Environmentalist Shaw ’76 and ’15 details threats to oceans and shares good news

Despite severe threats to the world’s oceans, international efforts to protect sea life inspire optimism, says David Shaw, a USM alumnus and renowned environmentalist.

“The danger to oceans via the unprecedented triple threat of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution are massive global issues that we have to tackle,” Shaw said recently. “However, there is a rising tide of positive development as humanity rises to the challenge.”

With Shaw’s leadership, countries are joining efforts to fight pollution and to preserve segments of the high seas from further damage.

Environmentalist and entrepreneur David Shaw ’76 and ’15

“There is a lot of good news,” Shaw said. “Modern science and technology is key here. We live in the greatest period of scientific discovery and new knowledge development in history. There has never been a time like this.”

Shaw has been concerned with marine life and ecosystems for decades.

The environmentalist — who earned an M.B.A. from USM in 1976 and was awarded an honorary degree from the University in 2015 — has been a widely respected leader in the global science and social impact communities, building more than a dozen technology companies and devoting himself to extensive public service experience.

He is also a skilled filmmaker, sharing three of his films with the recent USM crowd, gathered for his lecture as part of the Muskie School of Public Service’s 25th anniversary.

The films included “Celebrating Earth Day 2020” and “Sargasso Sea Tribute & Declaration,” all of which were warmly received.

“Oceans need to be dealt with in a rather global way,” Shaw said. “There are far reaching consequences to inadequate global stewardship.”

About one third of fish stocks are overfished. The oceans account for two thirds of the planet’s surface. They generate half the world’s oxygen and dramatically influence weather.

“About 8 million pieces of plastic are added (to the oceans) every day around the world, and it’s estimated that almost 400 million tons of plastic are produced every year,” he said. “This is a highly visible threat to the world’s oceans.”

The impacts are also massive financially.

“The ocean economy is estimated at $3 trillion,” he said. “Some estimates double that.”

That’s why Shaw has been working with world leaders, including some of the top environmental voices in the United Nations.

“Two thirds of the world’s oceans are beyond the jurisdiction of any country,” he said. It makes the work of the international community particularly necessary.

Shaw has served as the chair of the Sargasso Sea Alliance. He was named Wave Maker at the 2016 Blue Ocean Film Festival and “SeaKeeper of the Year” by the International SeaKeeper Society in 2013. He is a member of the Ocean Elders, an independent group of global leaders who have joined together to serve as a catalyst in the conservation and protection of the ocean and its wildlife.

Shaw has vowed to keep working towards healthier oceans.

Part of that work will be done by business, vowed the serial entrepreneur and impact investor.

“Plastic pollution will be solved by the private sector, not by anyone else,” Shaw predicted. It may even be helped by more of USM’s own.

His generosity led to the creation of the Shaw Innovation Fellows Program at USM. The program seeks students at USM who are passionate about elevating their educational experience through research driven by innovation, entrepreneurship, and exploration. The Shaw Fellows Program was founded in 2021 with generous support from the Shaw family and will provide fellowship awards to enrolled USM Graduate and Upper-level Undergraduate Students each year.