Story | 22 Jun, 2022

Placing people at the center of ocean conservation and governance

CEESP News: Nathan Bennett, Freelance Consultant, Small Ocean Solutions, Founder and Lead, The Peopled Seas Initiative, Chair, IUCN CEESP People and the Ocean Specialist Group

The Nature 2030 IUCN Programme places people at the center of a transformative agenda for nature conservation (Figure 1). This is also the aim of the People and the Ocean Specialist Group of the IUCN. Situated within the Commission on Ecological, Economic and Social Policy, the central objective of the People and the Ocean SG is to promote the need to understand and integrate the voices, visions, rights, and livelihoods of coastal peoples and island nations into policies and practices related to the conservation and management of the oceans.



Figure 1 – IUCN’s Nature 2030 Programme Framework

Indigenous people, coastal communities, small-scale fishers and island nations are intimately connected to, depend on and claim resources and territories in much of the world’s oceans and coastal environment. However, the global oceans and coasts are experiencing rapid growth of both economic development and marine conservation. 

These accelerating activities in the ocean can impact local populations in a variety of positive and/or negative ways. On the one hand, marine conservation can increase well-being through protecting critical ecosystem services and the blue economy can provide livelihoods to local communities. On the other hand, poorly implemented marine protected areas and development initiatives can exclude local people from decision-making, undermine human rights, or produce few economic benefits for local populations.

Efforts to halt and reverse the loss of marine biodiversity are urgent. It is equally crucial that local people are allies for marine conservation. This necessitates considering and respecting local livelihoods, rights, and well-being in planning and management. One lesson that we can learn from terrestrial conservation initiatives is that efforts to advance ocean sustainability should also forefront the governance processes, innate leadership abilities, and stewardship practices of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

The People and the Ocean Specialist Group is a nascent specialist group within IUCN. Priority areas of work for in the coming years include advancing social equity in marine conservation, improving governance of marine protected areas, centering human well-being and rights in fisheries management, and promoting equity and inclusion in the blue economy.

Partnerships and funding will be key to moving this work ahead. The People and the Oceans Specialist Group agenda connects to the various marine programs situated within the IUCN, including the Marine and Polar Program and the Marine Theme of the World Commission on Protected Areas, and liaises with IUCN member organizations that are engaged in ocean conservation, management and development issues.