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Strategic pathways for ocean sustainability: learnings from Covid-19

Reos Partners
October, 2021

In September 2020, ocean sustainability stakeholders from across six continents and 15 countries came together to examine the impacts of Covid-19 on the balance of ocean ecology.  In order to explore the relationship between Covid-19 and ocean sustainability, Reos Partners introduced the Covid Futures Framework, which explores the relationship between ocean sustainability and both the short-term and long-term impacts of Covid-19 as well as exacerbators and alleviators of these impacts. 

Identifying Exacerbators and Increasing Alleviators

Together, participants identified pathways to a more sustainable future which transition from short-term measures into long-term actions and responses. The goal was to identify exacerbators and increase alleviators.

Exacerbators include the tendency towards business as usual, unsupportive political environments, siloed thinking and action, climate change impacts, reduced focus on climate change and environment, degraded quality of international negotiations and other governance dialogues, poor capacity in key actors, and increasing inequality.

Alleviators include cooperation, effective governance, empowered and supported local communities, strategic use of the disruption, funding, inspired youth leaders, and improving equity.


Covid Framework

Principles to Improve Ocean Sustainability 

Following this framework, participants identified principles to improve ocean sustainability, including:

  • selecting inclusive, equitable, and sustainable options over inequitable and unsustainable options in all actions; 
  • building resilience;
  • embracing interconnectivity and complexity; 
  • leveraging the inevitable digitalization towards positive outcomes; 
  • reducing compounding ecosystem pressures and threats, particularly those that affect the most vulnerable people; 
  • building resilience at all levels – across social and ecological domains; and 
  • leveraging the unique global event to foster shifts in mindsets towards long term solutions
Strategic implications of  Findings

Short-term Actions We Should Take Now

Covid-19 has changed the way we think about ocean sustainability and how we can achieve SDG 14. The actions we take today—whether taking advantage of opportunities or acting in ways that exacerbate challenges—will have a significant influence on the future. 

For the short-term, participants identified six key actions necessary to advance ocean sustainability:

  1. Ensure that the immediate subsistence and livelihood needs of people dependent on tourism and small-scale fishing are addressed as soon as possible, and in ways that diversify their short- and long-term options. 

  2. Find new ways to enforce and develop environmental regulations.
  3. Find ways to meaningfully include all relevant voices in governance conversations that are taking place online.
  4. Keep a focus on environmental and climate change agendas.
  5. As quickly as possible, address any ocean monitoring gaps, and implement new research that takes advantage of the real-world experiment of the widespread lockdown.
  6. Keep people informed about the importance and value of the ocean.


"For me, it becomes more and more clear that all the issues discussed are intrinsically connected, as a whole ecosystem. All points have the same importance. We must see everything as a net."

- Participant, Sustainable Oceans Lab

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