Making Waves Where It Matters: A Shark Man's perspective on climate action


As a marine biologist, surfer, diver, and general ocean-enthusiast, Riley Elliott (you may also know him as the Shark Man) is well-placed to comment on how climate change is affecting our oceans. Our Media Coordinator, Rosie, caught up with Riley to ask him about the importance of climate legislation like the Zero Carbon Act for protecting what we all enjoy.


Hi Riley, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Put simply, I am a nature kid who continued to follow his passion for animals and the environment through to adulthood and occupation. I am now a marine biologist, who still surfs, dives, fishes, and basically engages with nature on a day to day basis for everything from work to food.


People like yourself who are frequently engaged with the ocean are in a unique position to see and communicate the effects of climate change. What would passing the Zero Carbon Act mean to you?

It would mean we are finally acknowledging the required value for our earth and ocean. For too long, and largely only because of scale, have we exploited natural resources, exponentially. Now we are seeing the effects of that, and they require change like a Zero Carbon Act. It’s not just the ‘right thing to do’, it’s scientifically essential.


Have there been any changes to the natural environment that you've observed as a surfer / diver?

There are countless examples of large scale impacts. As a diver and marine biologist, coral bleaching is the most obvious and large scale direct impact observed from climate change. It is also directly related to excess carbon in the atmosphere, that the ocean then absorbs, increasing temperatures and acidity, killing corals on mass.


How would the sea-diving and tourism industry be affected by climate change?

Using the example above in only one location like the Great Barrier reef, a billion dollars a year is earned through tourism based on exploration of this single, yet largest reef system in the world. Over half of it has died in the past decade.


Why do you think that it's sometimes a challenge to motivate people on the issue of climate change?

Because the effects are so large in scale, they seem like acts of God rather than of our own influence. Giant storms, population extinctions, blooming waterways, entire ecosystems dying in single seasons. People don’t want to listen to the science, as they will face the music if they do. The message now - from scientists like myself - is that the music has been playing too long. Now the drama is starting and we must act.


Through our Zero Carbon Act campaign, we want to show New Zealanders that moving towards carbon-neutrality is exciting and will bring many new opportunities. If there was one thing you could say to contribute to this, what would it be?

Why wouldn’t we? We can do this - we have the science and we can make changes. If we want it, they will have to change their business models, their infrastructure, their policies. We can make change. We can demand it, and we must, as the Earth and our ocean are crying out for it.


Thanks Riley, it's great to have your support!

Riley Elliott 2