The foundation

Thomas van Thiel


‘’I’m a passionate sailor and traveler with a big love for nature. I was shocked and upset when I saw what was happening to our oceans. I needed to do something, so I started By the Ocean we Unite to combine sailing and the love for our ocean, to stimulate each other to take action. There’s still a lot to do, but I believe when we will all unite with each other we can prevent plastics from coming into our oceans.’’

In 2019 Thomas left the foundation to embark on another lifelong dream: sailing the world’s oceans on his own ship. Today, our dedicated team is working hard towards Thomas’ vision.

The ocean movement

The foundation

The Ocean Movement (formerly known as “By the Ocean we Unite”) is a Dutch foundation with charitable status (ANBI) that wants to stop plastics to end up in our oceans. We conduct research, educate and activate people, organizations and governments through the organization of a variety of activities – sailing expeditions, lectures, documentaries – to make much needed changes.

By joining forces with partners worldwide we increase our outreach and positive impact. Join us on our journey and help to protect our oceans, the animals and ourselves from plastic pollution.



Our story

Our founder, Thomas van Thiel, has been a passionate sailor and his entire life. In 2014 he fulfilled a lifelong dream: crossing the ”The Pond” (Atlantic Ocean) on a sailing ship. When the crew was ten days out, with another ten ahead before they would reach land again, Thomas saw a plastic bottle floating by. This hit him hard; something man-made, that far from civilization. The confrontation was an eye-opener and from that moment he became aware of the fact that plastic pollution can be found anywhere on this planet. His beloved oceans were sick and he wanted to do something about it: in the beginning of 2016 his foundation ”By the Ocean we Unite” was born.

In the years that followed, we have done many different activities, visited many places, and have been able to build a large network. In 2021 it was time for more focus while maintaining our core values. We changed our name in The Ocean Movement Foundation and started with our new strategy. We focused on our core activities sailing and researching, in the fight against plastic pollution. We have found that this is best brought together during our (citizen science) sailing expeditions in the North Sea, Wadden Sea, and Baltic Sea. We take the expedition members on an adventure we investigate the plastic pollution problem in the waters where we sail, we connect groups of people by learning together about the causes and solutions to plastic pollution, and we experience beauty and power of nature. Thus, our expedition members become intrinsically motivated to tackle plastic pollution. Our main target groups are young people and businesses.



Our vision

Our vision is a world where no plastic ends up in nature anymore. Where people experience our ocean in the most beautiful way without littering her. We can do this if we join forces and make an effort.

The impact

Taking people out to sea works



kilos of plastics we have thrown into the oceans in just 70 years. That are more than 2000 full trucks every single day.



of our samples contain plastic.




we started our citizen science project to measure plastics in surface waters. Since then we took over 100 samples!



particles per square kilometer. That is the average number of plastics we found in our samples.


Our Mission

Our mission is to take people out to our oceans and seas, be it real-life or digitally, and make them aware of the plastic soup that our waters have turned into. Through scientific research we want to increase knowledge on the causes and consequences of marine plastic pollution. To really prevent plastic from being discarded in nature we provide people with tips to change their own behavior. To increase our positive impact we combine forces with many individuals and organizations worldwide. As one of our plastic-scientists-for-a-day once stated: "Scientific articles alone are not enough. Taking people out to sea and showing them how bad things are is much more important. Only then will it really realize the magnitude of the challenge."


Inspiring all stakeholders in a positive way by experience the beauty of nature and actively contributing to our research, real-life or digital.

Scientific research

Increasing knowledge about the extent, causes and consequences of plastic pollution by doing (citizen) scientific research.


Joining forces by connecting people and ideas and stimulating proactive collaborations inside and outside the field of work.

How it started

Our history

In 2014 founder Thomas finds “the bottle that opens his eyes”. Early 2016 his foundation ”By the Ocean we Unite” was born.



In 2016 the documentary “An Awareness Journey Into Plastic Pollution” by photographer and filmmaker Anouk van de Beek about the first sailing expedition for cleaner oceans, ‘Up to Norway‘.

In March 2018 the team was invited to the World Ocean Summit in Mexico. Sander van Weert documented this journey in the documentary An Ocean Story by Sander van Weert . The film is available on Videoland.



In September 2020 we initiated the Plastic Cigarette Butt action in 18 cities and municipalities. Altogether, volunteers across the country picked up 142,000 cigarette butts from streets across the Netherlands.

In May 2021, The Ocean Movement was launched. New structure, new brand, new site, same vision and same mission.


Timeline Line

Join the movement

Contribute to our mission

Join us in preventing more plastic from ending up in our oceans!

What people say

“Our oceans, like the rest of our environment, is crucial for life. Marine life is just the tip of the iceberg. Whole ecosystems are being affected by our shocking behaviour and I believe education and engaging in those environments is the way forward. It was such a great experience both educationally and as a relaxing holiday with purpose and believe that BTOWU has really hit the nail on the head with what they are doing. Here’s to international relations in helping build a much needed community around the topic.”

Kiko Mathews

Kiko Matthews

Fastest female to row solo unsupported across the Atlantic

“It cannot be true that our use of unnecessary plastics comes so naturally, in and around our products. Why does a cucumber wrapped in plastic, cost more than one that isn’t? Why do mangoes need 2 layers of plastics when presented in the supermarkets; 1 harder plastic cup, and a cellophane wrapping? And even if that would be because of the ripening process, couldn’t supermarkets unwrap them for us? Why are we the ones who have to take off the rubbish? There has to be a way in which we can reduce our plastic use earlier in the process. If we could, we would save earth in so many ways. Until that day is near we need people like the volunteers of By the Ocean we Unite! This amazing group of people is needed to spread awareness about plastic pollution, and the need to reduce our plastic use. They feel the same way I do: let’s all keep our trash to a minimum!”


Eddy Zoëy

Musician, television- and radiomaker

“We have created an enormous plastic soup in three oceans and we have over-fished many species of fish. I support the mission of By the Ocean we Unite: preventing plastic pollution. Together we strive for a future with healthy oceans on an earth worth living in.”

Jan Terlouw

Jan Terlouw

Writer, environmentalist, former politician

“Sailing with the team of By the Ocean we Unite on their first expedition my eyes were opened to worldwide plastic pollution. My first contribution: nowadays in our radio studio we drink everything from paper mugs, instead of plastic. We can’t live without coffee at the radio, but we sure can without plastic. I support this great team in their battle against plastic pollution!”

Anoul Hendriks

Anoûl Hendriks

Radio DJ at SLAM!

“Plastic is killing our oceans. If we don’t take action it will have a huge negative impact on all life on our planet! Do something about it, a great begin is to start looking at your own behavior regarding the usage of plastic…”


Bouwe Bekking

Professional Sailor, 8X participant Volvo Ocean Race, captain of team Brunel

”On my journeys throughout the world for Dutch television I’ve seen so much plastic pollution. From my street in the Netherlands to remote islands in the Pacific, it is everywhere. I therefore support the team of By the Ocean we Unite in their mission: preventing more plastic from ending up in our oceans.”

Floortje Dessing

TV programme maker

2024 The Ocean Movement - Created by Wilde Amsterdam & Webbakery