Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Bill Atkinson of Golden Age Spirits yearns for oceans as clean and blue as the days when Pirates were the worst enemy in them. Thankfully, he discovered Coral Restoration Foundation™ and is helping support our work to restore coral reefs to a healthy state! Read on to learn more about Bill's dedication to healthy oceans!
What is your earliest memory of the ocean?
I was 3, maybe 4 years old. My dad had me do a little photoshoot as a gift for my mom on the beach in Corona Del Mar, CA. I remember the squawking of seagulls, running on the hard-packed wet sand. My mom still has those pictures up.
Young Bill plays on the beach near seagulls in his first memory of the ocean.
What is your favorite marine creature?
The Hammer Head shark. I’ve always been fascinated by the predatory edge their distinctive design provides them. One of my top bucket list items is to dive off Coco’s Island to see them swimming in massive schools. Footage of those swarms is incredible! Sharks clearly have evolved with extremely effective biology. They are like the fighter jets of the sea—streamlined, fast, & dangerous. Hammers though, they stand out from that epic template. They are extraordinary creatures.
Have you experienced a healthy coral reef ecosystem? If so where, and how did it make you feel?
Yes, I think so. I fondly recall Palancar Reef off Cozumel, Mexico. I got my PADI Advanced Diver cert there around 20-years ago, 2002, I think. I recall how amazed I was by the life in the reef’s swim-throughs. I also vividly remember how bright the colors of that reef were on my first night dive—we had lights of course, but I remember the colors being more vivid at night than when diving that same reef earlier in the day. I felt connected, comfortable & very fortunate to have the opportunity to be there.
Have you seen a badly degraded reef system? How did that make you feel?
Yes, sadly. Not far from Cozumel, the Meso-American reef off the coast of Tulum. The reef life was sparse. There were long sections mostly devoid of life. The evidence of pollution and signs of bleaching made me feel sad, then a little angry. I am frustrated by the thought of people enjoying that epic coastline but not realizing the impact of their choices on the life just below the surface of their beautiful ocean views. Trash on the beach, especially plastic bottles, is so simple to avoid!
Bill swims alongside a green sea turtle living on a coral reef!
What concerns or scares you the most about climate change?
Mass bleaching of reefs globally. The Chasing Coral documentary pulled my heart strings. It got me really motivated to do something.
Why do you, personally, care about coral reefs?
Because their health is indicative humanity's real, measurable, visual impact on the environment. I believe that most people appreciate the beauty, majesty & mystery of our oceans. As such, showing the degradation of coral reefs should have an emotional impact on them. They can see it. It is much harder to visually convey the impact in the vast open ocean. I think people are more likely moved to action when they have an emotional reaction. I think everyone realizes pollution is a problem, but until they are sufficiently saddened or angered by the severity of its impact on them, they won’t be moved to act.
Why is protecting and restoring coral reefs relevant to your brand?
I grew up surfing in Orange County, CA and my co-founder, Timothy, grew up on the beaches of the Jersey Shore. Since then, plus nearly 20-years of SCUBA diving throughout the Caribbean & the Florida Keys, we’ve seen the impact of oceanic pollution firsthand.
A clean ocean initiative was on our business plan whiteboard before we branded our first rum. The legends that gave rise to our brand as well as the rum, which is the core of our products, are both from the Caribbean. The thought of the Caribbean evokes the islands and invariably snorkeling & diving on coral reefs. We want to be associated with that place and clear blue water. It is important to us to do something for the reefs because they support much of the food & livelihoods of the people who live in the Caribbean.
Before we launched Golden Age Spirits, Inc., we wanted to have it be about something larger than ourselves. We felt it was important that a cornerstone of our brand included a goodwill, non-profit element so we launched Clean7Seas.org to support world class organizations like Coral Restoration Foundation™.
Why should the average person care about coral reefs?
Coral reefs are not simply visual effects for tourists and avid divers, they play an important part in protecting coast communities from storms. They help act as natural storm surge barriers. More importantly, they are sensitive barometers to the overall health of our planet—not just the ocean and the food it supplies, but the air we breathe as well. Reefs are a source of food & income for over 500,000,000 people!
In your opinion, what are some of the most powerful tools at our disposal that we can apply to the mission to save coral reefs?
There are so many things we can do I think the most simple and important is to stop using single use plastics. After that we can use our human ingenuity to rethink systems and make them sustainable.
What do you think are some of the easiest ways that the average person can join the mission to save coral reefs from extinction?
Support Coral Restoration Foundation™! Seriously, CRF™ is a world class organization that is truly doing things that have real, measurable impact. CRF™ really does have the scientific know-how and the resources to make meaningful impact.
Get social! Use social media to share your love for the ocean, share pictures of the horrendous pollution to motivate others, share that you care. Not to go total Hallmark but, “sharing is caring.”
Start being part of the solution. Be proactive in choosing responsible packaging, non-toxic cleaning supplies, donate time to clean-ups, donate to non-profits helping our reefs.
Buy some of our rum! We donate part of all sales to help save our oceans.
Do you think there is hope for our coral reefs?
I’m an optimist. I think there is hope. However, as the NAVY SEALs say, “hope is not a method.” We need to take action. I think that we at Golden Age Spirits & Clean7Seas are part of a growing movement of companies who, from the start, are socially responsible. That is, in itself, major progress. I also have seen some evidence lately of improvements in coral reefs in Key Largo, Tulum and off Magnetic Island in Australia thanks to the work of some of our friends, like Coral Restoration Foundation, who are doing great work.
Thank you Bill and Golden Age Spirits for supporting coral restoration. One day soon we will all don our pirate hats and sail the pristine 7 seas! To learn more about Bill and Golden Age Spirits ultra-premium aged rum check out GoldenAgeSpirits.com then head to Clean7Seas.org to learn about their healthy oceans initiative! You can also find them on social media @GoldenAgeSpirits and @Clean7Seas.
Madalen Howard is CRF's Marketing Associate. Madalen comes to CRF™ via a winding road from the Tennessee hills, to the South Carolina low country, ending here in Florida’s Coral Reef. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Marine Biology and a Minor in Environmental Studies from the College of Charleston in 2016. Her experience ranges from field research to education, and communications.
Madalen spent the last 4 years as a Field Instructor and Social Media Strategist for MarineLab Environmental Education Center. Here she was able to study and teach marine ecology, while snorkeling through mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs every day. While at MarineLab she combined her education and research background, entered the world of communications, and developed MarineLab’s social media department from the ground up.
Throughout her life Madalen has had a skill connecting people with nature. With CRF™, she is excited to bring people into the world of coral restoration, creating inclusive pathways to scientific discovery.