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Ocean Decade Conversations: Aimee Clark (New Zealand)

Ocean Decade, 30.11.2022

UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leader, Aimee Clark shares with us her passion about the ocean, her thoughts on how we can improve the interaction between the Ocean Decade and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, her favorite Māori saying and much more! Dive into the world of this youth representative of the New Zealand National Decade Committee!

1. Could you please let us know more about yourself and how your connection to the ocean started?

My name is Aimee Clark, I am 24 years old and from Aotearoa, New Zealand.

I have been an advocate for our ocean for my entire life. Growing up by the beach on an island in the Pacific I was always surrounded by water. The ocean was a part of my identity, I loved its beauty, its power and the biodiversity under the waves. When I was nine, my Granddad sent me his collection of Sir David Attenborough DVDs and I watched ‘The Blue Planet’ for the first time. This ignited my passion for ocean conversation, marine biology and storytelling. All throughout high school, I was committed to protecting and advocating for our ocean. I started volunteering at our local aquarium when I was 12, helping to inspire others to share my passion.

I have a BSc in Marine Biology and Environmental Studies and am currently completing a MAppSC in Science Communication and Natural History Filmmaking from Otago University. I’ve had the privilege of attending the UN Ocean Conference in New York, Our Ocean Youth Leadership Summit in Oslo and also the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, where I participated in the Youth and Innovation Forum and the Ocean Decade Forum.

Alongside my work as an ECOP at an international level, I have worked to create awareness and tangible change in my university through running ocean centred seminars and events, in my community through the creation of an ocean literacy initiative called The Yellow Submarine Project and nationally through working at the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO as both a UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leader, a Youth representative on the New Zealand National Decade Committee and as an Advisor.

When I first started my undergraduate degree, I originally wanted to undertake traditional marine biology research but through exposure to experiences like the 2017 UN Conference, I soon discovered the importance of communication and environmental education. In order for action to happen people need to understand things, be passionate about them and have an empathetic connection. That’s why I moved into science communication, conservation and activism.

We are currently living through a climate crisis which will have the greatest effect on younger generations, so helping children and young people understand the importance, fragility and beauty of the world’s ocean through immersive environmental education will hopefully help them connect and want to protect its system and environment over their entire lives.

 

2. Could you please give us some examples of how we can improve the communication between the Ocean Decade and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages?

Central to the work of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO is a multi-disciplinary approach that enables mātauranga Māori and indigenous knowledge to remain at the core. One of the ways we are actively weaving together knowledge systems is through the creation of the Aotearoa NZ Decade Committee which meets a few times a year to advise the National Commission on its work program across the intersection of both Decades. Membership for the Aotearoa NZ Decade Committee has been drawn from ocean sciences, humanities, indigenous knowledges and government representatives. Weaving knowledge systems together in NZ has generated a distinctive approach to how we undertake science and research and how we collaborate with one another.

The UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leaders also believe that following a holistic approach towards our mahi (work) around both Decades is key. Most recently, we held a workshop at ‘Festival for the Future’ – the largest youth focused innovation summit in New Zealand – where we worked with representatives from the Pacific Youth Council to co-design a workshop engaging people with ocean, language, culture and identity. In many places across the world, and in the Pacific especially, you cannot separate our connections to te taiao (the environment) and the moana (ocean) as being siloed from language or heritage, and we wanted to showcase these connections and discuss the importance of them.

An article was written interviewing our Youth Chair Ethan Jerome-Leota and Youth Leader Adriana Bird about this topic, further explaining our work at Festival for the Future and our holistic approach to both Decades.

3. What message would you like to share with the youth? Why should they engage in the Ocean Decade?

If you are a young person that believes that we need to be actively engaged in combatting the climate crisis then you should also be engaged in the Ocean Decade. The ocean is such a big determiner of our climate’s health and stability, but it still seems this influence is side-lined when discussing climate change.

However, we need to make sure that the leaders and those with positions of power and influence within the Ocean Decade are giving young people opportunities and making the space for youth to engage meaningfully.
We should definitely have moved beyond youth tokenism at this point.

I think it would be really effective to have a youth representative on all National Decade Committees working on the Decade, which is a role I am proud to hold on the New Zealand Ocean Decade Committee. It also isn’t just about passing down the baton for youth to be solely responsible for ‘fixing’ the issues affecting the environment and the ocean, this Decade is really about co-partnerships and collective responsibility from every generation and having multi-generational perspectives on the Ocean Decade National Committees could be a great first step.

I have been very encouraged by the appointment of the new UN Youth Office and by the passion of the youth at all the conferences I have attended.

Don’t underestimate the voices and the power of youth, especially indigenous youth. Our age doesn’t determine our intelligence, in fact our age is our strength, and if we are called upon to contribute in policy and innovation spaces during the Ocean Decade, we may just have solutions or insight that could be the key to moving forward.

4. What’s your favorite Māori word/saying?

I am not an indigenous person myself but I do love the whakataukī “ko ahau te taiao, ko te taiao, ko ahau” (I am the environment and the environment is me).

 

5. Do you have a Māori writer/book/song/podcast to recommend?

I can recommend ‘Reawakened: Traditional navigators of Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa’ by Jeff Evans. It features ten navigators and their stories, including three from Aotearoa.