Tom Ogg talks to Ocean Culture Life founders Matt Porteous and Tamsin Raine about their Island-inspired love of the sea and how storytelling can help to protect this natural phenomenon
THE protection and preservation of the ocean for future generations is the primary ambition of a Jersey-based online community.
Founded in 2018, Ocean Culture Life is the brainchild of photographer Matt Porteous and storyteller Tamsin Raine and aims to bring together a global network of likeminded photographers, filmmakers and anyone with an appreciation for the surrounding seas.
‘Ocean Culture Life has crafted a space and a platform where creators can find and tell stories to which they are intuitively drawn,’ says Matt, who is perhaps best known for his acclaimed work photographing the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children.
‘The unique approach of Ocean Culture Life to collaboration, flying in the face of the competitive instinct which consumes so much of the charity sector, has allowed the OCL community to transform ocean-related policies internationally in only a few short years.’
Indeed it has. The mission statement of Ocean Culture Life is ‘building a community and giving a voice to the ocean’, and, today, the OCL community boasts over 200 registered storytellers and ‘guardians’ across five continents, with dozens of applicants waiting in the wings, and over 2,000 dedicated followers worldwide.
From conversationalists and environmental experts to scientists, surfers, fishermen and everyday beach-lovers, the individual members of the OCL community each bring their own ocean-related stories to the public through the popular OCL website.
‘Ocean Culture Life is a global community of storytellers whose lives have been shaped by the sea,’ says Tamsin. ‘Together, we’re committed to showcasing the beauty and fragility of our oceans – turning research, community projects and conservation efforts into powerful films, campaigns and photo series.
‘We believe passionately in the power of storytelling and organic collaboration to nurture a meaningful connection,’ she continues. ‘We aim to educate a generation who will then grow up to support and protect our most undervalued and mistreated resource: the ocean.’
To this end, Ocean Culture Life often sponsors its storytellers in order to bring as much public attention as possible to the plight of the ocean.
‘We sponsored Ocean Culture Life storyteller Jono Allen last year,’ says Tamsin. ‘Jono asked us to support him on an important storytelling journey, which would eventually lead to him and Nasheed Ahmed setting up the Fuvahmulah Marine Foundation. The non-profit foundation helps to protect the local community and marine site on the island of Fuvahmulah.’
In addition, Ocean Culture Life supported a highly successful campaign to maintain a ban on shark fishing in the Maldives, which is one of the few shark havens in the world, and which remains so today thanks in large part to the OCL campaign. (As the OCL website points out, over 100 million sharks are killed across the globe each year as a result of shark fishing.)
‘This particular campaign demonstrated the power of organic collaboration, of community and of communication,’ says Matt. ‘We stood together as an ocean community – and collectively our voices were heard.’
As Tamsin says, the more ocean-related stories that are told through the Ocean Culture Life community, the more such stories will reach a wider audience, and the more they will raise awareness of what is happening to the ocean – both good and bad – across the globe.
‘With stories comes knowledge and with knowledge comes responsibility,’ she says. ‘These stories of progress, of incremental improvement and endeavour in the face of persistent and unrelenting pushback are the ones that stay with us.’
In recent years, Matt and Tamsin have been able to offer financial support to Ocean Culture Life contributors, with all profits from the OCL clothing range going towards the community’s storytellers.
‘Many of the stories and campaigns our community work on are not financially supported, meaning giving a voice to the ocean is something they do tirelessly simply from a deep-rooted appreciation and respect for the water,’ says Tamsin. ‘This is something we’re slowly changing. All profits from the ocean-friendly apparel store now go towards sponsoring OCL storytellers and guardians. We part-fund our storytellers’ projects and connect them with our network of ocean advocates in order to enable positive change for our oceans.’
The origins of Ocean Culture Life stem from a trip Matt took to Hawaii in 2017. It was there, in the shallows of the North Shore of Oahu (‘that Mecca of surf and sea’), that the life-long ocean enthusiast found what he describes as ‘a depth to the ocean that had previously gone undiscovered’.
‘Striking up a conversation with local lifeguards, I heard about the culture of their ocean-based community, their dedication to the craft, their desire to share their unique knowledge and the intimate connection to the water at the heart of their lives,’ he says. ‘I tapped into a global community of ocean-lovers who needed a voice, and we have been working hard to give them that voice ever since.’
