Authors want to save the oceans

Just a dream? Whale breaches in plastic-free seas. Photo:  Thomas Kelley on  Unsplash

Just a dream? Whale breaches in plastic-free seas. Photo: Thomas Kelleyon Unsplash


Last year, poet and author Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris published The Lost Words, a beautiful tribute to nature words - like acorn, bluebell and kingfisher - that had been removed from the 2015 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary.

Now, Macfarlane joins a phalanx of 50 of the UK’s best known children’s authors and illustrators to launch Authors4Oceans, a campaign encouraging the book industry to ditch plastic.Sir Michael Morpurgo, Katherine Rundell, Chris Riddell, Jacqueline Wilson, Quentin Blake and Jackie Morris have all pledged their support, as have Philip Ardagh, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, SF Said and Annabel Pitcher.

“The greatest weakness we have, the greatest mistake we make is to take the world about us for granted,” said Morpurgo, bestselling author of War Horse and Why the Whales Came. "We use up the earth we live in at our peril. It is a finite source and we have to remember that. Destroy it, and we destroy ourselves. It is that simple.”

Lauren St John for Authors4Oceans

Lauren St John for Authors4Oceans

“As children’s writers we aim to offer young people a sense of the vast wonder of the world,” adds Katherine Rundell, 2017 Costa Award-winning author of Rooftops and The Wolf Wilder. 

“That world is under threat as never before, and with this campaign we’re saying: we can still save the oceans, if we act now. Not soon, but now.”

Lauren St John, author of the eco-adventure Dolphin Song and the forthcoming seaside mystery Kat Wolfe Investigates, came up with the idea for the campaign in an epiphanic moment - when she ordered a drink in a bookstore and it arrived with a plastic straw. 

“There are hundreds of bookshops across the UK, many of which hand out plastic bags, straws and bottles daily,” says St John. “It occurred to me that an alliance of children’s authors, particularly those who write about nature and are passionate about the environment, might have a voice together. And if publishers, literary festivals and some of our young readers joined us, well – together - we could make a real difference.”

Authors4Oceans aims to draws together different parts of the book trade, from booksellers and publishers, to literary festivals and young readers - to find eco alternatives to the plastic bags, straws, bottles and single use cutlery destroying our seas.

The campaign follows on from harrowing scenes in the BBC’s TV series Planet Earth II of albatross parents unwittingly killing their young by feeding them plastic and by the mother pilot whale mourning her dead calf, most likely poisoned by plastic pollution.

Last year, a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that over 12.7 million tonnes of plastic is dumped in our oceans every year, the equivalent of a truckload a minute. A million seabirds and over 100,000 marine mammals die every year. 

Over 60 million sharks are slaughtered annually, and most turtle and tuna fish species are endangered. As Teresa May said, "“In the UK alone, the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.”

Efforts are being made. Earlier this year, the government announced a new plastic strategy, centred around plans to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042. A new agreement from Europe put forward a plastic recycling rate of 55 per cent by 2030 and a new strategy aimed at tackling single use plastic. In Scotland, there are plans to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme.

Whether these measures are fast enough or comprehensive enough to save our oceans remains to be seen. 

Photo: Blue Ocean.

Photo: Blue Ocean.

In an effort to reach the children, who will pick up the baton their adults have so tragically dropped, Authors-4-Oceans has teamed up with the Marine Conservation Society, Action for Conservation, the Born Free Foundation and weekly children’s magazine The Week Junior to launch a UK-wide schools competiton, Oceans are NOT Rubbish. 

The competition asks children to design and build models of endangered sea creatures out of plastic rubbish. Judges include Born Free star Virginia McKenna and her son, Dan Travers, an underwater media specialist as well as 15-year-old environmental campaigner Bella Lack and the editor of The Week Junior, Anna Bassi.

Robert Macfarlane's 14-year-old daughter, Lily, has made a videos to inspire other young people to care and make a difference. If combined efforts don't work, the 2050 Oxford Junior Dictionary may well be published without the words 'albatross' and 'whale.'

The campaign will also include events such as beach cleans and special Authors-4-Oceans festival events, beginning with the Hay Festival on May 29th, to raise awareness of plastic pollution and tackle other marine conservation issues, such as the devastation of tuna and shark species. To find out more about the campaign, sign the pledge or find out how to enter the Oceans are NOT Rubbish competition, visit