“We need all hands on deck” – Commonwealth youth call for ocean action 

The ocean is facing unprecedented challenges, from plastic pollution and overfishing to climate change and habitat destruction. As the custodians of the future, young people have a critical role to play in addressing these issues and shaping a sustainable future for our ocean.  

Recognising this, in celebration of World Ocean Day 2023 on 8th June, the Commonwealth Youth Programme, Commonwealth Blue Charter (CBC), and the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network (CYCN) hosted a Commonwealth Youth Dialogue on the theme: Amplifying Youth Engagement in Ocean Sustainability. The event provided a platform for youth voices on the ocean to be heard and promoted strategies for mainstreaming young people into the work of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.  

Urgent action needed 

The dialogue created a sense of ownership and responsibility for the future of our ocean. Young ocean advocates, representing 1.5 billion people in the Commonwealth under the age of 30 and equivalent to 60 per cent of the combined population across 56 member countries, called for more decisive action from leaders. 

The following key takeaways emerged during discussions: 

  • Ocean challenges are not insurmountable but must be addressed and tackled with all hands on deck. It is now a time to take urgent, cooperative, and coordinated action.
  • The Commonwealth has a role to play by coordinating action among world leaders to work together to manage, protect and preserve the ocean for a healthy livelihood. There is no silver bullet, but it requires a group effort to work at, each at our own scale, to try to get the best results. 
  • The Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups unite on international platforms to discuss sustainable ocean management. Each action group theme focuses on different ocean sustainability targets and would benefit from an inclusive youth strategy that engages the future generation and turns youth ideas into ocean action.   

Amplifying youth voices  

Young people also shared insightful perspectives based on their own experiences and observations operating in the ocean space.  

Sweelan Renaud, a marine researcher from Trinidad and Tobago, expressed her appreciation for young ocean champions. She said: 

Sweelan Renaud, a marine researcher from Trinidad and Tobago, expressed her appreciation for young ocean champions.

She said: “Young people will bear the brunt of climate change, and many have already been vulnerable to its impacts. Our ocean is indubitably one of our biggest allies; therefore it is necessary to foster intergenerational collaboration that facilitates youth’s presence at the decision-making table.”

Amon Mubereka, a Rwandan youth activist serving as Communications Lead for the Commonwealth Year of Youth Taskforce, urged Commonwealth countries to intensify action. He said: 

“IT IS IMPERATIVE TO MEANINGFULLY ENGAGE THE YOUTH OF BLUE CHARTER CHAMPION COUNTRIES TO SUSTAIN OUR OCEAN. COMMONWEALTH MEMBER COUNTRIES SHOULD REVISIT YOUTH MAINSTREAMING POLICIES AND ENGAGE THEM IN THE DESIGN, PLANNING, IMPLEMENTATION, AND EVALUATION OF CLIMATE PROJECTS THAT ADDRESS PRESSING OCEAN ISSUES – THIS IS SUSTAINABILITY.” 

Satya Narayana Rao, from Malaysia, representing the YOUNGO Ocean Voice Working Group, added:

“THE YOUTH GENERATION HOLDS A VITAL KEY TO OCEAN SUSTAINABILITY AND THEIR VOICES OF AWARENESS AND ACTIVISM SHOULD RESONATE LIKE THE ECHOES OF OCEAN WAVES.” 

Ibiso Ikiroma-Owiye, founder of the Grassroot to Global Sustainable Development Network in Nigeria, also proposed: 
“BEYOND SETTING OCEAN POLICIES, YOUTHS SHOULD BE MAINSTREAMED INTO THE OCEAN MONITORING AND REGULATORY TEAMS ACROSS THEIR REGIONS, TO ENSURE THE COMPLIANCE OF ESTABLISHED POLICIES.”  

Commonwealth commitment 

The Commonwealth Secretariat emphasised its unwavering commitment to empowering young people as agents of change. In his keynote speech, Layne Robinson, Head of Social Policy Development at the Commonwealth Secretariat, underlined the importance of engaging the next generation of changemakers in the decision-making process around ocean conservation and sustainability. He encouraged young people to share their ideas for a sustainable approach to using and protecting our oceans. 
 
Dr. Jeff Ardron, Adviser for Ocean Governance and the Blue Charter programme lead, stressed the interconnectedness of the world’s oceans as one shared habitat. He linked the health of the ocean to that of the planet and encouraged participants to actively contribute to and engage with the Commonwealth Blue Charter, including through openly-available training programmes to assist youth in their ocean advocacy work. 

Marver Woodley, representative from Antigua and Barbuda and co-Champion of the Sustainable Blue Economy Action Group, highlighted the socio-economic value of conservation and restoration and the need to tie these aspects together. Across all 10 of the Blue Charter Action Groups, mainstreaming youth is crucial for fostering intergenerational collaboration and harnessing the innovative ideas and passion of young people to achieve effective and sustainable solutions.  

Transformative solutions 

The ‘Commonwealth Youth Dialogue: Amplifying Youth Engagement in Ocean Sustainability’ event brought immense promise in galvanising youth action for ocean conservation. Bringing together young leaders and stakeholders from diverse backgrounds, fostered collaboration, drives innovation, and inspires transformative solutions.  

The outcomes of this event will contribute to a sustainable and resilient future for our ocean. As we move forward to the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference COP28 and other international forums, let us recognise and support the power of youth in shaping a world where our ocean thrives and all life can flourish. 
 
Ruth Gutierrez-Corley is an aquaculturist with an interdisciplinary background, who has worked, for over ten years, in aquaculture, natural and marine resources management and sciences. Ruth is currently pursuing a PhD at the Islands and Small States Institute at the University of Malta.

Source: Common Wealth Secrete