Sebastian Copeland is a polar explorer, author and award-winning photographer. Copeland has reached both poles, north and south. In 2017, Men’s Journal named him one of the world’s top 25 adventurers of the last 25 years. He has addressed audiences globally, warning of systemic transformations taking place due to human activities.
Ocean Ambassador Q&A
When and why did sustainability first become important to you?
Sustainability is always closely related to the outdoors. But for me, the discussion ramped up in the late 90s when the technology and science began to paint a more accurate picture. [There] had mostly been theoretical discussions for the previous few decades. Ice measurements were the irrefutable proof that something critical was happening with the climate, and that human behaviour was moving in the opposite direction from helping to solve it. I knew then that we were in trouble.
You inspire many people through your experience as a professional explorer, environmental advocate and photographer. How much trouble are the oceans in?
As the base the food chain and the source of life, the oceans’s health signals the health of the world. However vast they seem, these remain delicate environments with immune systems [that are] weak to outside influence. Overfishing, pollution and changes in climate are the trifecta of devastation which can lead to a collapse. One can’t overstate the negative implication of such a scenario on humanity.
Have you witnessed changes firsthand - in both human attitudes towards the oceans and ocean landscapes and species - are you optimistic about the future?
Optimism is relative. It goes up with our collective engagement, such as we have witnessed in the last few years, the conference of parties to Fridays for Future and all the derivatives. It goes down when external events and the lack of concrete action from politicians deflates even the most reasonable expectations. Let’s not forget this is a race, and those are hard to call. Will we get there? Probably. Will it be relevant if it is too late? That is the million-dollar question. But not trying would be suicide.
What kind of food do you eat while exploring?
I eat specially formulated dehydrated/freeze-dried food that is engineered for high caloric yield. Strenuous activities in cold environments burn a lot of calories. So fat is a good formula to maintain energy without burning the muscles needed to complete mission.
What’s been your most dangerous encounter while exploring?
Close encounters with polar bears always top that list. Falling through the ice when walking towards the north pole in negative 35 degrees also figures high. But exploring a highly antagonistic environment with no break until the finish line and uncertain rescue - that is the high stress point. The sheer isolation is both the high and the low.
The Arctic or Antarctica?
The sea ice versus ice sheet: the cold is their commonality, but these are such different environments. Antarctica is easier but it is so iconic that just being there feels amazing. The Arctic, and the Arctic Sea in particular is more populated with wildlife and is less predictable, and much more dangerous. Any accomplishment there feels exponential. For me, it is The Arctic.
Jacques Cousteau or Indiana Jones?
Why choose if you can have it all! Both, please.
Fish or crustaceans?
This is like asking which of your two daughters do you prefer! I love all the bounty the ocean offers.
What ingredients are always in your fridge?
What’s your favourite sustainable seafood dish?
I have spent a lot of time surfing and windsurfing the waves in Baja California where local fishermen have been sourcing lobster sustainably for generations. There is nothing like having fresh lobster brought daily to your camp and grilled on the fire after a day spent playing on the ocean. A little butter, some salt and good company. What else can you ask for?