“The ocean is everything”: How Tim Silverwood is improving ocean health, one startup at a time

For Tim Silverwood, environmentalist and co-founder of Ocean Impact Organisation (OIO), the ocean is everything – including the biggest lever we have to pull when fighting the climate crisis. He shares how OIO is helping propel innovators and businesses to improve ocean health, and all world systems that rely on it.

Sarah Morley
December 12, 2023
3 min read
Tim Silverwood Ocean Impact Organisation

Tim Silverwood’s commitment to ocean conservation boils down to a simple contention: “Unless we radically transform the way that we've been treating the ocean, we will get flicked off this planet, like an unwanted flea on a dog's back.”

Facts and pragmatism aside, there’s an intimacy to Tim’s connection with the ocean. Having grown up in the bush on the central coast of New South Wales, Tim describes “making friends with nature” early on in life. But it’s always been the ocean that really made Tim tick.

At around 10 years old, Tim was introduced to surfing. “This big world of the ocean opened up before me,” he says. “I had these remarkable chance encounters with beautiful marine creatures… I felt vulnerable and excited and invigorated, which has flowed through my entire existence.”

Since then, Tim has turned his life-long love for the ocean into a career. After studying conservation at university and meandering down different avenues of land regeneration in his early career, he – perhaps inevitably – landed firmly in the ocean conservation space.

"We live on Planet Ocean"

“The ocean is everything,” Tim says. ”In fact, we live on Planet Ocean. It's naive and ignorant to call it Planet Earth. Because the ocean is where the vast, vast majority of biomass and life on our planet exists.”

A healthy ocean is also key for addressing the climate crisis. In addition to occupying 70% of the earth’s surface and holding intrinsic value for endless interconnected ecosystems, the ocean absorbs almost a third of the world’s human-caused carbon emissions

“It is simply obnoxious to think that we can disrupt the critically important functions and systems in the ocean and not face enormous consequences,” Tim says.

But Tim is well acquainted with the harmful status quo of human behaviour and its excessive impacts. “Humans live on the land, so we're very myopic and insular in our thinking,” he says. “We take everything that we want from the ocean, and we dump back everything that we don't.” Despite the ocean harbouring the many problems we’ve inflicted upon it, Tim also believes it holds “an incredible range of opportunity”.

Harnessing business to heal the ocean

OIO has an ambitious mission to uncover the most innovative solutions to mitigate decades of ocean mismanagement, showcasing how business and investing can be used as a force for good.

After co-founding Take 3 for the Sea in 2009 – where he combated marine plastic pollution for 11 years – Tim was introduced to Nick Chiarelli, a chartered accountant and previous CFO with experience in startups and finance. As it turned out, Nick was the missing link to Tim’s next iteration of ocean conservation.

“Nick had this vision of how he could use his skills and the power of building accelerators and incubators, linked with capital impact investments, to really help improve ocean health,” Tim explains.

With the duo at the helm, Ocean Impact Organisation was launched in 2020. Its thing? To improve ocean health through supporting startups and entrepreneurs with revolutionary ideas that can generate huge impacts if grown and adopted at scale. “It's been really invigorating and exciting,” Tim says.

Despite the ocean’s current trajectory, Tim retains an optimistic view. “There's just so much range in the types of solutions that are out there,” he says. “We can solve so many problems by having this very broad approach to how we offer support packages.”

For example, OIO runs an Ideation Program, designed to get scientific solutions off the ground. These solutions are developed by early-stage academics who need a little boost to hone their skills and experience to commercialise their ideas.

And there’s no limit to what innovations may entail. “There's this incredible diversity,” Tim says. For example, OIO is working with Hullbot, a robotics company from Sydney that has been using underwater drones to clean boat hulls, minimising their environmental impact by reducing their fuel usage. Another startup is developing probiotics to build coral reef resilience in the face of warming waters. 

“Unless we radically transform the way that we've been treating the ocean, we will get flicked off this planet, like an unwanted flea on a dog's back.”

Ultimately, Tim believes in the ability of good business and investing to spearhead the healing of our oceans. According to Tim, this means being “cognisant, and very active in acknowledging and recording the impacts that you currently have, and having a very clear and obvious strategy for how that's going to be improved in the future”.

With the rise of B Corps and businesses that are fundamentally prepared to value nature, people and culture, Tim affirms that the days of business-as-usual and being blind to downstream consequences is no longer going to stand up among society’s changing expectations.

“So”, he says, “we need to make those dinosaurs change their ways, or go extinct. Impact is everything.”

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