Ted Danson at the Global Green Expo. Image credit: goodrob13/Flickr via a Creative Commons license.

People often question the role celebrities play in charitable work. Sure, volunteering for good causes can build publicity for TV and movie stars, but does their engagement do anything tangible for the cause itself?

There is probably no standard answer. Much depends on the commitment of the celebrity and their knowledge of the cause they are working for.

One star who is definitely making a difference for the conservation movement is Ted Danson.

I just read Ted’s book Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them. While Ted may be best known for his role in Cheers and Bored to Death, this book will solidify his position as a conservationist.

The book is a tour de force. Ted does a great job of highlighting, clearly and concisely, the wide range of issues facing the world’s oceans — from overfishing to acidification. Ted makes great use of artwork and graphics to clearly demonstrate how trawling is damaging sea beds and how aquaculture works for both better and worse. And Ted’s dry sense of humor makes this a fun read.

The book includes cool one-page profiles of marine conservation heroes like fisheries expert Dr. Daniel Pauly, Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Julie Packard, and oceanographer Silvia Earle, aka “Her Deepness.” Ted rightly shines the spotlight on these leaders who deserve the same attention society usually reserves for movie stars and professional athletes.

I expect Ted’s celebrity and his book will spread word of the pressing issues facing our marine systems today and what can be done to save them.

The conservation movement does a great job of preaching to the choir. But many in our society do not understand the vital role nature plays in their daily lives. We need to do a better job at making nature relevant to everyone, demonstrating that taking much better care of lands and water is not a luxury but a necessity.

This book goes a long way in doing that.

Everyone in the conservation movement should champion this great book. We at The Nature Conservancy will continue to do everything we can to turn the tide on ocean degradation. To do this we will continue to innovate and work with the many players — governments, communities, resource users, the private sector and other conservation groups such as Oceana, on whose board Ted sits — who depend on our oceans and need to join forces to keep them healthy and productive.

Ted’s book makes clear as a bell why we need to care about our oceans and work to protect them. By highlighting conservation heroes, Ted also offers readers role models that can inspire us to do more.

With this book, I would add Ted to that list of heroes.

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. I agree that Ted’s book has the kind of format, style, and author notoriety that we need in order to communicate more widely the messages of why conservation matters. I’m left wondering, though, how to interpret some of the content of the book. For instance, at the end of the preface, he writes the following:

    “. . . 90 percent of the “big fish” that existed in the 1950s are now gone. As for the rest of the 30,000 known species of fish in the world’s oceans, we could conceivably “fish them out” in the next fifty years. That’s within some of our own lifetimes, certainly within the lifetimes of our children. No more fish. It’s hard to imagine. Almost inconceivable. But it’s true. And right now we’re moving closer to that reality every day.”

    In his blog of November 29, 2010, Conservancy Lead Scientist Peter Kareiva’s asks, “Why Do We Keep Hearing Global Fisheries Are Collapsing?” (https://blog.nature.org/2010/11/fisheries-apocalypse-ocean-fish-stock-peter-kareiva-ray-hilborn/). Peter writes: “. . . when scientists analyze and extrapolate data using methods that are open to debate and then firmly conclude with statements such as, “Our analyses suggest that business-as-usual would foreshadow serious threats to global food security, coastal water quality, and ecosystem stability, affecting current and future generations,” I wonder what is being accomplished? Have we not learned that scaring people paralyzes them instead of motivating them to act?”

    Perhaps Ted does a better job than most scientists of making people laugh as he delivers the bad news, or of colloquially stating that he is an optimist who sees possible solutions to the problems. His statement regarding “the facts” about overfishing, however, is far more absolutist than the one attributed by Peter Kareiva to allegedly fear-mongering scientists.

    None of this is to suggest “jeering” Ted instead of “cheering” him. Cheers to him indeed, for caring, for doing something, and for innovative leadership. And cheers also to the scientists and conservationists who are truly in the trenches, the ones most people will never hear about. They usually don’t have a professional co-author or a celebrity’s public platform, or nearly as many resources as they need to pursue their core work. Factors like these can sometimes tilt perspectives, if only at times, toward perceptions that the odds are nearly insuperable.

    Kareiva is dead on in stating that “it is important that the conservation community and the public learn to think skeptically about messages of a forthcoming apocalypse as well as about messages of ‘everything is wonderful,'” and to stop “wast[ing] energy on emotional rhetoric.” The latter point applies as well to the self-flagellating conversation that is going on within ecologically-based conservation these days. Debate interpretation of data, or strategy choices? Yes. Figure out how to better convey why it matters? Of course. But for the sake of motivating people to act–less “jeers” as we go. More cheers, loud and clear, all around.

Add a Comment