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All-Atlantic community coming together at the 2024 UN Ocean Decade Conference in Barcelona

All-Atlantic community coming together at the 2024 UN Ocean Decade Conference in Barcelona

The 2024 UN Ocean Decade Conference gathered ocean professionals and enthusiasts in Barcelona, also being an ideal occasion for the All-Atlantic community to reunite and reaffirm its commitment to a sustainable Atlantic Ocean.

The plenary session at the 2024 UN Ocean Decade Conference was a focal point for high-level discussions and strategic planning, drawing attention to the critical need for a clean and accessible ocean. Featuring a keynote speech by Dr. Steve Thur, Director of Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the plenary session titled “Science and Solutions for a Sustainable and Resilient Ocean Economy” concentrated on addressing Challenges 3 and 4 – Sustainable Ocean Economy and Sustainable Blue Food. Thur recognised that science alone is not sufficient, calling for effective communication and coordination between science and society.

Moreover, the conference featured over 50 satellite events as part of the Ocean Decade Week, including “Unveiling the role of G20 in the implementation and legacy of the Ocean Decade” and “Building a strong scientific community in support of a sustainable Atlantic Ocean”, respectively supported and co-branded by the All-Atlantic Ocean Research and Innovation Alliance (AAORIA).

Building a strong scientific community in support of a sustainable Atlantic Ocean

The AAORIA co-branded event “Building a strong scientific community in support of a sustainable Atlantic Ocean” saw Dr. Arran McPherson, Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and AAORIA Chair moderating the discussion on collaborative science across the Atlantic Ocean, bringing together AAORIA partners and the broader Atlantic community. She reminded us that “the ocean is facing incredible challenges, whether it is marine pollution, the loss of marine biodiversity or climate change. A consistent theme across this conference so far is the need to work together collaboratively to address these challenges – and it is in that spirit of collaboration that AAORIA was formed: to advance a shared vision for ocean science cooperation with the aim of ensuring a sustainable and healthy Atlantic Ocean.”

During the first panel of that event, Prof. Gideon Henderson, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), UK, mentioned how policy and science operate at vastly different timescales, where the pace of policy demands often exceed the speed of possible scientific delivery. Ms. Alison Clausen, Deputy Coordinator of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development from IOC/UNESCO, emphasised the importance of regional action and synergy between the UN Ocean Decade and AAORIA initiatives. Ambassador Jessye Lapenn, Senior Coordinator for Atlantic Cooperation from the U.S. Department of State, mentioned how the Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation and AAORIA are working in a complementary way to build a strong scientific community for a sustainable Atlantic Ocean. Mr. Leandro Pedron, Director of Thematic Programs in the Secretariat for Strategic Policies and Programs, Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, gave insightful examples on how to support early career ocean professionals and all underrepresented groups in ocean science. Dr. Gilbert Siko, from the South African Department of Science and Innovation highlighted how important “collaborative research is, particularly in the ocean space, as the ocean knows no border and what happens on one side of the ocean also affects the other side”. He also addressed South Africa’s objective of engaging other African partners in further collaborating with AAORIA by communicating the intrinsic values of the Alliance.

During the second panel of the event, Dr. Marjolaine Matabos from Ifremer presented the iAtlantic film “Deep Sea Science – on board a research expedition”, eliciting enthusiastic reactions from session moderator Dr. Steve Thur, Director of Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). During the second panel session, many Atlantic projects were presented, namely A-AAGORA and CLIMAREST, Mission Ocean & Waters Innovation Actions, the Rest-Coast project, AtlantOS, the All-Atlantic Blue Schools Network, DOTCAN WYTEC Blue – Growing Technical Capacity amongst Women and Youth in Canada & West Africa for a Safe, Secure and Sustainable Blue Economy, and  the OKEANO CSA. Niall McDonough from the Marine Institute and OKEANO’s coordinator spoke about this EU-funded CSA supporting AAORIA. He aligned OKEANO within the history of AAORIA and its previous CSAs: AORA and AANChOR. He also presented the two immediate priorities for AAORIA, namely coastal resilience and ocean observation.

In his final remarks, John Bell, Director for Healthy Planet in the Directorate General for Research & Innovation at the European Commission, reminded the public that the UN Ocean Decade is a decade of decision where policy needs to deliver courage and confidence that solutions can be achieved. He highlighted the European Commission’s contributions via the Horizon European initiatives of the Mission Ocean and the Sustainable Blue Economy Partnership. He also announced ambitious legacy initiatives, such as establishing a hundred resilient coastal communities around the Atlantic by the end of the decade, with the European Commission striving to contribute to half of them.

The event is fully available online, access the recording here.

