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The UN Decade of Ocean Science – Taking Actions for the Ocean

By Poppy Keogh

With the recent UN Ocean Conference held in Lisbon, Portugal, the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) was brought to the forefront of all thing’s ocean sustainability. The Decade of Ocean Science was proclaimed by the UN in order to support current and future efforts to help reverse the decline in ocean health as well as bring together ocean stakeholders from all around the world to create improved pathways for a sustainable development of the ocean. Through common frameworks, it is hoped that adaption strategies would be improved, along with better mitigation plans and science-informed policies that can predict respond to environmental and social global changes. Planning for the next decade in ocean sustainability started with inviting the global community to contribute through the process coordinated by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.

The Science We Need for the Ocean We Want” - The vision of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)

The recent UN Ocean Conference opened the floor for a global discussion about actions that can be taken around the world to help “Save the ocean and protect the future”. Local actions are also required, and connections need to be made at this level to recognize the relationships between marine conservation and our everyday lives, through work, food, song, art, and much more.

Canada has a significant role to play in these discussions and in implementing actions as it has the longest coastline of any nation and includes three of the world’s oceans. Canada's 2025 Marine Conservation Targets include protecting 25% of Canada’s oceans by 2025. The Government of Canada aims to achieve these targets by supporting projects, through programs such as the Oceans Management Contribution Program, which address current issues in the marine space under three funding areas: outreach, monitoring and stewardship and capacity building. The targets include the effective management of established marine protected areas (MPAs) and Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs), new site establishment of MPAs and OECMs to reach that 25% by 2025, matching Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) with Canada’s Blue Economy Strategy to ensure that marine conservation efforts support sustainability and part of a long-term plan for a resilient blue economy. Although these targets align well with the goals set out through the Decade of Ocean Science by prioritizing ocean protection and conservation, more is still needed to put them into motion.

Work done by Module I and partners has made some significant contributions to the Ocean Decade goals. A recent example of this is initiative taken with “Getting Conservation Right” in Canada’s marine environment. The project, which is funded through DFO’s Oceans Management Contribution Program, and which includes contributors from OFI Module I, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador and Too Big To Ignore Global Partnership, focuses on marine conservation in Newfoundland and Labrador. A platform has been created as part of this, as a collaborative space for people to talk about what it means to get marine conservation right, as well as to set the stage for learning about exciting prospects for marine conservation in Newfoundland and Labrador. The project goals include building awareness about marine and ocean conservation in NL, making visible the connection between people and ocean, sharing stories about community-led conservation initiatives, and building community among ocean users, actors, and leaders in NL.

The topic was well deliberated at the 4th World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress: North America, which took place in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, in June. Chaired by OFI Module I members Ratana Chuenpagdee, Evan Andrews and Paul Foley, the congress included a special plenary session on ‘Step Zero for Getting Marine Conservation Right.’ The session opened with Erica Porter, small-scale fisher and science technician in Nova Scotia, speaking on her experience as a fisher turned scientist working in the Minas Basin.

“The river is not just muddy water but a network of life breaking down the barrier between people and the sea” – Erica Porter

Beginning with an introduction to the Minas Basin, Erica referred to Step Zero as ‘working together’ and introduced the different knowledge systems, which need to be used alongside each other for successful fishing, surveying and conservation efforts. These three knowledge systems include those from Indigenous, local and academic aspects. Erica used the Atlantic Tomcod from the Minas Basin, an important fish species for the Miꞌkmaq community as the only fish on their calendar, as an example of how local knowledge tells them when the Tomcod spawns and when they are most abundant. Working together with the different knowledge systems is the step zero in conserving fish habitats, which helps the fishing livelihoods of communities such as those found in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia in the long term.

Tyler Eddy, of the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, spoke on the project headed by his student on principles and approaches for ecosystem-based fisheries management. He started by posing an important question in regard to marine conservation by asking “what are we conserving?” When thinking of experiences with the natural world that are passed down through the generations, he asked “what are our priorities?”. The next speaker was Brice Trouillet, University of Nantes, in France. He spoke on his contribution to the Step Zero for Getting Conservation Right from across the Atlantic with an important message:

“We do not manage nature; we only manage people who are trying to conserve nature” - Brice Trouillet

Brice also brought up the important point that ‘doing less’ in terms of conservation ‘costs much more’. Finally, Patricia Clay, from NOAA, emphasized the importance in collecting data on the people in fishing and not just the fish, but that the next step from step zero is to take these voices into account when making decisions on the conservation of the marine environment.

International events like the UN Ocean Conference are important in posing the large, global questions that need to be answered and discussed past the borders of nations but may miss some of the nuances in the voices and actions of ocean users on a smaller scale. Bringing these big questions back to the coastal communities, such as the Minas Basin where Erica and her fellow crew members fish, means action needs to be taken at a local level but with the important voices of the active ocean users. Initiatives such as the Oceans Management Contribution Program are a great start to funding projects which can help to platform these voices, such as Getting Conservation Right.


Poppy is a research assistant for the Ocean Frontier Institute Module I. She recently completed her MSc in Geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. Her research focused on the benthic ecology of the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone, with emphasis on deep-sea corals and sponges, and how the results from her thesis can contribute to the establishment of a Marine Protected Area in the North Atlantic. Poppy is particularly interested in the decision-making processes behind the establishment of MPAs and their long-term viability. She is passionate about all things science communication.

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