Reflections from the United Nations Ocean Conference

Image © Anna Heath

By |2022-07-13T08:56:11+00:00July 13th, 2022|Deep-sea mining, Fisheries, Marine, Ocean, Oceans|Comments Off on Reflections from the United Nations Ocean Conference

Anna Heath and Camille Rivera

Anna Heath (left) with Camille Rivera from Oceanus Conservation.

How to scale up action for the ocean? This was the focus of the 2022 United Nations (UN) Ocean Conference, which opened in Lisbon, Portugal, on 27 June.

Our Programme and Partner Manager, Anna Heath, went along to support our partners and add Synchronicity Earth’s voice to calls for urgent action to tackle the critical issues that are jeopardising the health of the blue heart of our planet.

I was in a packed tent, bathed in blue light with a buzz of people around me. At the entrance, a huge crowd of people was waiting to get in but were being turned away. By the end of the event, everyone was on their feet whooping and cheering – surely this wasn’t part of an official UN conference?!

But yes, believe it or not, the news that three countries had joined the Alliance for a Moratorium on Deep Sea Mining turned a conference into the kind of ecstatic crowd you could find at a rock concert.

A buzz around deep-sea mining

A protest with placards saying 'stop deep sea mining' and a blue banner held at the front of the crowd reading 'Marcha azul'

Momentum has been building in support of a moratorium on deep-sea mining, which was the focus of protests around the conference and pledges within it. Image: IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

The event I was attending was the launch of a new Alliance for a Moratorium on Deep Sea Mining. It was hosted by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, a long-term partner of Synchronicity Earth, along with the government of Palau and WWF. During the hour and a half session, three Pacific Island governments (Palau, Fiji, and Samoa) joined the alliance, and later on Guam also joined their ranks. The spokespeople representing these countries spoke inspiringly about the need for someone to take the lead, and how they hoped this would pave the way for further governments to follow. Later in the conference, other voices joined forces in speaking out against deep-sea mining, the most prominent being French President, Emmanuel Macron.

Throughout the conference, youth attendees were also drumming up a storm about the need to stop deep-sea mining. Their printed signs calling for no deep-sea mining were popping up all around Lisbon, including in the hands of Aquaman actor, Jason Momoa!

The buzz and energy against deep-sea mining at this conference felt like a very important waypoint on the journey Synchronicity Earth has been on with our partners for nearly a decade. We first started supporting work against deep-sea mining in 2014, when this issue was way down the list on the mainstream ocean conservation agenda.

To see awareness of this issue skyrocketing is a huge testament to the work of our partners in this space, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative and the Alliance of Solwara Warriors, alongside many others they have worked with along the way. Although there is still a long way to go to achieve a moratorium and prevent this industry from ploughing ahead, it felt like there was a wave of energy going in the right direction.

A voice for small-scale fishers

Josefina Ceja

Josefina Ceja, artisanal fisher from Mexico. Image: IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

2022 is the Food and Agriculture Organization’s International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (given the catchy acronym, IYAFA), so it was no surprise to see that another key theme of the conference was the role and voice of small-scale fishers.

A number of NGOs worked hard to facilitate the presence of representatives of small-scale fishing communities at the conference. Synchronicity Earth contributed to this by offering two of our official registration spots to small-scale fishers from Brazil. Hearing from them was a major highlight of the conference for me, as these communities are on the frontline of the havoc we are wreaking on the ocean.

Disappointingly, the opportunities for engagement by this group in the official proceedings of the conference, and especially in any decisions that were made, were practically non-existent.

However, I was present when one of the only official interventions by a small-scale fishing representative was made during the conference. It happened in a room that I struggled to figure out how to get access to, let alone register to speak in, and speakers were given a very short three-minute time limit. Nevertheless, Josefina Ceja, an artisanal fisher from Mexico, spoke out passionately about the urgent need to allow small-scale fishers rights of access to fishing grounds, to take down barriers to market access, and to put in place processes to allow women to properly participate in this space.

In a powerful declaration published on the last day of the conference, small-scale fishers called for their rights to be respected, including:

“The right to our own voice. We do not need anyone, decision-makers, donors or NGOs, to speak for us. We no longer want anyone to speak for us. We are here and our voice is strong.”

– Final declaration of small-scale fishers

Working to channel support directly to small-scale fishers and other ocean-dependent communities, as well as working to better integrate their voices into high-level decisions, are key areas of focus in the ‘Communities and Culture’ strand in Synchronicity Earth’s new Ocean Programme. We are looking forward to further developing our engagement and support in this space over the coming years.

A powerful moment for civil society

A panel speaking below a slide reading 'Our Ocean Future'

Camille Rivera from Oceanus Conservation in the Philippines speaking at a side event about Our Ocean Future. Image: Anna Heath

While the official elements of the conference may have left a lot to be desired, the bringing together of so many incredible representatives from civil society made this a memorable and special experience. I had the chance to meet two of the newer partners in our Ocean Programme, Camille Rivera from Oceanus Conservation in the Philippines, and RJ Lilley from Project Seagrass based in the UK. It was fantastic to see Camille speaking on a panel of ‘future ocean leaders’, and to have the time to think big picture with RJ about the future of seagrass conservation.

Although it was a hectic and tiring week, I ultimately left Lisbon feeling buoyed by the energy and drive of so many people globally fighting tooth and nail to respect and preserve an ocean that we can feel proud to pass on to future generations.

Synchronicity Earth’s Ocean Programme aims to address critical yet often less familiar and underfunded conservation challenges for the global ocean. Recently, we launched a newly developed programme with three strands: Communities and Culture, Species and Ecosystems, and Research and Policy.

Learn more about the Ocean Programme, or contact us to discuss how to become a supporter.

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