6 minutes

In 2010, as the captain of the “Ady Gil”  – the vessel that is now known as “Earthrace” – Pete Bethune participated in anti-whaling activities as part of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. After a collision with an illegal Japanese whaling vessel, Pete Bethune was arrested and convicted for assault. These events only served to galvanize his resolve to enforce protection over aquatic wildlife.

“So much of this planet is under enormous stress and there is a race against time to save it”


After his release from Japan and resignation from Sea Shepherd, the conservationist began building his own team, using his armed forces experience to work on Conservation Missions. This is how the nonprofit Earthrace Conservation was born. Bethune named his boat “Earthrace” – as well as his marine conservation organization – because he was racing this planet’s oceans and he believes that “we are on a race to save this planet, so much of this planet is under enormous stress, there is a race against time to save it and we all have a role to play in this”. Pete Bethune’s objectives are to balance human demand and protect biodiversity, while arresting criminals and bringing them to justice – he partners with government agencies and NGOs. This is what makes Pete Bethune’s heart beat faster and gets his pulse racing: “catching criminals on the oceans who are wrecking them”. He adds that he is a very lucky man because he gets to spend his life “catching people involved in illegal fishing and wildlife smuggling”.

Bethune, and his conservation company, is equally invested in raising public awareness on illegal fishing practices in order to create a better and sustainable management of the sea. This is why he was the perfect invitee for Jerónimo Martins 5th Sustainable Conference, in Lisbon, which, for one day, discussed the theme “Fishing for Sustainability”. These conferences aim to raise awareness among senior managers and strategic suppliers regarding Corporate Responsibility issues.

The New Zealander became captain of a worthy cause: apprehending illegal fishing vessels


What is the thing that really makes your heart beat faster?

The thing that makes my heart beat faster is catching criminals on the oceans, who are wrecking them, and I’m very lucky, I get to spend my life catching people involved in illegal fishing and wildlife smuggling. My pulse races when I get a chance to do that.

You named your state of the art ship and your organization “earthrace” and you race the seas. Do you also believe that the earth is on a race against the abuse of mankind?

We are on a race to save this planet. So much of this planet is under enormous stress and there is a race against time to save it, and we all have a role to play in this.

What is, in your view, the ultimate pulse of the earth?

I’ve spent a lot of time lately in Africa. Africa has a pulse about it, and it’s really slow and it’s really weak. There’s many reasons for this: the wildlife is being pillaged, the fisheries are being pillaged, there is enormous population growth, there’s civil war and there’s AIDS. There’s always problems in Africa and its pulse is going very weak. We need to do something about it. The world has an obligation to help Africa out, we cannot just sit back and watch it deteriorate.

Pete Bethune beat the record for the fastest trip around the world on a powerboat – the “earthrace”

What is the maximum speed you’ve reached on water?

The maximum speed I’ve reached on water is actually not that fast, maybe 70 knots – 130 km/h – in a boat. I set a record for a powerboat to circle the globe and we refueled the boat on renewable bio-diesel fuel. The maximum speed we did was only 30 knots – 55 km/h. But it wasn’t about the maximum speed. We had to average a reasonable speed and get that boat around the world in one piece. It wasn’t so much about going really, really fast but we had to be reliable and get to the finish line. And that was what we did.

I imagine you have big rushes of adrenaline.

Before a mission we do get nervous. Sometimes I like to pretend that I’m a tough guy, but I’m not and I get really nervous on campaigns. You have a boat, you know you’re going out to board a Chinese vessel that is probably armed and your pulse just starts to race. There’s nothing you can do about it. In some ways, it’s a good thing: if you’re trying to board a vessel and those guys don’t want you on board, you need to be able to react and sometimes you need to stand up, and a high pulse is part of that. It takes a while to calm down.

How do you release tension?

I got two daughters back in New Zealand and I don’t see them a lot, but when I do, I make the most of it. I like being on the water, on boats, and surfing, and free diving, and scuba diving. Put me in the water, that’s probably my happy place.

Pete Bethune witnessed, firsthand, the destruction of the oceans’ ecosystems caused by illegal fishing


Oceans don’t just cover over 70% of the Earth’s area, they are also the planet’s largest habitat, where an immense diversity of species inhabits. Aquatic species aren’t the only ones that depend on the ocean’s resources, human beings do too, specifically when it comes to oxygen and food – fish alone accounts for 17% of all animal protein consumption around the world.

Additionally, the planet’s oceans are also sources of economic development – not to mention of employment of millions of people around the world – given that much of it derives from the commerce and trade of fish which, in turn, generates over 250 billion dollars per year. The demand created by this economic development leads to unbalanced human activity that threatens the sustainability of the oceans, especially were biodiversity is concerned. Current demand is such that it doesn’t allow enough time for the natural regeneration of fish stocks. Contributing factors are: large scale fishing gear, greenhouse emissions, and waste disposal streams. This leads to a rather negative, long-term impact on the ecosystems of the oceans.

The answers, in order to address these impacts, rest on more responsible harvesting and the use of less invasive and more selective equipment. Moreover, there is a need to foster sustainably managed fisheries, while reducing the pressure put upon threatened species.

A pilot whale is loaded to the deck at taiji port on May 2, 2013 in taiji, Wakayama, Japan. this is the only country in the world still conducting “scientific whaling”.