Born and raised in Jersey, Matt – who is currently engaged to his fiancée, Mandy (‘she is a constant support and source of inspiration’) – says that he often found academia challenging during childhood, with reading and writing proving especially difficult.
‘I expressed myself in different ways,’ he says. ‘Photography has always been, and will always be, my way of communicating.’
From a young age, Matt would carry a camera with him wherever he went.
‘It was a yellow underwater Minolta camera,’ he says. ‘I remember I would spend hours and hours poring through my parents’ photo albums.
‘When you’re born in an island and you grow up on its shores, the ocean shapes you,’ he adds. ‘You gain a certain respect for the ocean – a respect and a love that only people connected with the ocean can truly understand.
‘As an Islander, you never really leave the ocean. Time away from the sea, time spent apart from the luring, extended horizons of salty blue, only ever fills in the gaps. The water is always the main event.’
Much like Matt, Tamsin was born and raised in Jersey, and she too spent much of her formative years exploring the Island’s beaches and surrounding coastline.
‘Growing up, I would go swimming and surfing every day,’ she says. ‘The ocean was a part of me. I was so thankful to call this beautiful Island my home.’
A former pupil of St Lawrence and Le Rocquier schools, Tamsin studied media at Highlands College and then advertising at Bournemouth University, with a two-year break between the two during which she travelled the world.
‘I’ve always had an immense passion for storytelling,’ she says. ‘For as long as I can remember, it has always been my way of communicating. And I suppose it’s what led me to embark on a professional career in advertising and marketing, although I soon realised that the stories and campaigns I was crafting were not aligning with my personal values or passion.’
And that passion is, of course, the ocean: ‘I can’t imagine a life without it. I feel incredibly fortunate to have grown up surrounded by the sea. The ocean has given me so much. It is a place to be and a place to become. It’s my sanctuary and gives me an infinite source of inspiration each day.’
It was upon befriending Matt in 2018 that Tamsin realised she had met someone who shared her profound love for both the ocean and for storytelling.
‘I discovered I wasn’t alone in my beliefs that the ocean needed a storyteller,’ she recalls. ‘Together, we began connecting with our incredible community of guardians and storytellers’ – and so it was Ocean Culture Life was born.
‘I swapped board meetings for surfboard meetings,’ laughs Tamsin.
The community has since gone from strength to strength, with Tamsin’s practical knowledge and marketing expertise providing a coherent structure for Matt’s ambitious vision for the project.
And while Matt’s primary talent is, of course, professional photography, Tamsin says her own talents are spread across a range of different fields, from photography and film to art and writing.
‘I’m a passionate ocean advocate who is dedicated to giving a voice to the ocean and to supporting those who work tirelessly to do the same,’ she says. ‘I believe in collaboration over competition because, together, we can restore health to our oceans and continue to celebrate them and their beauty for generations to come.’
Asked whether she and Matt believe there is still time to reverse the enormous damage which has been inflicted upon the oceans by mankind, Tamsin says: ‘Every once in a while, perhaps only once a generation, profound shifts ripple through the world’s conscience: attitudes change, knowledge broadens and the way we live our lives is redrawn.
‘It’s really about stepping out of the way. The ocean is resilient and, if we give it time and space, we’ll see massive changes happen quickly. There are almost eight billion of us on this planet, meaning that, when you multiply this with one single action, you can either see a negative impact or a positive impact.’
And, as the Ocean Culture Life website makes clear, we can all make a difference to our lives in order to limit the destruction and pollution of the ocean.
‘When you love something, you’ll protect it,’ says Matt. ‘One small action can have a huge impact. It is always worth starting with something simple, whether decreasing your single-use plastic consumption, or being aware of where your fish is coming from, or even encouraging smokers to dispose of their cigarette butts, as they are the second-largest polluter.
‘You could even go a step further and lobby your local government to make larger changes within your community.’
Given their shared love of the Island in which they were both raised, it would be remiss not to conclude our conversation by asking Matt and Tamsin which of Jersey’s beaches is their favourite.
‘Well, we both grew up on the five-mile stretch of St Ouen,’ says Matt. ‘It has the third-biggest tidal range in the world, and the forever-changing landscape has made the bay somewhere we both cherish.’
‘We find the ocean boosts our creativity, settles us and helps us to reconnect with Mother Nature,’ adds Tamsin. ‘For us, the benefits of the ocean are undeniable and glaringly obvious.’
• For more information about Ocean Culture Life, visit oceanculture.life.