Mark Thomas is the CEO of Wildhorn Outfitters, an outdoor gear company dedicated to giving back to the natural environment their customers deeply love. Wildhorn Outfitters invests a portion of their revenue into preserving wild spaces for generations to come. This year, Wildhorn Outfitters has become a corporate sponsor of Coral Restoration Foundation™. Scroll down to read our interview with Mark and learn about his unique relationship with the ocean:
What is your earliest memory of the ocean?
When I was 10 years old my family took a trip to San Diego. My dad rented a boogie board and helped me catch a few waves. I was so excited! Later in the trip I made him take us back to experience it again. There was something so exciting about that first wave that carried me all the way into the shore. I'm sure the waves were only a foot or two, but at that age they seemed way bigger!
What is your favorite marine creature?
Orcas. When I was a teenager I visited the San Juan Islands up in the PNW. We went out on a small boat looking for pods. After two hours we decided to turn around because we couldn't find any. Just as we were about to leave our guide got a call that two pods had merged less than a mile away. We arrived in time to see two dozen or so killer whales. Multiple whales came within a couple feet of the boat to check us out. The younger calfs were constantly jumping nearby. The whole scene was unforgettable and I've had a love for them ever since.
Have you experienced a healthy coral reef ecosystem? If so where, and how did it make you feel?
Yes! I recently visited Bonaire, an island in the Caribbean. The reef system we experienced there was healthy at the time (this was in early 2017). Healthy reef systems make for a vibrant, diverse experience. Life everywhere.
Have you seen a badly degraded reef system? How did that make you feel?
Yes, I've seen degraded parts of the Florida Reef Tract. It's disappointing to see because you can tell so much is missing. Imagine walking through an abandoned town. You see all the buildings and no people, no activity. That's what it's like.
What concerns or scares you the most about climate change?
The magnitude. It spans cultures and geographies. It's a 100-year problem with a solution that we need to think about now. I don't think we should be scared. Fear can be a great motivator, but it also stifles creativity. Humans are capable of anything. Including solutions to climate change.
Why do you, personally, care about coral reefs?
I live in Utah, at the foot of the Wasatch mountains. We depend on snow each year to fill our lakes and reservoirs with water. Snow also boosts our local economy. The health of our reef systems helps the ocean which largely influences the world's climates. Healthy oceans means healthy mountains.
Why is protecting and restoring coral reefs relevant to the Wildhorn brand?
We are lucky enough to be a part of people's discoveries. These experiences happen in the ocean, the beach, and the mountains. We believe these experiences should continue from generation to generation. To make sure they do, we established our "Reef 2 Leaf" conservation grant. Each year we will choose a rad group of people working on sustainable impact projects. This year we have selected the Coral Restoration Foundation™ or CRF. We consider coral reefs to be ground zero of climate change as our oceans have tremendous impact on all our ecosystems.
Why should the average person care about coral reefs?
Reefs are one of the big dominos in the chain reaction of changing climate. Whether you live on an island, by the coast, or somewhere landlocked, if that domino falls you will eventually feel it's impacts. I also think it can help to have something that constantly reminds you about small things you can do that make a difference. Thinking about your own footprint and the impact it's having on a reef somewhere else can influence your behavior.
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?
Emerging technologies like A.I. and robotics may play a big role in the near future. A.I. has helped researchers in other fields consume and make sense of data faster than ever. Hopefully we can apply that to help us fully understand what we are dealing with and how to approach the problem with the fastest solutions we can. One of the challenges reef restoration faces is the manual nature of re-planting coral. Developing technologies to automate that process combined with the A.I. to allow those technologies to become smarter and more efficient would be really interesting.
What do you think are some of the easiest ways that the average person can join the mission to save coral reefs from extinction?
The more people who know about the problem, the more likely we are to find solutions while reducing impact. So post about it. Travel to a reef and document it. If people talk about it even a few times a year, their friends will become familiar with it. We are SCUBA certifying our entire company so every team member has a chance to experience coral reefs up close and personal.
Do you think there is hope for our coral reefs? Why?
Yes! We've already proven coral can be grown and re-planted successfully. We are probably much further down the road to success than the average person realizes. Knowing that something works means all that's left is figuring out how to scale it. People are really good at figuring that part out. It will be exciting to both watch and participate.
What do you do in your daily life to make a positive difference for our oceans?
Around the office we discourage the use of plastic straws, water bottles, or utensils. We stock the break room with stainless steel straws and metal utensils. Everyone brings their own hydroflask to work :)