20 years on, and the legacy of Sir Peter Blake is more critical than ever as we face unprecedented global environmental challenges
Many New Zealanders will remember hearing of the death of Sir Peter Blake on the fifth of December 2001. As the shocking news of his death broke around the world, tributes flowed for one of the greatest New Zealanders. As a yachtsman he had achieved unprecedented success winning the Whitbread Round the World Race, holding the Jules Verne Trophy from 1994-1997 and leading New Zealand to successive victories in the America’s Cup. But it was his passion for environmental protection that found Sir Peter aboard Seamaster on the night of his death. Having spent three decades sailing around the world Sir Peter had observed significant declines in ocean health. From Steinlager 2 he had observed increasing pollution and a decline in the number of sea birds such as albatross.
“When I look back 25 years the first time I raced around the planet, our boats used to be surrounded by wandering albatross. In 25 years they’re nearly all gone, through poor fishing practices,” Blake reported.
It was these observations that inspired him to retire from competitive sailing and turn his attention to promoting environmental protection. As special envoy of the United Nations Environment Programme Sir Peter established Blakexpeditions, a venture that saw him and his crew set out to report the state of ecosystems in global “hotspots” such as the Antarctic and the Amazon. What was abundantly clear to Sir Peter twenty years ago was the distress much of the world’s biodiversity was in. In 2021 we know the crises have only deepened. Now, in the wake of COP26, we are left reflecting on the global state of the climate and what action is needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C, and avoid climate catastrophe: a result we are dangerously close to.
Sir Peter’s death cut short his vision to inspire millions of people around the world to care more about the environment and take action to protect it. In his final log on board Seamaster he wrote:
“We want to restart people caring for the environment…through adventure, through participation, through education and through enjoyment.” This is the mission carried forward by BLAKE (the Sir Peter Blake Trust).
Our work at BLAKE seeks to to inspire thousands of young New Zealanders to care for the environment through activities and adventures that encourage environmental awareness and leadership, and instill a deeper sense of kaitiakitanga. True to Sir Peter, all of BLAKE’s programmes and events are characterized by a spirit of adventure and exploration that drive participants to lead a more sustainable future for Aotearoa New Zealand. Sir Peter emerged from Bayswater a humble leader who would successfully pursue his dreams and land a permanent place in the hearts and minds of New Zealanders. Today, twenty years after the tragic loss of a national icon and environmental guardian, we issue a call to invoke the determination, tenacity, passion, and excitement of Sir Peter. Twenty years ago, Sir Peter longed to make a difference. Today, we lack the earthly budget to do anything but make a difference. Now more than ever, the legacy of Sir Peter Blake must ignite an inextinguishable fire in every New Zealander to be kaitiaki o te taiao. Individual actions are needed if emissions are to be cut in half by 2030. International action will be needed if we are to protect 30% of our ocean through a network of fully protected marine reserves by 2030. Local and global guardianship will be needed if we are to conserve some semblance of the environment as we know it. New ways of thinking are needed, as is the embracing of the traditional knowledge of indigenous people all around the world, much as we have started to do with mātauranga Māori here in Aotearoa.