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International Aquarium Congress 2022 strengthens the role of aquariums, museums and zoos in the global Ocean Decade movement

IOC-UNESCO, 25.11.2022

The 11th International Aquarium Congress (IAC), held at the Nausicaá Aquarium in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, gathered 500 participants from across the sector who discussed priorities to take action as part of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

Every year, up to 700 million people visit aquariums, museums and zoos worldwide – almost one-tenth of the global population. Not only do these establishments play a significant role in marine research and conservation, they also contribute to educating the public on key environmental issues.

The IAC, with the support of the International Aquarium Network (IAN), took place between 31 October and 3 November 2022 at the Nausicaá Aquarium (Boulogne-sur-Mer, France), which is the largest aquarium in Europe. The event culminated in a final declaration in which aquarium representatives committed “to raising awareness and mobilising their audiences in favour of the ocean” as “privileged places of scientific culture”. Participants emphasized their engagement in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, notably through the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, noting that their activities address several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): education, partnerships, innovation, economic growth, sustainability, climate action as well as ocean health and resilience.

In this context, during the IAC, 15 representatives from aquariums convened for a meeting of the Ocean Decade Working Group of Aquariums, Museums and Zoos. During this session, Elizabeth Stephenson of the New England Aquarium (USA) talked about the work of the Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF), which has funded 200 projects in more than 60 countries since 1999, and the inspirational Ripple Effect project. Dr Alistair Dove from the Georgia Aquarium (USA) presented the newly established Ocean Visions – UN Decade Collaborative Centre for Ocean-Climate Solutions (OV – UN DCC), an important contribution co-led by Ocean Visions, Georgia Tech and the Georgia Aquarium.

Subsequent exchanges covered how best to leverage the collective resources of the Working Group’s members to advance conservation at various geographical levels, for example by designing Decade Actions to improve people’s knowledge, motivate action, promote and create change to better connect with the ocean.

“Aquariums are places of exchange – the bridge between science and society. Through the Ocean Decade, I have high hopes that this Working Group can build on and contribute to improving the science – policy – society interface,” said Philippe Vallette, Chairman of the IAN and former General Manager of Nausicaá. He co-chairs the Working Group alongside Kim McIntyre, Executive Director of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership. “I look forward to collaborating with partners from around the world towards achieving the vision of ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’.”

An important takeaway raised by participants pertained to this relationship between aquariums and visitors, and knowledge sharing between these two groups. The goal is to move beyond a one-way process through which the public receive information from experts, and towards a dynamic two-way relationship.

The Working Group was also announced during the Congress’ plenary sessions on 31 October and 3 November by Philippe Vallette. An open invitation was launched to interested aquariums, museums and zoos to take part in the group.

The second meeting of the Ocean Decade Working Group of Aquariums, Museums and Zoos is scheduled for December 2022.

For more information, please contact:
Ocean Decade Communications Team (oceandecade.comms@unesco.org)

Photo Credit: Nausicaá

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About the Ocean Decade:

Proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (‘the Ocean Decade’) seeks to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development of this massive marine ecosystem. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a convening framework for scientists and stakeholders from diverse sectors to develop the scientific knowledge and the partnerships needed to accelerate and harness advances in ocean science to achieve a better understanding of the ocean system, and deliver science-based solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The UN General Assembly mandated UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) to coordinate the preparations and implementation of the Decade.