A lot of waves and tides on World Oceans Day

By Truman Osmond

Every year on World Oceans Day (June 8th), there are a multitude of events and celebrations, put together by various organizations, mostly aiming at bringing awareness about the oceans and highlighting the latest topics and ongoing discussion in the field. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these events are hybrid, making remote participation possible. As a researcher new to the topic, I was assigned to attend two conferences, covering different aspects of the ocean. The first was the Upwell Conference hosted by the Center for American Progress, and the second was the UN World Oceans Day Conference. Below are some highlights from these two events, and my reflections about them, especially as I was thinking of what's going on at home in Newfoundland.

Upwell: A Wave of Ocean Justice

The Upwell conference aimed to bring awareness about how the world's oceans are facing major threats in modern times, such as climate change and over-fishing. It highlighted a dire need for ocean justice, stewardship to help protect people, and more connection to the oceans from different groups. There was a strong emphasis on the need for conservation efforts to be more diverse, incorporating different perspectives, which implies deeper understanding of the moral side of things, not just economic strategies and monetary benefits. To do this, it is important to understand and acknowledge past influences of colonialism, as well as inequalities in the industries. Ultimately, it is about raising the voices of those who have been silenced, and changing the ways in which conservation takes place, to one which is far more powerful and transformative.

The conference consisted of four main parts, relating to workers’ rights, climate leadership, ocean policy, and ocean justice in action. The conference opened with Johanna Lee from the organization ‘Global Labour Justice’, who spoke on the themes of unregulated versus forced labour, workers’ rights, and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. According to Lee, one of the biggest challenges is the lack of Wi-Fi access to migrant workers on distant fishing vessels. Using an example of an Indonesian migrant fisher, who worked on a boat for over one year with no access to Wi-Fi, Lee told the story about how the fisher was not able to contact anyone, including his own family, union, help services, or even the government. He was not aware when the vessel he was working for had stopped sending back his paycheck to his family which they relied on. The restriction of outside access has resulted in the exploitation of workers, as can be seen in this example. This practice effectively takes away the workers’ rights to uphold their freedom of association. Advancing justice in this industry, which is heavily reliant upon these migrant workers in some parts of the world, is dependent upon making small, yet impactful changes like making sure workers have access to Wi-Fi.

The discussion about climate change focused on leadership and redefining conservation success. The panelists pointed out the evolving definition of conservation; thus, it is important to not think about what conservation looks like today, but what it will look like 40, 50 years from now, and what it will need to look like to live in a sustainable world. The way to redefine conservation success, as argued in the panel, is through diversity. By this, they mean starting early to ensure that diversity happens in all levels of industry. This includes incorporating conservation into elementary, middle, and high school curriculums, making sure that the youth understand the effects of colonialism, and how it plays a part in workers’ rights and the disadvantages they might experience within their community.

During the discussion about ocean policy, panelists argued that justice has to do with the courage to acknowledge and admit mistakes, and then have the duty and responsibility to act and rehabilitate. Justice also means the ability to access what is right in front of us, and the removal of barriers to what is accessible. Panelists stressed how language plays a part in both ocean justice and justice for marginalized communities, acknowledging how colonized language has the ability to hold back people in certain regards. On the other hand, removal of language can remove connections that people have to culture, especially when thinking about Indigenous groups. Policy can go a long way in understanding the hindrances and advantages languages provide in this sector.

During the discussion about ocean justice in action, panelists emphasized how the focus needs to be on that of marginalized communities, specifically for children. Panelists provided examples in ocean related sectors, in scuba diving and ocean photography, to show ways in which justice is and can be provided. Scuba diving is a unique way of teaching children about the ocean, and how to take care of it. Certain programs in scuba diplomacy can also open up new career paths, and open up a lot of opportunities for those who have the chance to partake in community funded programs. Another professional sector related to scuba diving discussed was underwater water photography. There are many programs in the United States in coastal communities, where kids can spend time on college campuses, and work towards getting college credits while doing something they enjoy, which can go a long way in helping set up these individuals for success in the future.

Planet Oceans: Tides are Changing

As an international agency supporting the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations (UN) organize their flagship event to celebrate World Oceans Day. This year's conference focused on how the world's viewpoints and perspectives are changing on the topic of oceans, and how this change needs to happen in order to create successful, sustainable solutions.

There were many prominent speakers at this conference, including Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General and Sylvia Earle, a well-known oceanographer. There were also many dazzling presentations, with impressive video and other visual aids. The topics presented and discussed were wide-ranging, from the irreplaceable role of oceans to the mutual dependency between human and ocean. They pointed to the need for better care and consideration for the oceans, no matter how difficult it is to navigate between large-scale industrial exploitation in pursuit of economic benefits, growth and development on one hand, and ocean conservation, ecosystem restoration, and human well-being, on the other.

While the need for a changing tide was obvious in all the presentations, it is less clear what tides are changing, except perhaps around the story told by Titouan Bernicout, who started coral farming at an early age on his family's farm, and has grown a passion for practice and ocean conservation. He noted how in our recent history, coral reefs are one of the most destroyed natural habitats in the world, and recent degradation has imposed impossible challenges to marine life in some areas. Bernicout now runs a large-scale reef restoration company, which involves a science-based approach, incorporating the use of AI technology to better grow and cultivate the coral. Bernicout’s work is an example of how large-scale restoration and big thinking initiatives would be required to counter large-scale development projects.


Together, these two events have shed light on the important issues and subjects our oceans are facing today. As a new researcher, it has been very beneficial to my understanding and comprehension of the landscape of the ocean from a marine conservation perspective. Simultaneously, learning about the many burgeoning opportunities in different sectors of the blue economy, and the many challenges and realities these bring in terms of negative impacts on the environment and how it all plays a part into the concept of Blue Justice. As we continue to face unprecedented challenges such as climate change and COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to understand how to work together towards a sustainable and just future for our oceans and planet. This is not only to keep in line with the UN Ocean Decade, but also the Decade of Ecological Restoration, which is taking place at the same time, but is receiving a lot less attention from the ocean community.

The one changing tide for people interested in small-scale fisheries is the increasing emphasis on topics like justice and equity. Growing up in Newfoundland where small-scale fisheries are important but often ignored, I was able to relate to the discussion about restricted access, lack of inclusive and equitable approaches to decision making, the silencing of voices and rights of stakeholders and rights holders, as well as the ignorance towards inequalities and injustice that confront that of Blue Justice. These issues are happening around the world, in the Global South and the Global North. Again, restoring Blue Justice, especially for small-scale fisheries, will require many waves and big tides to change people’s mindset about what really matters and to transform global governance for oceans.

Truman Osmond is a research assistant with the TBTI Global. He recently completed his BSc in Geography at Memorial University and and is excited to continue his studies by joining Memorial University's faculty of education, intermediate/secondary program this upcoming fall. His research has primarily focused on that of sustainable fisheries and marine conservation, predominantly within the context of Newfoundland and Labrador. Truman is particularly interested in the human dynamics of the scientific ocean landscape, investigating how things like culture, heritage, and societal values play a part in understanding the issues facing current day marine research and industries.