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08/08/2012 at 06:30 PM ET

paul walker 600x450 How Paul Walker Is Saving the Ocean — and How You Can HelpCourtesy Coty

Growing up, Paul Walker always wanted to be a marine biologist. “I was born and raised in Southern California, and spent almost every holiday in a camper on the coast with my mom and siblings,” the actor tells PEOPLE. “That was my introduction into marine life.”

Those early experiences are benefiting the actor these days: as the face of Davidoff Cool Water, he’s teamed up with National Geographic in support of the organization’s Pristine Seas Mission, helping to bring attention to the state of our world’s oceans. Though 72 percent of the earth’s surface is in fact ocean, only 1 percent of that water is preserved; thanks to a generous donation from Davidoff, National Geographic is working even harder to continue the restoration work they’ve been doing for 100 years.

“What’s important for us is to help people understand that all of us can make a difference in the health of the oceans,” David Bennett, National Geographic’s vice president of global corporate partnerships, tells PEOPLE. “We’re losing oceans at an alarming rate because we’re using the products in them and taking advantage of them, working at a rate we can’t sustain.”

To help fix the problem, National Geographic explorers and scientists are busy creating marine reserves and marine protected areas all around the world. Walker has been on such an expedition in the past, and hopes to go on many more as his partnership flourishes.

“I’m a grunt, I love to get my hands dirty,” the actor says. And he’s excited to get fans interested in the cause, too. “Even if it’s just a few people from The Fast and the Furious audience alone, it’s something that’s very meaningful in my mind. I’m bringing attention to the real celebrities, the people who are out there, that live, sleep, eat, drink and breathe the science,” he adds.

Starting today, people who buy a bottle of Cool Water will be given a code they can enter on love-the-ocean.com; entering that code allows them to virtually join some of National Geographic’s marine restoration expeditions up close.

“Bringing people into this on a daily basis is a really exciting development for us,” Bennett says. “They’ll have the chance to get behind-the-scenes access, and photographs they’ll never see anywhere else, and learn how decisions and choices in their daily lives can improve the health and vitality of the oceans.”

Walker agrees. “You’ll see some of these stories and think, ‘Look how resilient Mother Nature is if we give her a second to breathe, if we’re not smothering her,’” he says. “It’s incredible.” For more information, visit love-the-ocean.com.

–Kate Hogan

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