Satellite events involving AAORIA and its Atlantic Partners

The “Unveiling the role of G20 in the implementation and legacy of the Ocean Decade” event commenced with insights from Peter William Thomson, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, who underscored the crucial role of G20 and O20 (Oceans 20) in achieving the Ocean Decade targets and SDG14. Laura Mc Donagh from the Marine Institute represented AAORIA and the OKEANO Coordination and Support Action (CSA) in the panel discussion, emphasising the importance of fostering a long-term Atlantic community and highlighting how AAORIA is well-equipped to do so. Jose Moutinho from the AIR Centre representing BlueMissionAA also stressed the necessity of global collaboration and tangible action to address urgent ocean challenges.

The event “Empowering Women for the Ocean Decade: Achieving Gender Equality in Ocean Sciences and Policy Making” was co-organised by the World Maritime University, the International Hydrographic Organization and the International Seabed Authority, Fisheries and Ocean Canada and the Nippon Foundation. It presented compelling research results on the participation and equality status of women scientists in selected intergovernmental organizations, and AAORIA Chair Dr. Arran McPherson provided the keynote remarks.

Indigenous knowledge was at the centre of many satellite events, including “Indigenous knowledge systems and community-engaged ocean science” co-organised by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and other partners. The event “Towards the integrated ocean science we need for the Arctic Ocean we want” organised by The Research Council of Norway, the national committees for the Ocean Decade in Norway, Canada and Denmark, Greenland  and Faroe Islands, European Global Ocean Observing System (EuroGOOS), Arctic ROOS, The European Polar Board (EPB) and International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) also addressed how crucial it is to bridge Indigenous and local knowledge with science and stewardship in the context of the Arctic. This is a vulnerable region of increasing economic interest, as the melting of sea ice combined with technological advances are opening up the area for shipping routes, resource extraction and other human activities. Cecilie Myrseth, Norwegian minister of fisheries and ocean policy, Kevin Brosseau, Associate Deputy Minister, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Vidar Helgesen, Executive Secretary IOC of UNESCO and Assistant-General of UNESCO provided the welcome remarks and set up the event to address both specific challenges of the Arctic region and opportunities to achieve the goals of the UN Ocean Decade. Concrete measures towards advancing the international contribution for the Arctic region aiming to deliver transdisciplinary, holistic, co-designed and solution-oriented research were discussed.

Early Career Ocean Professionals at the 2024 UN Ocean Decade Conference

The role of Early Career Ocean Professionals (ECOPs) was once more fundamental in the running of the 2024 UN Ocean Decade Conference. For instance, Fiona-Elaine Strasser, ECOP and All-Atlantic Ocean Youth Ambassador representing Germany from the 2022 cohort, acted as a Mobile Journalist (MoJo) throughout the event, conducting insightful interviews and capturing key moments. She interviewed Sigi Gruber, a retired EU Commission official and passionate advocate for ocean conservation, who stressed the importance of bringing research to the policy stage. Niall McDonough was also interviewed, underscoring the significant role of ECOPs in the OKEANO CSA, and the importance of integrating ECOP voices into intergenerational ocean conversations. Both interviews are available online as part of the Virtual Early Career Ocean Professional (V.ECOP) Days here.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) provided financial support for the V.ECOP Days, with Kevin Brosseau, DFO Associate Deputy Minister, highlighting the fundamental contributions of ECOPs around the word in his welcoming remarks. Other sponsors include the European Union, the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the German Marine Research Consortium (KDM), the ECOP programme, UNESCO-IOC and the UN Ocean Decade.

Announcement of the Roadmap for cooperation and the Barcelona Statement

The 2024 UN Ocean Decade Conference exemplified a collective resolve to safeguard our ocean for future generations, pledging the commitment to translate discussions into tangible actions. DG Research and Innovation (DG RTD) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) adopted a joint roadmap to strengthen cooperation on the UN Ocean Decade to reach the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the 2030 objectives of the European Green Deal. This roadmap formally acknowledges the systemic contributions made by the European Commission to the implementation of the Ocean Decade in recent years, namely Horizon Europe, the EU Mission Restore our Ocean and Waters, the Sustainable Blue Economy Partnership, and indeed funding the OKEANO CSA, supporting AAORIA.

Vidar Helgesen, Executive Secretary IOC-UNESCO, presented the Barcelona Statement, identifying future priorities for ocean knowledge, science generation and uptake, ocean science infrastructure needs and cross-cutting issues that can be fulfilled via the Ocean Decade framework. The Barcelona Statement also addresses the critical need to distil such priorities to regional and national contexts.

The 2024 UN Ocean Decade Conference is available online to be rewatched here.