Rich German, the founder of Project O, turns his passion into his life’s work.
By Tanya A. Yacina
For local Rich German, shifting his love of the ocean into a flourishing career was a no-brainer. The Laguna Beach resident and founder of nonprofit Project O, a group dedicated to taking care of the ocean, can be found paddleboarding and photographing dolphins and whales on an almost daily basis.
“I moved here from Key West, Florida, [in 2006] after getting wiped out by a hurricane,” German says. “An encounter on my board with a pod of four orcas went incredibly viral back in 2015. That was my sign that this hobby of mine needed to become my life’s work. Project O is the nonprofit I created to help protect the ocean and the sacred life that calls it home.”
Through Project O, German—along with Evelina Marchetti, the group’s chief operating officer, and two part-time staff members—raises awareness on the importance of restoring and protecting the ocean and overall environment through action. This is done primarily through the Blue City Network, an initiative launched by Project O to recognize cities for maintaining healthy waterways. German is also the host of the “Our Epic Ocean” podcast, president of OneWhale—an organization that protects one Norwegian whale’s safety in order to protect many—and creator of “Blue Laguna,” a stunning book filled with photos taken by German from the perspective of his stand-up paddleboard.
“I just felt I needed to do something to help protect the ocean and marine life I love so much,” German explains. “I believe we are at an all-hands-on deck moment in time and that we need to come together and do what is necessary to protect the ocean, the life in it and ourselves as a species.”
On June 4, Project O and Our Epic Ocean sponsored the Kelp Kleanup event in Laguna. To get involved with the organization’s ocean-saving efforts, contact Rich German through the Project O website at project-o.org or via his Instagram pages at @ourepicocean or
Deep Blue Sea
Through Project O campaigns, podcasts and photography, Rich German spreads the word about the importance of a clean and healthy ocean.
Project O’s main focus, the Blue City Network, is a certification program that celebrates cities following best practices when protecting the ocean and other local waterways. According to founder Rich German, the cities in the network act as a model for other communities. To become a Blue City, the town completes an 80-question assessment form and, based on the score, is either immediately certified or offered assistance to create a plan listing the steps necessary for achieving certification.
There are three levels of certification, which encourages cities to constantly improve and take measures to be even better stewards of nearby waterways, and to implement eco-friendly policies while supporting local businesses and residents. “We began by focusing on coastal cities in California and, this year, [we] are expanding to Oregon and Washington. Long term, [we hope] this will be a global program,” German says.
Started in early 2021, the “Our Epic Ocean” podcast has allowed German—with help from Steve Reiss, the show’s executive producer—to interview many top experts from around the world who are focused on creating solutions to the challenges that our oceans are facing. Listeners can take a deep dive into firsthand accounts of the important efforts underway to protect the planet. “We have a strong YouTube presence and all episodes [are] also available on top podcast platforms,” German adds. “I interview many of the top people … focused on solutions to the challenges our ocean and planet are facing. [It’s] hard to pick favorites, but interviewing Dr. Sylvia Earle and Capt. Paul Watson—two legends—was very cool.” Other guests have included environmentalist Paul Hawken, filmmaker/photographer Louie Psihoyos, ocean advocate Danni Washington and more.
Using a plethora of photographs he has taken over the years, German compiled his images into “Blue Laguna,” a coffee table book released in 2017 that features pictures of close-up encounters with whales and dolphins along the Laguna coastline. German says he curated the book in celebration of Laguna Beach’s Marine Protected Areas and the abundance of life that either lives or annually migrates through local waters. “Blue Laguna” is his third book and 100% of the sale proceeds support Project O. “For years, people encouraged me to create the book. I always rejected the idea, not wanting to mingle the business of selling a book with my hobby and love for the ocean,” German says. “But after the orca encounter of 2015, I decided to create the book and start the nonprofit with the hope of creating massive awareness and action that would have a positive impact on the ocean.”