From the 27th of June to July 1st, Fair Seas attended the second UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal. With the inaugural meeting taking place in 2017, the rescheduled Lisbon event that was co-hosted by the governments of Kenya and Portugal was long overdue.

The conference aimed to mobilise action by driving a science-based approach with innovative solutions to kickstart a new chapter of global ocean action. 

During the weekend prior to the conference, Dr Donal Griffin, Fair Seas Policy Officer, participated in the UN Ocean Youth and Innovation Forum,, organised by the Sustainable Ocean Alliance. Part of this included an event on the future of the ocean which was also attended by the President of Portugal, Marcela Rebelo de Sousa, and the Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, and through which Donal met with EU Commissioner Sinkevicius. Donal was also a member of the winning team that took part in the ‘Innovathon Challenge’ which aimed to find innovative solutions to the pressures and threats facing our ocean.

Dr. Donal Griffin Fair Seas Policy Officer (Far left)

With over 300 side events taking place throughout the week, major announcements from government representatives at the conference, and a huge uptick in civil society representation compared to the 2017 event, it was a busy week from start to finish for the Fair Seas team. The team attended many side events taking place at the conference including those relating to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), fisheries, ocean rewilding and national action plans relating to ocean conservation.

The week began with a morning sea swim in the Atlantic, organised by Our Fish. As the organisers put it, “if you want to save the ocean, you’ve got to get in the ocean first!” You can watch a short video of the refreshing swim online

A highlight for the team last week included attending a panel discussion on ‘Rewilding the Sea’ which included a welcome address from Sylvia Earle (Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. Named one of Time magazine’s “Heroes for the Planet”) on hope for the ocean. Following the event, the team were extremely lucky to catch up with Sylvia and deliver a copy of the Fair Seas Revitalising Our Seas map outlining Areas of Interest for MPA designation in Irish waters.

Some of the Fair Seas team with Sylvia Earle. (L-R) Sinéad Loughran, Marine Policy and Advocacy Officer BirdWatch Ireland, Regina Classen, Research and Policy Officer, Irish Wildlife Trust, Aoife O’Mahony, Fair Seas Campaign Manager, and Sylvia Earle.

Among the announcements made last week, was the Irish Government’s commitment to providing €10 million in funding to address ocean challenges faced by developing countries including Small Island Developing States, which was announced by Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Minister Noonan. Part of this funding will be delivered through the ‘Our Shared Ocean’ programme, a collaboration between Irish Aid-Department of Foreign Affairs and the Marine Institute, which was launched in Lisbon last week by Irish Ambassador to Portugal, Ralph Victory, on board the Irish Naval Service Vessel, L.E. George Bernard Shaw. This programme will provide €3.8 million over the next five years to facilitate partnerships on ocean-related issues between research institutions in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), or Large Ocean States, and their counterparts in Ireland.

Left to right: Sinéad Loughran Marine Policy and Advocacy Birdwatch Ireland, Aoife O’Mahony Fair Seas Campaign Manager, Adrian Gahan National Geographic, Regina Classen Marine Policy and Research Officer Irish Wildlife Trust.

Fair Seas was also represented at the Blue March on Wednesday evening which aimed to highlight the critical need for urgent ocean action. The dress code of the march reflected the diversity of issues our ocean faces with placards of various subjects and homemade dolphin models on display, and costumes ranging from sharks and mermaids to shawls made of fishing nets and plastic litter.


Throughout the week, the NGO base camp supported by Oceana Azul Foundation, Sciaena, and Seas at Risk, provided an open space and brilliant opportunity to learn about the work of other NGOs and researchers involved in MPAs and ocean conservation, and an opportunity to share details of our recently published ‘Revitalising Our Seas’ report. The live artwork created by Iris Maertens at each of these sessions provided beautiful and engaging visual summaries of the discussions held throughout the week. 


Overall, the week provided great insight into the work being undertaken by various campaigns and NGOs globally to protect and restore our ocean, and this certainly provided a healthy dose of Ocean Optimism. From a political perspective, the week resulted in a host of pledges and commitments from the international community. Ireland needs to build on its commitments to provide support overseas and ensure that it takes critical action in Irish waters too. 

Given that Ireland currently has designated less than 2% of its marine environment as MPAs, Ireland has a lot of work to do to reach its 30×30 commitment, and a lot to learn from the international community on best practices in doing so. Ultimately, the action of the Irish government and its international counterparts will determine whether or not the paper pledges of the conference are parked in the halls of Lisbon’s Altice Arena or if they are translated into tangible and meaningful global ocean action. 



Keep up to date with Fairseas and MPA news and developments, by subscribing up to our newsletter here. Make sure to follow us on InstagramTwitter and Facebook.

We also welcome you to join us in Cork on 8th June, where we are hosting our inaugural World Ocean Day conference. We are bringing ocean advocates, government, industry and key stakeholders together to map out the next steps for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Irish waters.

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