Upwell: A Wave of Ocean Justice

On June 7, 2023, the Center for American Progress, Azul, and Urban Ocean Lab, with the support of Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Defense Initiative, and Green 2.0, hosted an online symposium on the rising tide of justice and equity in ocean policy. I gave brief remarks, welcoming our guests to our office. I'm posting them here for posterity. The video of the event is embedded above and linked here.

Hello and welcome to Upwell: A New Wave of Ocean Leadership.  I’m Angelo Villagomez, a proud Chamorro from the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands.  I’m a senior fellow here at the Center of American Progress – and on behalf of my colleagues here at CAP, Azul Urban Ocean Lab, Earthjustice, NRDC, Ocean Defense Initiative, and Green 2.0,  I’m delighted to welcome you to our offices today to celebrate the ocean and its vital role in our lives. And I also welcome all of you watching online.

Before I introduce our symposium, I want to acknowledge that those of us here in person today are on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank, Anacostan, and Piscataway peoples, the First Residents of this land along the shores of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. We honor and respect the diverse and vibrant Native communities who have lived here for generations and who make their home here today. We recognize the enduring presence and resilience of the Indigenous peoples of this region and their contributions to the history and culture of this land. 

I encourage those of you watching online to let us know, in the chat, where you’re joining us from, and to let us know on whose ancestral lands you currently reside.

The ocean is more than just a place where we catch fish. It’s also a source of joy, wonder, and hope. It’s a living system that connects us all, across borders, cultures, and generations.  It inspires us with its beauty, diversity, and mystery.  And it offers us opportunities for science, exploration, and discovery.

But the ocean is also facing unprecedented threats from human activities. Climate change, harmful fishing, pollution, habitat loss, and invasive species are degrading the health and resilience of the ocean and its ecosystems. These threats harm not only the ocean, but also the people and front line communities who depend on it for their livelihoods, well-being, and identity.

That’s why we need ocean justice – where ocean stewardship, social inclusion, and justice intersect. Ocean justice means ensuring that the benefits and burdens of ocean use and protection are shared equitably and inclusively among all people. It means advancing the voices, participation, and leadership of historically excluded and marginalized communities in ocean decision-making. And it means creating a conservation movement that is more diverse, inclusive, and just, where everyone has a fair share of the benefits and responsibilities of the ocean, where we accept the historical and current injustices that have marginalized and exploited some communities while privileging others, and where those who have been excluded from ocean decision-making are empowered to have a voice and a seat at the table.

This is not only a moral imperative; it’s also a strategic one.  We can’t solve the dual climate and nature crisises without engaging the full spectrum of human perspectives, experiences, imaginations, and solutions. We can’t protect the ocean without addressing the root causes of its degradation, which include colonialism, inequality, and oppression. And we can’t achieve a sustainable future without ensuring that everyone has a stake and a say in it.

That’s why we’re here today: to learn from each other, to collaborate with each other, and to inspire each other. We’re here to amplify the voices of those who have been silenced or ignored by the mainstream ocean movement. We’re here to celebrate the diversity and creativity of ocean leaders from all walks of life. We’re here to build a network of allies and partners who share our vision of ocean justice.  

And most of all, we’re here to change the way conservation takes place – because we know that the who and the how of conservation are as important as the what and the where. We want to create a new wave of ocean leadership that’s more powerful, more effective, and more transformative than ever before.

Thank you for joining us on this journey.

The video is embedded above, or you can skip to each of the panels with these links:

Angelo Villagomez

Johanna Lee & Jean Flemma

Marce Gutierrez-Graudins

Charitie Ropati, Peter Edwards, Olivia Lopez, and Angelo Villagomez

Colette Pichon Battle, Helen Smith, Carlos Ochoa, and Marquise Stillwell

Anupa Asokan, Eddie Gonzalez, Nevada Winrow, and Marce Gutierrez-Graudins

Adriane Alicea

Angelo Villagomez and Marce Gutierrez-Graudins


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