When it comes to protecting people and our shared planet, oceans play a vital role. That’s where Andreas Weil, founder and chairman of EcoOcean, comes in. A philanthropist and an expert on the environment, in 2002 Weil set out to advance marine environmental protection. He started EcoOcean and has been leading it ever since. He is on the front lines of supporting marine research, and an expansion of evidence-based marine conservation for Israel and the region.
By delivering inclusive educational programs, EcoOcean promotes equal opportunities and builds environmental leadership that strives to bring ocean recovery and a sustainable and peaceful future. By leading communities of activists, he and his team are working to encourage policy-makers to prioritize the protection of the ocean and marine life.
Andreas is a member of the Jewish Funders Network Green Funders Forum. He is also a board member of The Robert Weil Family Foundation, which initiates and supports various activities in dance, drama, and the Fine Arts, as well as projects devoted to education, democracy, and the Environment. While the foundation has broad interests, he is dedicating his life to working in different ways to help the ocean environment in Israel and the Eastern Mediterranean.
I got to ask Andreas about his goals, what is working, and what advice he gives to others who also want to make a difference.
How did you get interested in working on climate issues?
The world’s oceans are under constant stress from human development and 150 years of the industrial revolution. Oceans urgently need more robust protection. Climate change has sailed up as one of its top threats. The ocean has always been “The Giving Tree.” It still gives us great things like food, water, energy and other irreplaceable resources. It has also helped us by taking up the majority of the world’s excess Co2. I deeply understand the threat climate issues have on our precious planet. Due to my experience of many years of working in environmental protection and as leader of EcoOcean, I feel that I can really make a positive change and hopefully inspire other people.
Is this connected to your Jewish involvement and identity? If so, in what way?
Israel is a very diverse country with many very different groups of people. It is also becoming very overcrowded, and massive population growth gives us even more challenges. As a Jewish person living in Israel, and knowing the deep bonds people living here have to this country, there is simply no alternative for most people living here. It is even more vital now that we face climate change ahead that we do not stand passively on the sidelines.
Once you knew you wanted to do something on climate issues, where did you go for resources, mentoring or involvement?
I will give you an example: at the end of 2021 we all embarked on staff professional training to deepen our knowledge of climate change in land as we understand that land and ocean must be understood as a whole. I took part in this training course with EcoOcean staff. We received training from Tel Aviv University sustainability school, The Arava Institute in the desert, and the Eilat Eilot council. Deepening our knowledge of renewable energy solutions, developing climate resilience by coastal cities such as Eilat, and the new sustainability principles in a world of climate change.
What did you find helpful/successful?
I was lucky to have many colleagues, including scientists at EcoOcean, who could help me understand the many issues climate change entails. Together we could strategize and make plans for how we could and should develop as an organization to work with climate change. For me, it was very successful; how thanks to all the input and knowledge I could acquire, EcoOcean could create both research and educational programs that will have a positive impact.
There are so many ways to help. How did you pick your “lane” and what is it?
My strategy for approaching environmental challenges is primarily education. Everyone needs to have the knowledge and facts in their hands about an issue to make their own opinion and decide if they want to get involved. The Israeli school system often lacks the resources to offer all schoolchildren the same level of education. This is why educational NGO’s plays a vital role in Israel.
How do you go about doing this?
EcoOcean has a robust educational department; through its many programs, we can reach nearly 12,000 children a year between the ages of 4-18 in the formal education system. We also do extensive awareness-raising activities for the general public by delivering field tours, lectures, and social media campaigns.
Do you have partners? Who are they and how did you build your team?
EcoOcean has, since its beginning, always had a firm working policy where we are always open to working with and actively looking for any partner that will create positive collaborations. Good partners and strong partnerships are crucial for an environmental organization’s success. EcoOcean is part of many round tables with other organizations dealing with climate change, and we also have powerful partnerships with all the coastal municipalities, as well as the SPNI (Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). The Ministry of Environmental Protection is a formal partner of ours in two national programs: ‘The national volunteer sea emergency network’ and the ‘Single-use plastic not in my sea’ summer campaign.
What have been some of your biggest successes?
1. During the massive oil spill pollution in 2021, we acted as the national headquarters for 16,000 citizens who volunteered to help clean up the beaches. As the founders and operators of the National Network for Marine Emergency Volunteers, we coordinate between the different bodies – coastal authorities, citizens, environmental organizations, the government, and the Nature and Parks Authority, to work together to clean and rehabilitate the beaches.
2. The MedEx, our research vessel, has facilitated hundreds of marine researchers over the past 16 years. It is recognized as the major cause for the surge in marine research in the Israeli Mediterranean and the growing place of the country’s Marine Centres and Universities on the global scene.
3. EcoOcean led in Israel the biggest relay in the world in 2022: ‘RUNNING OUT OF TIME’.40 days of running, with 18 participating countries, from Glasgow to Sharm el-Sheikh, along 7,767 km, to raise awareness of the climate crisis and the need to act urgently. In Israel, hundreds of participants ran and cycled for 66 hours in 44 segments, 13 awareness-raising events took place from Nahariya to Eilat. We developed an education program on the climate crisis that has been approved and distributed to schools by the Ministry of Education. The program was created in order to be delivered in schools during COP 27 and beyond.
I assume there have been some times when you felt you hit a brick wall. Can you give us an example of that and how you pivoted to do something that worked better?
As both working from within EcoOcean and as a citizen of Israel, I have not hit a brick wall because we often manage to find a way around it. This is the case with many environmental issues in Israel and with years of experience, we have learned to navigate the many existing obstacles. There is sometimes, though, a strong sense of frustration that the government of Israel is not doing enough and is not taking climate change as a serious issue. So as an environmental organization, when there is not enough support from the government, we turn to all our existing partners and create campaigns and educational programs that can have a positive impact.
Can you tell us about something that you find exciting about what you are doing and where and how others can help?
There are many things that I find exciting. The road towards a country where its government and its people really understand the threats of climate change and work together to do their part to fix this global threat is long, but we will succeed. We can all help to make this road shorter and easier to navigate if we all do our part. The easiest way is to support or join one of the many environmental organizations that is doing great work.
What is your advice for other people who are just getting their start on climate issues? Where should folks begin?
Firstly, educate yourself by reading the news every day. But don’t get stuck only on articles that bring you down that say that the challenges are too great, and that we are doomed. I focus on themes that talk about the extraordinary work being done by governments, NGO’s and other stakeholders that is successful or gives solutions to how we could tackle climate change.
Then begin looking at your personal life. Ask yourself, what can you, as one person, can do? Make some choices that you believe you can handle and are doable. It is essential they are easy. Reduce your meat consumption, or just choose more poultry, that has a much smaller carbon footprint. You can make environmental choices as a consumer such as purchasing products with less packaging. You can reuse and recycle, rent an electric scooter for shorter city trips instead of taking your car. Or change your gas guzzler for a smaller one.