Other pages in this section

New “Blue Paper” highlights “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to transform our relationship with the ocean

Download ‘The Human Relationship with Our Ocean Planet’

The relationships between human societies and oceans are diverse and complex. Stand on any coastline in the world and stare out at the waters; listen to the crashing waves, smell the salty air, and revel in a sense of place and health. Observe teams of people cooperating to bring in a day’s harvest or talk to a Tribal member about the history of the ocean sustaining their community. These are only some of the intangible “ocean values” that have contributed to human well-being for millennia. And it turns out, the future of human welfare depends on maintaining this rich diversity of relationships and values with the oceans.

That’s the finding of a new research paper published today entitled, “The Human Relationship with Our Ocean Planet.” Written by a multidisciplinary team of fifteen researchers from around the world, including four from the Ocean Nexus Center, the paper argues that this is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to pause and carefully consider our complex relationship with the ocean,” and to “rethink it and reshape it while ensuring that future generations can meet the challenges they will face.”

“There are many what we call ‘blue relationships,’ or relationships with the oceans, that are intense and varied,” said Eddie Allison, one of three co-lead authors for the paper, the research director for Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center, and the research chair for equity and justice in the Blue Economy for WorldFish. “For example, some ‘ocean citizens’ such as coastal and maritime Indigenous Peoples and small-scale fishers rely on oceans for their livelihoods and cultural identity. Other citizens, such as recreational sailors and surfers, depend on oceans for personal well-being. Either way, we must foster a sense of participatory democracy and include ocean citizens’ perspectives in ocean policy dialogues.”

The paper outlines five strategies to assist states and international organizations in supporting and improving humanity’s diverse relationships with the oceans, which in turn will help us meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These strategies include:

  1. humanize the new ocean narrative by focusing economic development on the objective of increasing human well-being; 
  2. foster diversity and inclusion in the sustainable ocean economy; 
  3. engage in partnerships with a broad constituency of “ocean supporters,” identified in the paper as environmental NGOs, philanthropists, academics, etc., and “ocean citizens,” such as small-scale fisherfolk, community elders and Indigenous Peoples, and women who work in the maritime economy and who steward marine environments; 
  4. build the capacity of meso-level institutions– those above the level of the individual citizen-consumer but below the Nation state, International NGO or multinational corporation, such as a city council, community organization or local trade union; and
  5. ensure that responses to COVID-19 consider the well-being of ocean-dependent people and economic sectors.

“Policies and practices that nurture the inherent worth of human life can enable human behavior in the marine arena that nurtures the inherent value of marine life,” said Yoshitaka Ota, director of the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center and another co-lead author of the paper. “We need to compose the vision of the future inclusively representing the values of oceans.”

Both Ota and Allison are in the leadership of the Ocean Nexus Center that promotes equity and justice in ocean governance.

This paper is one in a series commissioned by The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel). Established in September 2018, the Ocean Panel is a unique initiative by 14 world leaders who are building momentum for a sustainable ocean economy in which effective protection, sustainable production and equitable prosperity go hand in hand. In the spirit of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement, the Ocean Panel commissioned a series of 16 Blue Papers and various Special Reports— this paper is number 14 in the comprehensive assessment of ocean science and knowledge. 

Read the full paper here