Our ocean urgently needs attention. From plastics and pollution to climate change and the devastation of marine life and ecosystems, there are many challenges that the UN, UN member-states, and UN-affiliated organizations and NGOs face to sustain our oceans. Nevertheless, committed partners remain optimistic in the ability of governments, organizations, and civil society to cooperate towards building support for our ocean.
To this end, on Wednesday, July 31st, the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to the UN hosted a conference on “Building Support for Our Ocean” at the United Nations Headquarters with co-sponsors: Permanent Mission of the Republic of Antigua and Barbuda to the UN, the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Vanuatu to the UN, Replabuild™, Peace Boat US, the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development, and the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development – NY.
H.E. Penelope Beckles, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations, in her opening statement, outlined the issues affecting our ocean. In her home country of Trinidad and Tobago, Ambassador Beckles noted that in regards to unsustainable fishing practices and income sources such as the harvesting of at-risk species, “we need to understand that in some communities they have developed these practices” to the point where they are rooted in culture and tradition.
Ambassador Beckles went on to say that at the same time, those who earn an income from the ocean, who may also be part of communities that traditionally harvest, hunt, or fish in a manner that may be unsustainable, “are in so much pain.” From depletion of oceanic resources and ecosystems to a sense, rooted in fact, that the brunt of climate change is being felt by those closest to the ocean, communities are indeed suffering and recognition of those struggles is vital to creating lasting positive change.
Despite the challenges, Ambassador Beckles highlighted the progress made on this front, pointing out that the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has established an Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) and has adopted a new environmental policy. That being said, Ambassador Beckles emphasized the need to focus on the individual and the community, saying “the extent to which we can affect sustainable development is the extent to which we cause change.”
H.E. Dr. Walton Alfonso Webson, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations, stressed the importance of change on an individual and community-based level alongside change on a governmental level. Offering as an example Antigua and Barbuda’s ban of single-use plastic bags in 2016, Ambassador Webson stated, “we have seen the ban take hold with the support of the action of the people,” and that the ban is a successful step forward precisely because, “people adhere to it,” and spread their support within their communities, and in turn, throughout the nation.
Another topic discussed at the conference was climate resilience and adaptation. H.E. Mr. Odo Tevi, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Vanuatu to the United Nation, noted that, “for a country like mine, climate change amplifies other risks,” such as natural disasters. Investment in adaptation, therefore, remains a necessary measure for times when the effects of climate change cannot be mitigated in other ways.
In recognition of the need for strong and enduring partnerships to address climate change and the threat it poses to the vitality of our ocean, the “Building Support for Our Ocean” conference also involved several speakers representing the nonprofit, private, academic, and civil society sectors.
Peace Boat US is honored to have had the opportunity to spread its message of sustainable development, peace, education, and advocacy at the “Building Support for Our Ocean” conference. Speaking at the conference, Peace Boat US Director Emilie McGlone described how Peace Boat works directly with civil society in order to promote peace education, study abroad, volunteering, and youth exchange programs with community partners worldwide.
The result of Peace Boat’s unique approach to advocating for sustainable development is a generation of young leaders that are eager to take action on the issues affecting their homes, their families, and their communities. Also at the conference representing Peace Boat, Alexandra Nelson, who is the first ever joint-intern with both the Sustainable Ocean Alliance and Peace Boat US, spoke on her experiences as a young person who is using Peace Boat’s platform and consultative status with the UN to make a difference in promoting sustainable development, particularly in relation to our ocean. Attendants of the conference also learned about Peace Boat’s Ecoship project which focuses on the construction of the planet’s most environmentally friendly cruise ship.
From discussion on plastic pollution and unsustainable fishing and hunting practices to the recognition of the need to comprehensively address and mitigate climate change and the warming of our ocean, the conference on “Building Support for Our Ocean” highlighted the importance of collective action through partnerships between the nonprofit, private, academic, governmental, and civil society sectors. Through participation in such conferences and active involvement in such partnerships Peace Boat US will continue to bring the voice of civil society and youth to the UN.