Ocean News

Reflecting on a year of celebration

1st July 2024

Reflecting on a year of celebration

In 2003, His Excellency Abdulmohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh set up the Save Our Seas Foundation after years of witnessing at first hand the many impacts we have had on our ocean, in particular the significant and immediate pressures on sharks and rays. Twenty years later, the foundation has blossomed into a global community of scientists, conservationists, storytellers and educators, all working to create a better future for some of the world’s most threatened species. Over the past two decades the foundation has supported more than 500 projects in 91 countries, established three physical centres in South Africa, Seychelles and the USA, and collaborated on global initiatives to enhance shark and ocean conservation. These include seeing 90% of the shark fin trade brought under surveillance on CITES and a global commitment to place 30% of the ocean under protection.

Although there is still a lot more to be done to turn the tide for sharks and rays, the foundation felt that these achievements should be commemorated. And so 2023, the year of its milestone birthday, was a year of both celebration and reflection. With a series of in-person and online events, Save Our Seas looked back on what has been achieved – both by the foundation and in the broader marine conservation space – and looked forward with hope for the future. And gave thanks to the hundreds of passionate and dedicated people the foundation has worked with over the years, without whom these breakthroughs would not have been possible.



The festivities included four in-person events hosted by the foundation under the umbrella title ‘Celebrate Our Seas’, which took place during the year at its research and education centres in South Africa, Seychelles and the USA, as well as at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. These events aimed to bring together friends, contributors, grantees and partners of the foundation, enabling them to connect and join in raising a glass to our ocean and a shared commitment to its protection. Attendees were given goody bags featuring the 20th anniversary edition of the foundation’s logo, specially designed by its visual content designer Jamy Silver. Each event included talks from a colourful selection of experts, who discussed their connection to the ocean. For example, Sea Change Project co-founder and film-maker Craig Foster brought the magic of South Africa’s kelp forests to land-locked Geneva, while in Florida Professor Mahmood Shivji, director of the Shark Research Center, spoke about his life’s work in conservation genetics. Just a short walk from the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, Dillys Pouponeau transported guests to the wild island of D’Arros. And, under twinkling fairy lights in the Cape Point Vineyards, Cape Town, Dr Alison Kock discussed the iconic sharks of nearby False Bay and Oscar-winning film-maker Pippa Ehrlich was interviewed by comedian Nik Rabinowitz.

Also showcased at the 20th anniversary events were two new films, commissioned by the foundation to mark the occasion. The first, 20 Years of the Save Our Seas Foundation, is dedicated to the foundation’s project leaders and the incredible achievements they have made over the past two decades. It is a celebration of both the foundation and their journeys, and the passionate and dedicated community that has developed as a result. The second film, Older Than Trees, is a special collaboration with the Sea Change Project and award-winning director Pippa Ehrlich of My Octopus teacher. While following the personal journey of shark scientist and Save Our Seas Foundation Chief Executive Officer Dr James Lea, it also tells a wider story of connection, loss and hope. As viewers are transported around the world to meet some of the sharks that James has worked with and environments where he has been active over the years, the film communicates the importance of the vital science and conservation work that has been, and continues to be, carried out by the foundation.

Alongside its aim to support research and conservation efforts, the foundation places a strong focus on storytelling. Another highlight of the 20th anniversary year was the SeaWalls Festival in Cape Town, for which Save Our Seas was a headline sponsor. ‘Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans’ is a groundbreaking programme created by the PangeaSeed Foundation that aims to connect the public with the ocean and the issues it faces, and it does so with powerful street murals. November saw the walls of Cape Town coloured with vibrant depictions of seascapes in a campaign that supported local artists and brought the community together. Meanwhile, more than 7,000 miles away, the foundation brought the ocean to land-locked Geneva via an open-air exhibition of Wild Seas, the latest body of work from renowned photographer and Save Our Seas Foundation Director of Storytelling Thomas Peschak.

As the foundation looks towards the next 20 years, we are excited to continue to support world leaders in shark science, education and conservation. The 20th anniversary saw a record 75 grants awarded to project leaders from all around the world, and they will continue to push the boundaries of shark and ray conservation. Equally, the foundation stepped up its commitment to growing diversity in the field with the launch of its new Conservation Fellowship, which will provide support to early-career individuals working on shark and ray projects in resource-limited countries.

Grey reef sharks at Marshall Islands. Photo © Sebastian Staines

It was hope and the ability to see the potential in strong partnerships that drove His Excellency Abdulmohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh to set up the Save Our Seas Foundation two decades ago. Without his drive, determination and vision, the foundation would not be what it is today. As a fitting end to the 20th anniversary of the Save Our Seas Foundation, His Excellency was awarded the prestigious NOGI Distinguished Service Award by the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences for his commitment to ocean conservation and his dedication to the support, encouragement and capacity-building of others. He recognised the importance of collaboration, of a meeting of minds and diverse skillsets, to tackle the enormity and complexity of the challenges facing sharks, rays and the ocean. And, most importantly, he had hope that with the right tools and resources, people would come together and flourish to build a better future for sharks. This positive energy is what will be taken into the next 20 years, as the foundation continues to nurture the next generation of shark conservationists.

2023 NOGI Award for Distinguished Excellence awarded to His Excellency Abdulmohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh. Photo by James Lea | © Save Our Seas Foundation