Three years after the start of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), a global conference brought together the Ocean Decade community and partners to take stock of progress, celebrate achievements and set joint priorities. Hosted by the Government of Spain and co-organized by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO), the 2024 Ocean Decade Conference was centred around ‘delivering the science we need for the ocean we want’ and took place between April 10 – 12 2024, with related events also taking place on the days prior. A key outcome was the launch of the Barcelona Statement containing recommendations on priority areas of action for the Ocean Decade in the coming years. Peace Boat was happy to participate in and contribute to the conference including having several alumni from onboard programs present in Barcelona.

Peace Boat hosted an official satellite event at the conference in collaboration with the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the topic of youth capacity building and intergenerational collaboration, entitled “Scaling up global ocean action and innovation through intergenerational collaboration to bridge science gaps – Knowledge sharing with SIDS, LDCs, ECOPs and youth.” The side event, held at Port Olimpic and moderated by NOAA Affiliates Jai Tiarks and Emily Nocito, highlighted initiatives that involve youth and Early Career Ocean Professionals (ECOPs) in ocean action. These included the Peace Boat US Youth for SDGs for the UN Ocean Decade, officially endorsed as a contribution to the Decade by IOC UNESCO; activities by Sustainable Ocean Alliance Peru, and NOAA programmes engaging young professionals at the undergraduate and postgraduate level.

The first part of the event featured presentations on these contributions to the UN Ocean Decade.  Peace Boat US Director, Emilie McGlone spoke about the Youth for SDGs for the UN Ocean Decade, a programme which was launched last year and has taken place onboard Peace Boat’s voyages in the Arctic, Central America and South America. Peace Boat Founder and Director Yoshioka Tatsuya spoke about the future of the programmes as the Ocean Decade progresses, in particular onboard Ecoship, Peace Boat’s future vessel.

The session also heard from Chris Desai, Founder of UOcean 2050, who works to combat canal, river and ocean plastics and restore marine ecosystems by partnering with minority and stigmatized communities in the UK and globally. UOcean 2050 partnered with Peace Boat in London for a waterway clean up which emphasised the importance of source to sea. Finally, Stefanie Torres, Sustainable Ocean Alliance Peru hub leader and participant in the Youth for SDGs programme in Patagonia, shared her contributions to the UN Ocean Decade through capacity building.

The second part of the session was a panel discussion on intergenerational and international collaboration, which featured four speakers from large ocean states in Africa. The first was Dr Steven Thur, the Assistant Administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (NOAA) who oversees research activities at 10 laboratories and six research programmes that focus on understanding the complex systems that support our planet. 

Next was Dr Nadeem Nazurally, a known figure in Mauritius and an established environmental scientist (Ocean Sciences, Marine Aquaculture & Waste Management), who is currently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Mauritius and President of the EcoMode Society. Nathalia Lawen is a Peace Boat Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador alumna from Seychelles currently studying Economics and climate change at Aberystwyth University. And finally, Dr Naya Sena is coordinating the launching of the ECOP Cabo Verde Node, and is also part of ECOP Africa while being a post-doc researcher at the University of Tokyo, Japan. An example of intergenerational and intersectional collaboration given was the plastic bag ban in Seychelles, which was youth-led and supported by the government.

Speakers concluded that access for young people to engage at the global level through international fora is vastly different according to where the young people are from. There are real barriers to engagement for young professionals from the Global South, including obtaining visas to attend international fora. Speakers emphasized that it is vital for researchers to engage all stakeholders with examples from Cabo Verde and Mauritius. Cross-stakeholder engagement including with local communities is vital to ensure that the research is valid and credible. The session was co-moderated by Youth for SDGs scholar Salome Zajbert and Peace Boat staff Karen Hallows, and was reported in the Seychelles national newspaper.

Peace Boat’s focus on youth engagement at the conference continued through the screening at the UN Ocean Decade Film Festival held at Filmoteca de Cataluña of the film, Against the Tide: A Journey for Climate Hope, which documents Peace Boat’s first Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador Programme. Other outreach included the featuring of Yoshioka Tatsuya and Peace Boat US Director Emilie McGlone in the Planet Beyond podcast during the conference. Hosted by Jon Baston-Pitt, this ocean podcast focuses on doing business better in our fast-changing world. Peace Boat’s contribution to the UN Ocean Decade was further highlighted by an educational poster on display throughout the conference, alongside global partners for the UN Ocean Decade.