Within the international ocean context, 2023 could have been merely the aftermath of the Super Year of the Ocean that labelled 2022, and which saw the UN Environmental Assembly in Nairobi deciding the beginning of negotiations for an international treaty on plastic pollution; the World Trade Organization deciding for the very first-time to take action against harmful fisheries subsidies; and the second UN Ocean Conference, which gathered thousands of ocean players in Lisbon. However, 2023 was in itself also a Super Year of the Ocean, with the adoption of the High Seas Treaty (BBNJ) in New York in the spring followed by the signing by more than 80 UN Member States in autumn. This is a landmark decision that will change the opportunities for ocean conservation on a large scale.

With such an ocean momentum, for Oceano Azul Foundation 2023 was a year of progression and clarification, where in the decisive targets of our international ocean agenda became clearer. These targets undeniably include to step up a gear in the preparation for the third UN Ocean Conference, which will take place in Nice, in France, and the San Jose Ocean Meeting, that will precede Nice, already in 2024, in Costa Rica. The next UN Ocean Conference must be the catalyser for change, this meaning to be able to move to international decision-making that will open the way for the solutions that the current severe ocean problems demand.

Critical issues at centre stage will be: i) the negotiations at climate COPs addressing the need for ocean protection and restoration, including endorsing the 30 by 30 goal on marine protected areas, as well as counting blue carbon among concrete mitigation and adaptation actions, starting with National Determined Contributions (NDCs) quantifying ocean-nature based solutions; ii) pushing for fast tracks that may accelerate ratification of BBNJ by signatory States; iii) consolidating a coalition against seabed mining, which may prevent this extremely harmful new industry initiating, posing a danger not only to the seabed but to the ocean as a whole  and all those who depend on it; iv) designing the road map for 30 by 30 that will allow this goal to be achieved on time; v) put pressure on the negotiations of the Plastic Treaty so that there is an adopted text by 2025; vi) address other types of marine pollution, including organic, chemical and pharmaceutical, in order to call attention to these environmental aggressions to the ocean and start discussing solutions to curb them.

In this international context, Oceano Azul expresses its gratitude to the Governments of Portugal, France, Costa Rica, Germany, Canada, and Fiji for their excellent collaboration with the Foundation in 2023. In 2024 we are looking forward to continuing working with like-minded, ocean-champion governments.

For the Foundation, 2023 was a special year in what regards its work of building marine protected areas in two large marine ecosystems: The Iberian and Macaronesia marine ecosystems, with the adoption by the Government of Portugal of the new Marine Natural Park of the Algarve Reef and the adoption by the Regional Government of the Azores of the New Network of Marine Protected Areas in that Autonomous Region of the Atlantic. These adoptions are key steps in the direction of the preservation and restoration of the immense ocean under Portuguese jurisdiction. We thank the Portuguese Government and the Regional Government of Azores for their wise and bold decisions, and we praise their leadership.

In 2023 Oceano Azul also worked hard to develop new avenues for a sustainable and carbon negative blue bioeconomy with a very successful 6th edition of the Blue Bio Value Programme. At the end of 2023 new ideas have emerged for innovative action through blue biotech ideation initiatives and more start-ups have improved their projects.

Finally, we have continued to work towards a new blue generation, both with our promotion of the Save the Future programme, which involves citizens’ initiatives, including mobilisation for coastal clean-ups and last, but by no means least, we kept developing our unprecedented programme for primary education schools, disseminating blue literacy through teachers and children.

For 2024, we aim to increase our leadership, to scale up the impact of our work, while keeping the focus of our priorities, this way contributing to the growing momentum that will allow a turning point on ocean conservation and restoration by 2025, assuring that the last five years of this decade become the strongest years for ocean action this century.

Oceano Azul Foundation thanks all our partners and our passionate collaborators for a great 2023, assured that working together will continue to make a difference, and wishes a Happy New Year of 2024 to all!

Tiago Pitta e Cunha

Lisbon, January 3, 2024