Whose Ocean? Exploring multidisciplinary perspectives towards ocean sustainability and implications for the un(der)represented

By Sofía Faure Vives

In July 2022, the United Nations Ocean Conference released a political declaration titled "Our ocean, our future, our responsibility," stressing the importance of sustainable ocean management and protection. However, a key question remained unanswered: who exactly does "Our" refer to?

The “Whose Ocean?” project received one of the 2022 Incubator Grants to explore this question and understand its significance to academics from Utrecht University and beyond. The results of an interview with 20 experts in the diverse fields related to the ocean were recently published in the Research Ideas and Outcomes journal.

no single person/entity should answer these questions

The ocean experts were asked three main questions on “What does the question "whose ocean?" mean to you?”, “who should have control over the ocean, and how can we achieve this?” and “How can we foster a sustainable relationship between humans and the ocean?”. Responses varied, with some suggesting that the ocean belongs to everyone, while others argued that it belongs to no one. Kiara Lasch, master student in Marine Sciences at Utrecht University and the main author of the article, claims: “This (the varied and even contradictory answers) makes it clear that no single person/entity should answer these questions. Instead, all perspectives and ideas need to be heard and considered equally, but this can only be done if we create a space to foster such discussions.”

Despite differing opinions, there was a shared emphasis on shifting from profit-driven decision-making to prioritizing the health of marine ecosystems. Freeing ocean representation from economic biases and including underrepresented voices is fundamental in achieving an improved and sustainable ocean management. “This is crucial”, Kiara explains, “because there is currently a transactional relationship with nature where humans exploit resources to accumulate profit. If we can create a relationship where profit accumulation from ocean resource extraction is reshaped, we can work towards creating a sustainable future.”

Finally, strategies were proposed for promoting a sustainable relationship between humanity and the ocean including increasing ocean literacy, advancing marine research, and establishing global accountability mechanisms. “If we research the interactions between different components within the ocean, and interactions between the ocean and other environmental and biological systems, we can gain a deep understanding of the complexity of the ocean.” Using this knowledge, the impact of current changes on the ocean future can be better understood, which helps to empower communities to manage their resources in a more sustainable way.

With a kick-off on February 27, this project will now continue as a Signature project. “A large finding of this project was that there are diverse and often contradicting perspectives, so the next step is to consolidate these perspectives into information that is actionable. Additionally, the ocean doesn’t have a voice and a non-anthropogenic narrative is missing in decision-making.” This will involve convening an assembly to explore how the ocean can be effectively represented in international and national settings, such as courts of law and diplomacy, incorporating both human-centered and non-anthropocentric perspectives. To translate these perspectives into frameworks understandable by humans, writers, artists, and groups closely connected to the ocean will be invited to contribute to the assembly and its preparation.

You can access the full article through this link: https://riojournal.com/article/114485/.