Ocean Youth Leadership Summit

We supported UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leader Raven Maeder to attend the Ocean Youth Leadership Summit in Bali, Indonesia in October. She reports back.

I feel extremely privileged to have been supported by the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO to attend the Summit, which was held from 28-30 October. The National Commission recognised this as an important opportunity for me to be able to learn from the international ocean conservation community and gain insight and inspiration that will assist the National Commission in preparing their response to the UN Decade of Ocean Science and further work in this area. The international connections I made with youth and professionals working on ocean conservation, science, law and policy, were invaluable.

The summit, which ran as a side event to the ‘Our Ocean’ conference, was attended by 200 young ocean leaders between the ages of 18-35, from over 50 countries. Youth had travelled from everywhere from the Arctic to the Marshall Islands to be there, with the purpose of learning more about the state of the ocean, drawing hope and inspiration from each other and the amazing range of panellists and workshop leaders, and making their commitments to ocean conservation in front of all the other participants.

The summit began with a welcome reception at Club Med, Nusa Dua, where the youth leaders were addressed by ex-U.S Secretary of State John Kerry, who had originally initiated the summit alongside the Sustainable Ocean Alliance in 2016. John Kerry gave a moving speech about the dire situation of our ocean and the global challenges we face as a human family, but also pointed to the collective power of the young people in the crowd, and the fact that there were 200 young leaders making change in their communities in every corner of the globe. This was a very inspiring start to the summit and motivated me to try and make as many connections as possible and to learn as much as I could about each of the Ocean Leaders’ work in their communities.

The first full day of the summit was an almost 17-hour long affair. We heard from inspiring speakers including Daniela Fernandez, the founder of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, Susi Pudjiastuti, the Indonesian Minister of Marine Affairs, and Peter Thompson, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean. After these talks there were two break-out sessions where delegates from the main ‘Our Ocean’ conference and other experts came across to host multiple sessions for youth leaders to discuss ocean-related issues in more depth in a smaller group. These covered topics such as climate change, marine protected areas, plastic pollution, sustainable blue economy and governance innovation challenges.

I attended the marine protected areas and governance innovation challenges sessions and was really impressed by the breadth of discussion and the opportunity to engage with high-level decision makers and experts. These sessions showed me the importance of giving youth opportunities to engage with decision makers and contribute creative solutions. For example, in the governance innovation challenges session a fellow youth leader asked the panellists to talk about how we can learn from indigenous knowledge and another challenged them to explore the concept of giving legal personhood to areas of nature to ensure the protection of their intrinsic value. These discussions were all closely relevant to Aotearoa and it was very valuable to learn more about these topics from an international perspective.

There was also an ‘Ideas Marketplace’ where almost all 200 youth leaders shared their ocean projects and commitments with the rest of the conference. I was incredibly impressed by the scale of involvement and the innovative and inspiring solutions being shared. For example, there was a young man from Palau who started the ‘Palau Pledge’, a pledge written by the children of Palau for every visitor to their island to take. This pledge has now been supported by the Government, who have changed the immigration laws so that upon entry, visitors need to sign a passport pledge to act in an ecologically responsible way on the island, for the sake of Palau’s children and future generations of Palauans. You can read more about this here.

There were many other equally inspiring projects ranging from ocean tech to ocean education for children through fairy tales. I spoke about the work of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO and how we are developing our strategy for Oceans and our response to the UN Decade of Ocean Science. This sparked a lot of great conversations with others working with UNESCO in their respective countries and the other New Zealander who was attending, Camden Howitt, who is the Co-Founder of Sustainable Coastlines.

The second day of the conference included presentations from Mark Dalio, the founder OceanX, a panel on Ocean Tech, and a workshop on design thinking where we worked in small teams to develop some of the top projects that were presented during the ‘Ideas Marketplace’. I worked on a team where we focussed on creating an interactive online map that showcased and tracked all the different Ocean Leaders’ projects so that we could stay up-to-date with each other’s progress and outcomes. This website will be developed by an Ocean Leader in Paris, France.

Finally, we got the opportunity to attend the last afternoon of the main ‘Our Ocean’ conference where I met some of my idols, including Sylvia Earle. Daniela Fernandez presented to the main conference on the outcomes of the Youth Leadership Summit. This was a real highlight. I stayed for some of the plenary discussions and the closing ceremony where it was established that the next conference will be held in Norway in 2019.

I am really excited to stay up-to-date with other Ocean Leaders’ projects and to take my learnings back to the UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leaders. This experience will enrich my ability to contribute as member of the UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leaders, in all three of my roles, particularly in my roles as an advisor and ambassador for UNESCO in New Zealand. Further, this experience has given me great personal and professional development, being my first international conference, and I am so grateful to the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO for investing in growing my leadership skills and experience.