship with the ocean – Ocean Decade Challenge 10?

Fashion can be a great protagonist in changing behaviors of society through messages on the t-shirts, the theme of the collections and campaigns, as well as new practices and materials in the supply chain that are sustainable for the ocean.

Considering aquatic spaces as engines of innovation and growth for sustainable and profitable economic development is the axis of the blue economy, following the principle of the circular economy, to reconvert waste into efficient materials. And that’s what we seek to do.

Beyond fashion, Osklen has a connection with the city that goes beyond expressing a tropical lifestyle and appreciating beach culture and nature. Fourteen years ago, Instituto-E created the pioneering project “Restinga: Recovery of the Brazilian Coast” in partnership with Osklen. The project regenerates and preserves the native coastal vegetation, as well as its original flora and fauna. The initiative started in 2009 through a public-private partnership with the city hall of Rio de Janeiro. Osklen annually adopts 26 restinga beds (sand dunes) along the Ipanema and Leblon coastline, while Instituto-E ensures the appropriate communications with cariocas and tourists, as well as the daily maintenance of these areas: replanting seedlings and organizing environmental awareness activities.

Our restinga vegetation plays an important socio-environmental role by helping stabilize coastal dunes, providing habitat for endemic flora and fauna, protecting the coastline from erosion, and moderating ambient temperature. It acts as a protective barrier during storms and winds and so contributes to the conservation of beach ecosystems and the balance of the coastline.

c) In preparation for the 2022 UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, you said that “t-shirts are a manifesto”. What did you mean by that?

I believe t-shirts can be used as a means of expressing opinions, interests, beliefs and even as a personal or political manifesto. They represent a visual and public form of expression, allowing people to communicate their opinions, support their causes, values and identities in an accessible and creative way.

So, for me, I don’t consider t-shirts as fashion but rather like a page of a book where I write the spirit of the zeitgeist and/or the themes of sustainability in cultural, social and environmental areas. Messages from the Agenda 21, from the Biodiversity Convention, from the Kyoto Protocol, from UNESCO’s projects in culture of Peace and Sustainability, from the Amazon Indigenous Land Rights, from the UN Ocean Decade…

Oskar Metsavaht in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

4 – Your art projects are an important tool to bring attention to your work and create a bond with all types of audiences. What are your thoughts on the importance of using art to communicate science?

The artistic view plays a crucial role in communicating science, making it more relatable, engaging, and inspiring to society. Art has the power to evoke emotions and create connections. By incorporating artistic elements into scientific communications, scientists can capture audience attention and generate empathy, making information easier to understand and retain. It’s also a universal language that transcends cultural and linguistic barriers. This makes it a powerful tool for reaching diverse audiences around the world.

Art comes from the spirit and science from the mind. I can never dissociate them as I’m an artist, a physician and a designer. Art can inspire science and vice-versa, and philosophy can bond them. Then, I like to say that as an artist I can touch people’s spirit and make them  reflect on an issue, for example, as in my movie “Caicara”. As a designer I can transform natural resources into beautiful and useful pieces for society, and as a speaker and as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador I can share with the others my experiences.

 a) Do you have a photographer/book to recommend?

I wouldn’t suggest one photographer in particular, but I like the edition of great photographers by the “Oceanographic Magazine”. And about books, the below:

  • “Jacques Cousteau: The Ocean World”
  • “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach
  • “Ocean – a Global Odyssey” by Sylvia A. Earle

b) For our younger readers: What’s your favorite marine animal?

As a surfer, I’d say dolphins.  As an artist, the iridescent jellyfish of the deep ocean.

 5 – What are your upcoming plans in terms of advocacy, ocean literacy, travelling, and more in 2024?

Based on the partnership between Instituto-E, UNESCO and the Brazilian Surfing and Sailing Confederations, we want to promote the engagement of society through the development of practical solutions with a positive impact on the ocean ecosystem. Our objective is to promote oceanic culture in Brazil for new generations and raise awareness about the importance of protecting the environment, creating effective actions to preserve the coast. The goal is to bring ocean literacy to the public and private schools of Brazil, working with the government.

 6 – What would you like to accomplish by the end of the UN Ocean Decade in 2030? Do you have a message to share with the Ocean Decade community?

I’m optimistic for our future, I believe that our generation is working to improve humanity’s relationship with the ocean romantically, poetically, philosophically, scientifically, economically, and sustainably. At the same time, we are working to stop plastic and chemical pollution and industrial overfishing. We are developing new methodologies to new kind of bioplastics, education in reducing overconsumption from the ocean, biotechnologies to create fishmeat in labs, changing bio fossil to alternative energies, new kind of ships on the ocean from sustainable power energy.

But I’m not optimistic to achieve most of the goals by 2030. It’s time to act. We need a R(E)VOLUTION. The “E” is for Earth, Energy, Education, Environmental, Empowerment, and Economics.

The UN Ocean Decade is a critical opportunity to address urgent issues related to the ocean and ensure its health and sustainability for future generations. The success of this initiative depends on the global collaboration and commitment of governments, organizations, scientists, and individuals around the world. The “Oceans” movement – through our partnership with UNESCO and the Brazilian Surfing and Sailing Confederations – aims to stimulate knowledge and scientific research about the ocean to improve our understanding of marine ecosystems and climate change in Brazil.

As a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, my greatest desire is to be able to inspire through my projects and foster international cooperation and partnerships to address ocean challenges on a larger scale, generating positive impact for Brazil and the world. Taking care of the ocean is to act in favor of our future on this planet. I truly believe that we have this power of change in Brazil.

Watch the trailer


La ciencia que necesitamos para el océano que queremos




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