After my advocacy work with the Plastic Tide Turners Challenge Badge Programme at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), I was honored to be chosen as a UNEP Tide Turner champion to represent youth at the UN Ocean Conference. From June 24th to 26th, I attended the UN Ocean Conference Youth and Innovation Forum in Lisbon, Portugal. Over 130 youth delegates gathered at Nova School of Business and Economics (Nova SBE), Cascais, to inspire, amplify, and accelerate ocean action in response to the unprecedented pressure the ocean is facing today.
The forum began with a lot of energy and excitement from the youth delegates, with Nadia Ahmed, Kenya’s Deputy Minister of Innovation and Youth Affairs and Chief Administrative Secretary, giving opening remarks. On the same day, June 24th, I had the opportunity to be part of a panel discussion hosted by Cine-ONU in partnership with the US Embassy in Portugal, the Oceano Azul Foundation, and City Hall Lisbon during the screening of ‘The Loneliest Whale: The search for 52’ at the historic Cinema Sao Jorge in Lisbon. The Loneliest Whale takes viewers on a cinematic quest to find the 52-hertz whale, which scientists believe has spent its entire life in solitude, calling out at a frequency that is different from any other whale. The film explores what this whale’s lonely plight can teach us, not just about our changing relationship with the oceans but with each other. Here, I spoke about the importance of giving youth advocates a voice, an important call to action to have young people on stage with their ideas and solutions as they champion Sustainable Development Goal 14. On June 25th, we were organized into small teams where we learned about the five challenge themes: sustainable seafood, decarbonized shipping, ocean energy, ocean mapping and data, and waste management. We were introduced to expert mentors who, after the 24-hour Innovathon's official launch in the afternoon, guided us in creating unique ocean solutions.
On Sunday, the 26th of June, our team continued working on the solutions until the 24-hour clock ran out. We were surprised by actor and ocean activist Jason Momoa. He spoke about the role of the ocean in our daily lives and shared his support for ending deep-sea mining. He then received the Nature Button from the UN special envoy for the ocean, Peter Thompson. Jason then handed the baton to Maria Ermida of Portugal and me as representatives of the two co-hosting nations of the UN Ocean Conference, Kenya and Portugal. We then handed it to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who finally handed it to the president of Portugal.
The Nature Button is an initiative aimed at giving the ocean a voice on critical issues affecting our planet. It is developed by The Ocean Race in collaboration with UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thompson Relay4Nature champions the amazing ocean and calls on leaders to take urgent action to protect nature. The Nature Baton also symbolizes a global collaboration to promote the ocean's well-being.
I had a picture moment with the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Dr. Monica Juma, Kenya's Energy and Petroleum Cabinet Secretary, representing President Uhuru Kenyatta, Sanda Ojiambo, the CEO of the United Nations Global Compact, Daniela Fernandez, the CEO of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, the Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres, and the UN Secretary General's special envoy for the ocean, Peter Thomson. Thereafter, we had the Innovathon pitches. Following the first round of pitches, the top five solutions took the stage to pitch to the VIP judges. The teams: Waste vengers and Invasea emerged as the winners. The waste vengers address the tonnage of plastic waste in coastal communities in Malaysia by transforming plastic into eco-friendly construction beams. These will incentivize communities to collect waste and protect mangroves from being turned into building materials, all while creating a new source of income and employment. Invasea innovates with invasive species. It is a platform where local communities connect with scientists and businesses using invasive species to create marketable products such as seaweed-based bioplastics and fertilizers. This will drive the recovery of coastal ecosystems by restoring native species. The forum came to a conclusion with the Sustainable Ocean Alliance’s founder and CEO Daniela Fernandez, giving the last speech and announcing the Sustainable Ocean Alliance’s commitment to raising $100 million to restore the health of our oceans.
I also attended the UN Ocean Conference on Monday, the 27th of June, as it commenced. After the opening of the conference, I attended the SDG Media Zone session, where Jason Momoa was officially named the UN environment programme’s advocate for life below water. At a side event, All Hands on Deck: Accelerating Solutions to End Plastic Pollution, different stakeholders presented solutions to accelerate the end of plastic pollution. What stood out for me were the solutions that focused on the ocean financing strategy and the bio-based plastic alternatives, as well as ocean data analytics and policies addressing the entire plastic life cycle. On the second day of the UN Ocean Conference, I attended an interactive dialogue on promoting and strengthening sustainable ocean-based economies, which was very insightful.
This was an incredibly enriching opportunity for me. I got the chance to visit Portugal for the very first time and was captivated by the stunning coastline and the friendly locals. It was an excellent opportunity for me to expand my knowledge and learn more about the world. I feel motivated to take greater steps toward preserving our oceans. Furthermore, I had the privilege of connecting with other young people who share my passion for protecting the oceans and coming up with innovative solutions to the problems we face. I gained valuable insights and knowledge that I believe will help me make a significant impact in my community and beyond. It's our responsibility to safeguard our oceans and promote sustainable development, so we should collaborate to create a brighter future for ourselves and the generations to come.