Whose Ocean?

Whose Ocean?

Exploring ocean stewardship through an international assembly

The ocean is crucial to life and climate, but its voice is barely heard in (international) law and policy decisions. While the UN explicitly speaks about “our ocean”, it is completely unclear who the “our” refers to. Does the ocean belong to humanity? To states? Or does the ocean belong to itself? To the organisms (non-human animals, plants, and microbes) that live in it and/or to the materialities that make the ocean (water, rocks, elements)? Led by the University of Utrecht, and in collaboration with Casco Art Institute, the Embassy of the North Sea will explore ocean stewardship through an international assembly.

The ‘Whose ocean?’ assembly

In this project, we will follow up on the “whose ocean?”, question by preparing and holding an assembly to explore how the ocean can be meaningfully represented at international and national fora such as courts of law and in diplomacy. Inspired by our moot court in the Peace Palace the Hague (October 2022), the assembly will propose a communal relationship doctrine for the stewardship of the ocean.

In this assembly, to be held in January 2025, to commemorate the 40-year anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, we will discuss how the voice of the ocean can be listened to, articulated, and amplified for a context of (international) policy development and protection of the ocean. This builds upon many recent developments around rights of nature (e.g., the Lagoon Mar Menor in Spain) and emerging crisis/stress in ocean ecosystems. It further builds on (centuries-old) debates and practices around the ocean as ‘blue commons’, bringing and reframing these debates and practices in a non-anthropocentric perspective.

The significance of the assembly we propose lies in its attention to the complexity of oceanic relations: ecosystemic relations within the ocean itself, the relation of the ocean and the land, mutual dependance of social and environmental forces related to oceanic pollution and exploitation, and the inherently international context, as more than half of the ocean falls beyond coastal State jurisdiction.

Interdisciplinary research team

Next to a team of scientists, led by prof. dr. Erik van Sebille, the Embassy of the North Sea and Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons have invited a team of artists and designers to work on the research and design of the Assembly: costume designer Carly Everaert, artist Daan ‘t Sas and graphic designer Corine Datema. In addition to the designers and scholars, three artists will also participate in the research: Sheng-Wen Lo, Xandra van der Eijk and Müge Yilmaz. The works that result from their research will become part of the Assembly.