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Report on the UN Oceans Conference 2022

Conference report: UN Ocean Conference, 27 June – 1 July, 2022, Lisbon, Portugal

By Dr. Paul Montgomery, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

This year the UN Ocean Conference 2022, held in Lisbon, was co-hosted by Portugal and Kenya. The aim was to encourage and boost collective efforts to find evidence-based solutions to effectively address the challenges that the ocean is now facing. The conference hosted more than 6000 participants that included 24 heads of state and government bodies and over 2000 representatives from NGOs and civil organizations. The overarching theme of the Conference (see Programme here) was “Scaling up ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of SDG 14: Stocktaking, partnerships and solutions”, focusing on recommendations to support the implementation of Goal 14 (Life below Water), including:

  • Addressing marine pollution;
  • Promoting and strengthening sustainable ocean-based economies, in particular for small island developing states and least developed countries;
  • Launching of the Blue Wall Pacific Island Countries initiative;
  • Managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems;
  • Minimizing and addressing ocean acidification, deoxygenation and ocean warming;
  • Making fisheries sustainable and providing access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets;
  • Increasing scientific knowledge and developing research capacity and transfer of marine technology;
  • Enhancing the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; and
  • Leveraging interlinkages between SDG 14 and other goals towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

The topic of cultural heritage featured in several parallel events which focused on the topic of cultural heritage and the humanities in its many facets and its value not only as a repository of human histories relationship but also as a tool of education, conservation, and management in a more holistic approach to understanding our relationship with the ocean.

On Thursday June 30 the UN Ocean Conference hybrid workshop “The history of the ocean species and environments and their impact on humanity” was hosted by the UNESCO Chair “Ocean’s Cultural Heritage” of NOVA University, Lisbon. This event combined partners from different ocean related institutions and organizations worldwide. With the stated goal to enhance collaboration and mutual understanding. The panellists were composed of Ulrike Guerin (UNESCO), Cristina Brito (NOVA University), Kerstin Forsberg (Planeta Océano), Garry Momber (Maritime Archaeology Trust UK), Elizabeth Stephenson (Marine Conservation Action Fund, New England Aquarium), Paul Montgomery (TCD Ireland) and Yolanda Sanchez (Ocean Leader and Co-founder of RELATO Marine Education Network) moderated by Joāo Costa (UNESCO Chair “Ocean’s Cultural Heritage”, NOVA University). The themes and discourses of this session brought together a number of aspects and points of interaction for possible collaboration for scholars from different backgrounds. The session included a range of international scholars brought together to debate a number of topics such as a wider role for and development of maritime cultural heritage, climate change, marine education and ocean literacy. One of the major themes of the session emphasised the value of investment in education and the involvement of indigenous communities in the long-term conservation of both natural and cultural heritage.

On Friday 1 July UNESCO, Edinburgh University and Planeta Océano hosted the UN Ocean Conference side-event “It’s all about people: Building inclusive leadership and cross-sectoral collaboration for a thriving ocean”. The focus of this event was on underwater cultural heritage and the ocean’s past, on building a wider intersectionality and on a new ocean leadership with a more comprehensive and insightful view. The session was moderated by Kerstin Forsberg (Planeta Océano) with an introduction song by Mia Kami, Tonga (see a repeat performance here), coupled with two introductory speeches Joāo Costa (NOVA University, Lisbon) and Meriwether Wilson (Co-founder and Co-director, Edinburgh Ocean Leaders). The panellists were divided into three groups the first focusing on “Underwater and coastal cultural heritage of the ocean: Where the past guides the future” with Athena Trakadas (Ocean Decade Heritage Network) and Garry Momber (Maritime Archaeology Trust UK). The second group addressed “Working with leaders and creating leadership” with Tommy Melo (Edinburgh Ocean Leader and Co-founder and President, Biosfera, UK) and Shirley Binder (Edinburgh Ocean Leader and Ministerial Senior Office Advisor, Ministry of Environment, Panama). The third group focused on Ocean Literacy and communities with talks by Molly Powers (Team Leader Ocean Management and Literacy, The Pacific Community (SPC), Fiji), and Masanori Kobayashi (Senior Research Fellow, Ocean Policy Research Institute-SPF, Japan). The Q&A session was moderated by Peter Manyara (Edinburgh Ocean Leader and IUCN Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office) with closing remarks by Kerstin Forsberg (Planeta Océano) and Fanny Douvere (Head, World Heritage Marine Programme, UNESCO).

Within this forum several points were raised and reinforced by scholars seeking to encourage investment and utilisation of the wide range of natural and cultural heritage resources that can be used both as productive tools for management and education. The value of dynamic development and interaction was given a forum to emphasise the contribution that cultural heritage can make not only to the wider scientific debate on how we should manage our oceans but also as a valuable asset to communities and academic bodies involved in marine heritage conservation.

The meeting resulted in a number of positive and constructive outcomes from parties who took part in these debates, the most significant of which were authored by ODHN, Maritime Archaeology Trust UK, and the NOVA University’s Centre for the Humanities (NOVA FCSH).

ODHN’s Lisbon statement, authored by Athena Trakadas, addressed the value of cultural heritage and its essential role as a medium for communication with the wider public, in delivering sustainable development to the oceans unsteady UN Ocean Decade and UNESCO’s thematic indicators for culture in the 2030 Agenda. Additionally, it recognised the importance of cultural heritage stakeholders enabling ocean scientists and work to deliver SDG 14. The Maritime Archaeology Trust UK (MAT), represented by Garry Momber, also submitted a statement which highlighted the value of historical, archaeological and environmental data to our understanding of the long-term changes to the world’s oceans. It placed a heavy emphasis on the kind of environmental data being extracted from submerged sites to understand not only the past environmental state of that location but also ongoing changes that can be derived from historical sites.

NOVA University’s Centre for the Humanities (NOVA FCSH) also issued a manifesto authored by Cristina Brito Lisbon (NOVA University) titled Humanities 4 the Ocean signed by a global network of scholars from different scientific and cultural backgrounds, it advocated for the importance of the ‘Humanities 4 the Ocean’. Signatories included UNESCO Chair Ocean’s Cultural Heritage; Centre for the Humanities, NOVA FCSH; ERC Synergy 4-OCEANS; Trinity Centre for Environmental Humanities, TCD; Oceans Past Initiative; ODHN; Humanities for the Environment Observatories; ERC TRADITION; ERC DUNES; Centre for History, University of Lisbon; Indigenous People, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and Climate Change: The Iconic Underwater Cultural Heritage of Stone Tidal Weirs Project etc.

Additional Resources:

Reflections on the closing of the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, Lisbon, Portugal – Blog | IUCN

Indigenous People, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and Climate Change: The Iconic Underwater Cultural Heritage of Stone Tidal Weirs – Ocean Decade

Summary report 27 June – 1 July 2022 (

UN Ocean Conference ends with call for greater global commitment to address dire state of the ocean | | UN News

Some of the June 30 workshop speakers and hosts in Lisbon