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Reflections from the 2024 UN Ocean Decade Conference

The 2024 Ocean Decade Conference: delivering the science we need for the ocean we want

In mid-April, over 1,500 people from 124 countries gathered in Barcelona for the 2024 Ocean Decade Conference. The conference, hosted by Spain and co-organized by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC/UNESCO), was the highlight of an entire Ocean Decade Week with satellite and cultural events throughout the city.

Over the course of three days (10–12 April), participants—including scientists, Indigenous leaders and local community experts, artists, governments, non-governmental organizations, Early Career Ocean Professionals and more—reflected on the progress made four years into the implementation of the Decade and set joint priorities for the future.

The conference centred around four thematic sessions based around the ten Ocean Decade Challenges:

  • Session 1: Science and Solutions for a Clean, Healthy and Resilient Ocean (challenge 1, 2, 5).
  • Session 2: Science and Solutions for a Sustainable and Resilient Ocean Economy (challenge 3, 4).
  • Session 3: Science and Solutions for a Safe and Predicted Ocean (challenge 6, 7, 8).
  • Session 4: An Inspiring and Engaging Ocean for All (challenge 9, 10).

The conference provided a platform for shaping the newly revised Ocean Decade Vision 2030 white papers, which identify future priorities for the Decade. ODHN had been part of the open feedback process in January–February.

Heritage at the Ocean Decade Conference

A team of delegates from the Ocean Decade Heritage Network (ODHN) and Cultural Heritage Framework Programme (CHFP) had the opportunity to attend the 2024 Ocean Decade Conference.

Together with The Ocean Foundation (TOF), Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF), and ICOMOS International Committee on the Underwater Cultural Heritage (ICUCH), we ran the UHC – Underwater Cultural Heritage booth on the role that cultural heritage serves in the ocean and the necessity of its inclusion in the UN Ocean Conference. Together, we shared information and engaged in conversations about a wide range of topics including underwater archaeology, policy and governance, ocean literacy, potentially polluting wrecks, the impacts of deep seabed mining and more. Watch an interview with Charlotte Jarvis (TOF) and Dr Bill Jeffery (University of Guam) from the booth here and hear Prof Martijn Manders’ (ICOMOS-ICUCH) thoughts on how UHC can help create a clean, healthy, and resilient ocean here.

The ODHN had the opportunity to exhibit and present two posters during the conference: one on the ODHN and its aims and objectives, highlighting how tangible and intangible cultural heritage are central to delivering all Decade outcomes, and one by the CHFP, showcasing the wide range of CHFP endorsed Decade Actions. These posters were displayed alongside posters of individual Actions, among which SeaVoice, Indigenous People, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and Climate Change: The Iconic Underwater Cultural Heritage of Stone Tidal Weirs and Threats to Our Ocean Heritage: A Book Series.

Download the ODHN poster here.

On the final day of the conference, ODHN Chair Dr Athena Trakadas presented on the important role cultural heritage has in delivering the ‘ocean we want’ and participated in a moderated roundtable discussion on Challenge 10: Changing humanity’s relationship with the ocean. “Cultural heritage provides capacity for understanding cultural values and services people have attained in the ocean over millennia and enable today’s population to imagine alternatives for the future,” said Dr Trakadas. “By providing access to applications with a deep time perspective of past behaviour and different sources of knowledge, we stimulate dialogue, and we open the door to new behaviours.”

The session concluded with a photo of all participants and members of the audience, highlighting the importance of inclusivity and participation of all stakeholders in the Decade and the drafting of the White Papers.


Although it was discussed at the last day of the conference, Challenge 10 was recognized as a foundational challenge for all other challenges. “Challenge 10 should be Challenge 1”, Prof Lora Fleming (University of Exeter) stated the in Plenary session An Inspiring and Engaging Ocean for All, because people—united in our shared connection with the ocean but bringing diverse perspectives and diverse cultural knowledge—are central to creating ‘the ocean we want’.

This was reflected in the Barcelona Statement, presented at the end of the conference. The Statement identified three key areas for action for the remainder of the Decade:

  • Ocean knowledge and science generation to inform management decisions.
  • Improved infrastructure including for marine pollution monitoring and ocean observations.
  • Cross-cutting issues such as co-designing initiatives and embracing all knowledge systems.

Read the full Barcelona Statement here.

Also, the feedback received on each of the Challenges during the conference were further incorporated into new drafts, which were finalised in May.

With a packed agenda of events, the Ocean Decade Conference was an important moment on the road to 2030. A total of 35 heritage specialists were present at the Conference, and the ODHN enjoyed meeting colleagues and making new connections in our field and beyond. We thanks our sponsors Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) and the Honor Frost Foundation for making our participation possible.