Chapter Four – Diving Into Coastal Conservation: Will Crolla (He/Him)

2022-07-28

 |  Community Spotlight Series

“And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins, the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean.

~ Jacques Yves Cousteau, Oceanographer

Sweet, Salty, Briny

It was “love at first sight” for Will Crolla (He/Him) and the ocean. As the Accounts Coordinator for Ocean Wise Seafood and the Co-Founder of SURGE, a project that works to build shoreline resilience, Will dedicates his time to caring for our oceans. Will resides in K’emk’emeláy (Vancouver, BC, Canada) on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Peoples. This past year, he was recognized as one of The Starfish Canada’s Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 for his work in ocean conservation. 

Will Crolla (He/Him), one of The Starfish Canada’s Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25.

In 2019, Will graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography. At the start of the pandemic, he co-founded SURGE, an organization which helps to build oyster reefs, prevent shoreline degradation, and promote the restoration of native oyster species. Alongside his work at SURGE, Will helps to promote sustainable seafood sourcing through his role at Ocean Wise Seafood. In each of his two positions, his primary goals are to promote ocean conservation and empower youth. 

“Our mission at Ocean Wise Seafood is to make sustainable seafood accessible and navigable for consumers.”

Will and SURGE Co-Founder, Sherry Da, attend their first in-person event for SURGE to connect with the public about sea level rise and adapting to it through oyster reefs.

For a long time, Will struggled to find a career that made him feel content in his work while also making an impact. He has always had many different interests and passions, but it wasn’t until he worked in ocean conservation that he identified a clear path forward. 

Beyond his work at Ocean Wise Seafood and SURGE, Will values spending time outside everyday, especially now that he lives so close to the ocean on the West Coast of Canada. Will also enjoys experimenting with new recipes and visiting different restaurants. 

“I’m always coming back to a love of food. Food is a way we gather…and it’s a way of being creative.” 

When asked about seafood, Will mentioned that he’s also been learning more about different forms of kelp and the process of turning seagrass into an edible grain, but that’s for another article. “It can be sweet. It can be salty. It can be briny. It’s so good.” 

Will preparing some fresh caught sea urchin with crackers on board BC’s oldest active boat, the Providence, during his experience with the Ocean Bridge Program.

You, Me, and the Sea

Reflecting on his childhood, Will recalls the incredible support that he received from his parents and how this helped him foster a wide range of interests. Will played the violin for five years before switching to the guitar, instilling in him a deep love for musical theatre. He also played many sports including hockey, soccer, rugby, and more. By playing sports in a more competitive setting, he was given the opportunity to travel to both the Grand Cayman and South Africa, prompting in him a love of travel and learning about other cultures. 

From a young age, it was important to Will’s parents to get him involved outside in a variety of activities. This early exploration has instilled these values that remain important to him to this day.

Will’s family made sure to put an emphasis on connecting Will and his siblings with the world around them. This included many trips to British Columbia. Here is Will’s first time on Vancouver Island visiting Long Beach in Tofino at the age of 3.

Growing up, Will also developed a passion for spending time outdoors. He spent 10 years of his life between the ages of 6 and 16 attending overnight camps in Ontario, acting as both camper and counsellor. Annual trips to Whistler with his family also solidified his love for the natural world. “I knew from a very young age that I wanted to end up on the West Coast of Canada.” During these annual trips, he observed a special quality about the landscape and remembers feeling immediately at home:

“The ocean was so impactful to me, and I think it was kind of a love at first sight.”

For Will, reflecting on his connection to the ocean and the natural world also prompts philosophical questions such as: What is nature? How do we define it? And how have we imposed human values onto our conception of “nature”?

A Positively-Skewed Pragmatist

When Will faces obstacles in his work, he concentrates on the “sheer will, dedication and stick-to-itiveness” of other leaders within the sustainability sector. He also recalls his own key motivation: “the idea of a future that is there.” He often works with youth organizers on sustainability issues, and he is continuously inspired by their courage and tenacity: 

“I think youth are sick of talk…They want action and they will take that action themselves if nobody else will do it.”  

Young ocean professionals from around the world gather outside the UN Ocean Conference, which Will attended in June and July of 2022 along with a delegation of other youth leaders.

Will fosters community, connection, and healing by listening to and respecting others, being open, being ready to learn, and letting go of a sense of “ego.” He has noticed that the pandemic has affected people in unique ways and believes that we must all remember to extend grace, forgiveness, and compassion to both ourselves and others. 

“Though we need to make individual connections, we are not alone and we’re not just individuals within a system.” 

The Ocean Wise Seafood team gathers in person for the first time in years.

Attending international conferences and participating in discussions about our oceans reminds Will that we really are all connected, whether it be through shared values, a desire for happiness, or the ongoing protection and care for our environment. Will also reminds us that there are many different societal structures that push us towards individualism and selfishness. And, while it can be difficult, we should always support each other. 

“I’m not an optimist, but I do think I’m a positively skewed pragmatist.” 

Will leaves us with final words of gratitude for his partner and his family. While he doesn’t get many chances to connect with his family in-person nowadays, he extends immense gratitude and appreciation to them for all their love and support. “I’m so grateful for everything they have given me in my life and continue to give me.”

Boundary Bay in the Lower Mainland has plenty of oysters growing and faces a serious flood risk. For this and other reasons, the area has been identified as a potential spot to build oyster reefs.

This article was written by Charlotte Taylor, Writer at The Starfish Canada, and Edited by Micaela Yawney, Editor-in-Chief at The Starfish Canada. Endless gratitude to Will for allowing us to share your story in today’s article. To learn more about Will’s work at Ocean Wise Seafood, go to https://seafood.ocean.org/ and follow @oceanwiseseafood on Instagram. Will also encourages readers to look for the Ocean Wise logo when visiting restaurants or stores to look out for sustainable seafood options. To support Will’s work at SURGE, follow them on Instagram at @surge.yvr

This article concludes the first ever Stories to Empower: The Starfish Community Spotlight Series. Thank you so much for tuning in to read the incredible stories and work of the inspiring people within The Starfish Canada’s community. Until next time!