How can transdisciplinary and human rights-based methods and approaches deliver “the ocean we want”? Join us as we share learnings at the 2024 Ocean Decade Conference  

By Philile Mbatha

Event details here.

For a long time, processes for determining the use, access to and governance of the ocean and its resources in various parts of the world have been largely driven by Western and natural science approaches that largely excluded other ways of knowing about the ocean. However, over the past few decades, there is increasing recognition that the governability of ocean environments depends on holistic understanding about the ocean emanating from plural knowledge systems, comprising not only scientific knowledge, but also local, Indigenous and other types of knowledges. This is also supported by increasing evidence from different parts of the world that the ocean is valued for different reasons by different users (with different intrinsic and material values) attached to it; including consumptive, relational, social, spiritual, historical and other types of values.  

Over the past five years, our research within the One Ocean Hub has engaged in inter-disciplinary research – co-produced with partners in South Africa, Namibia and Ghana. – We have done this in order to co-produce knowledge, approaches and methods that can promote transdisciplinary pathways for ocean governance that inform policy and practice for the sustainable development of the ocean in a holistic manner. Our research that is co-produced with scientists, social scientists, lawyers, civil-society partners, government and decision-makers at different scales and levels highlights the need to promote equity, social justice, and human rights in ocean governance approaches.

For instance, our innovative and participatory arts-based methods adopted in our research have generated outputs that demonstrate the significance of drawing not only on expert knowledge to make decisions about marine protection (i.e. marine protected areas), marine spatial planning, blue economy or other ocean-related governance processes and practices, but to find meaningful ways to capture and incorporate local and Indigenous knowledge in order to inform ocean governance. This is pertinent for various global South contexts, including where Hub research has been conducted, where there are deep histories of exclusion, human rights violations and dispossession that sought to separate ocean-dependent communities from the ocean and its resources. To date, many communities remain excluded from ocean governance processes and practices, and still advocate for their human rights and rights of recognition in use, access and management practices (see the example of Topnaar people in Namibia and the Kosi Bay community in South Africa).  

In light of this, the One Ocean Hub will present over five years of research at the 2024 Ocean Decade Conference which is aimed at impacting how the rest of the world views ocean science (i.e., in a manner that draws on plural knowledge systems and that promotes human rights). We are organising a satellite event preceding the conference, taking place on 9 April 2024 at the World Trade Centre in Barcelona, Spain. The satellite event is designed to demonstrate how the Hub has applied innovative inter- and transdisciplinary approaches and methods in its research and activities to provide a rich knowledge resource for the Ocean Decade. Beyond the conference itself, the Hub is also making a specific contribution to the Ocean Decade, which will be the Transdisciplinary Toolbox of Ocean Knowledge Co-Production for Transformative Governance, produced through inputs from various Hub activities, publications, and artwork – all of which are co-produced by the Hub and its partners. 

The Hub’s Decade satellite event will be an opportunity to launch the transdisciplinary toolbox through an event that will include a panel discussion led by Hub researchers, a live performance by Empatheatre which will showcase an example of arts-based ocean research developed within the Hub, as well as a dialogue forum on transformative ocean governance methods.

The three events will highlight components of the transdisciplinary toolbox that the Hub will contribute to the Decade in the duration of the implementation partner period that will run up until 2028. The toolbox also constitutes part of the Hub’s legacy activities that the Hub is developing with its partners for the period beyond 2024, as the Hub’s original 5-year funding cycle comes to an end in September 2024. The Hub’s legacy webpage provides an overview of our legacy plans for advancing our innovative, transdisciplinary and human rights based research and approaches to inclusive and sustainable ocean governance.  

The launch of the transdisciplinary toolbox ahead of the kick-off of the 2024 Ocean Decade Conference also comes at a timely period – just after Monaco Ocean Week (18-22 March 2024), bringing together scientists, marine experts, NGOs, funders and other authorities to hold discussions on topics which included, among other things,  blue economy developments and resource mobilization for ocean conservation. Some of the key discussions centered around the role of philanthropy in scaling up funding needed to advance global goals linked to agendas such as 30×30 and SDG14.

However, at the global scale, there is a dearth of knowledge about how to integrate human rights approaches in the implementation of these agendas . In our One Ocean Hub research, we have devoted the past five years to making a contribution in this regard, and our findings have consistently highlighted the need to promote transdisciplinary, participatory and human rights-based approaches in ocean governance processes and practices. In fact, the Hub’s transdisciplinary toolbox promotes the embedding of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and multiple SGDs, most particularly SDG 14 – with a specific focus on highlighting human rights and environmental and social justice.  

With the funding needed to protect 30% of the ocean by 2023 estimated to be more than nine times greater than that spent on marine protected areas at a global scale, there have been global calls for philanthropic interventions at Monaco Ocean Week to engage with human rights, social equity and inclusion as part and parcel of conservation strategies and plans. One Ocean Hub research has already pioneered in this area, as our initial research intuition and design was based on human rights and inclusion and we are now (6 years later) ready to provide methods, findings and partnerships on how to incorporate justice and human rights approaches in ocean governance, including within conservation.

We have also reached a point where we are ready to provide tested prototypes of how we can put these urgent calls into generative action to the benefit of the ocean and people. We therefore look forward to establishing new partnerships with philanthropic partners and other ocean governance players to advance human rights-based approaches to global, regional and national marine conservation and blue economy strategies and plans. We are capturing all our learnings in the transdisciplinary toolbox to support a whole “new generation” of ocean research, policy, conservation and management experts who will consider human rights, equity and inclusiveness as the “bread and butter” of their transformative work. 

We look forward to meeting many colleagues on the 9 April 2024 at our satellite event hosted in partnership with the Marine Social Sciences Network and University of Cardiff. The event takes place 9 April 2024 at 6pm (local time) at the World Trade Centre in Barcelona, Spain. This satellite event comes after the One Ocean Hub was endorsed as a Decade Implementing Partner in October 2023, with a program designed to respond to Decade challenges that include Challenges 3, 4 and 5.  


Philile Mbatha 
Deputy Director, One Ocean Hub 

Artwork: Margherita Brunori

Related SDGs:

  • Climate action
  • Life below water
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions
  • Partnership for the goals