Tegan Arnold: From the youth of NZ to the world

One of my highlights from the Ocean Conference was being invited to present at one of the only youth events on the New Zealand youth perspective of the ocean. I was lucky enough to be able to deliver a large part of this speech on behalf of AYLI, alongside Siobhan and Ant who discussed our cultural and indigenous connections to the ocean. I’ve summarised the thoughts that we had into a blog post.

 Taking a lazy Sunday sail along the Hudson River

Taking a lazy Sunday sail along the Hudson River

As young New Zealanders we are passionate advocates for our ocean because we understand how connected the ocean is to our lives both as New Zealanders but also as humans. We are strongly tied to the ocean through our fisheries sector, tourism and recreation. It provides us with food and jobs, and it buffers our country from the impacts of climate change. As youth, we recognise the services the ocean provide for us and believe that it should be treated with the utmost respect.

The ocean is deeply rooted in our culture and our identity, it is a part of who we are. We recognise that the ocean is a living being that supports our livelihoods.  

We have heard from the conference how critical it is to have youth engagement with the ocean to foster care and fuel action on climate change, overfishing and pollution to name a few issues. We have a number of programmes and groups in New Zealand that aim to actively involve youth on, in, around or learning about the ocean. Some of these groups were represented at the conference and directly engage with youth back home, such as indigenous science based groups from several voyaging societies and Sustainable Coastlines who give educational presentations in schools on litter and pollution, and run beach clean ups. These groups had the opportunity to present their statements at the plenary at the conference.

The conference put a spotlight on a few interesting opinions on youth, and what their viewpoint is on the ocean. There seems to be a bit of a misconception that youth don’t care about the ocean and don't engage in discussions around SDG14. From a New Zealand perspective we believe that this isn’t the case. As a country and as a collective we are inherently passionate about the ocean and what it has, and provides for us.

We believe that where the issue lies is that there is a divide between caring and understanding about our ocean issues, and being able to act in the current society we live in. From personal understanding the majority of our peers want a sustainable and healthy ocean in our future, however feel constrained in the action they can make without collective support from both the government and from our society. Too often people either feel like their actions can’t make a tangible difference or they simply don’t know what actions they can take to make a change. This is where efforts should be focused leading forward.  

This conference was monumental, in that for the first time on the global stage the ocean was recognised as a priority for the future of humanity. Finally we are all coming to the table and agreeing with what the science has been telling us for years - that our existence relies on this precious resource, and we simply can’t afford to go on treating it the way we have. We had some of the top scientists, policy makers, and civil society together recognising that now is the time to act. I think it is important to recognise how impressive it is that we were all there, actually making this conference happen.

We saw showcased in the conference some amazing steps that the UN and member states are taking to put in place initiatives such as plastic reduction initiatives, the creation of marine protected areas or even ways to engage youth more in the environmental conversation. This is heartening to see this starting at such a high level, but I think we can all agree that the challenge in this is actually getting people to act to create tangible change. There is only so far you’ll get by sitting in a room talking about partnerships, collaboration and synergies and patting each other on the back. We need action.

The most inspired I felt from any of the sessions at the conference was from NGOs, the private sector and civil society who are implementing grassroots change. Even though this is at small-scale the majority of the time, the important thing is that they are acting now. They are not sitting around waiting for things to get written into legislation.

Now more than ever is the time that we are looking to the United Nations to show leadership, and we are looking to our governments, businesses, civil society and NGOs to make meaningful changes that will protect the ocean. We are also looking to our country to lead. New Zealand is a progressive nation. We were the first to give women the vote, we lead the charge in becoming a nuclear free nation and we now need to move forward and lead in this realm too.  

Now is also the time that we as youth need to show leadership in this area as it is us that will inherit this planet, and it is our responsibility to ensure that that the generations following us can enjoy the ocean how we should have been able to. We fight for the oceans because we love the pristine places we feel so connected to. We fight because we feel a sense of responsibility to conserve and protect all species and ecosystems for the future. We as youth need to support each other in these efforts. Don’t underestimate the power we hold as a collective. We may be young but our voices are loud.

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.

Posted on July 20, 2017 and filed under UN Ocean Conference 2017.