For Oceana, its 16th annual SeaChange Summer Party, taking place Saturday, July 22, represents a full circle moment.
The ocean-conservation nonprofit is set to celebrate Morgan Freeman as its guest of honor at the fundraiser, which takes place at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club in Dana Point, California. It was just six years ago that Freeman joined Oceana on Capitol Hill to urge action on a bill to ban the buying and selling of shark fins.
Cut to December 2022: Congress passed the legislation, and Joe Biden signed it, a major move toward protecting sharks, who are hunted relentlessly for their fins, which are the chief ingredient in shark-fin soup.
“We’re honoring [Morgan Freeman] for really being there when we needed him — standing with us and our campaigners and introducing legislation that’s now law,” says Andrew Sharpless, the CEO of Oceana, which worked along with the Humane Society on pushing for the bill’s passage.
The new legislation, says Sharpless, “sends a message to the international community that we want this terrible trade to end. It’s not just inhumane, and it’s not sustainable. The estimate is that up to 73 million sharks a year end up in the shark-fin trade. A lot of that is simply to go to be in soup in China — it’s a luxury that’s coming at the cost of taking the lions and tigers of the ocean out of their habitat.”
The trade in sharks contributes to a stark decline in populations of animals around the world. The CEO continues, “There was a study released that involved 150 researchers at 400 different reefs just published in one of the leading scientific journals a few months ago that said that populations of five very common sharks measured around the world are down 60 percent in just 50 years. We have a problem. We have to take stronger action for the sharks.”
The SeaChange Summer Party, emceed by actress June Diane Raphael, will also honor Vissla surf brand founder and environmental advocate Paul Naudé (who is also the president of the Surf Industry Members Association). The night will conclude with a musical performance by Third Eye Blind.
“Over the years, we’ve been successful in raising nearly $19 million for ocean conservation and expect to have another successful event this Saturday night,” adds Sharpless.
On Aug. 12, Oceana is also holding a fundraiser in Los Angeles, the fifth annual Rock Under the Stars party, hosted by Addis, who serves as president of the board of the nonprofit, and featuring a performance by The Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi).
Below, The Hollywood Reporter spoke further with Sharpless about the threats facing oceans as temperatures rise across the globe, with this year seeing the hottest June ever recorded and what Oceana — whose board of directors includes Hollywood manager Keith Addis, actors Sam Waterson and Ted Danson and director Gaz Alazraki — is doing to help.
Ocean temperatures in April — according to NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], which is the best tracker of ocean science in the world — set an all-time record. Average temperatures were hotter than they’ve ever been in the history of our recording of ocean temperatures globally. And that’s an astonishingly discouraging event if you care about ocean health. When you have hot ocean temperatures, bad things start to happen to the oceans.
What are some of those adverse effects?
The creatures that build coral reefs do not like hot oceans. And you get this phenomenon that’s very visual called bleaching, where the coral reefs eject the symbiotic creatures that help build the reef and the reef becomes all white. It’s a signal of a dying reef. Now, if the heat event ends quickly, the reef will not die. Usually, it will come back from a bleaching event. A bleaching event by itself is not death, but it often leads to death. Right this moment, we could be living through one of the worst coral killings in the history of the planet. We won’t know whether that’s happened until later over the coming year.
And then, of course, we all know that a hot ocean is often the source of energy for hurricanes and big violent weather events. If you just care about not living in a house that’s going to be blown away by a big hurricane, you should be worried about these high ocean temperatures.
In what ways do elevated CO2 levels, created by burning fossil fuels, affect oceans?
The oceans have been doing more than their duty in terms of protecting the planet from climate change because they absorb an enormous share of the carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere, but there are bad consequences for the ocean. It changes the chemistry of the ocean and makes it more acidic. If you’re a creature that has a shell, or if you’re a coral reef, then you’re building your shell out of calcium [carbonate] and living in a more acidic environment means you have more trouble building a shell and in some cases cannot build a shell. It can be a life and death matter for certain kinds of mollusks. And there are also some really small creatures that are very important to the bottom of the food chain that are affected by acidification in the same way that a big shellfish would be. So, there are big, serious concerns about increasing acidification in the ocean from CO2.