Conference Information Conference: Society and the Sea

The Society and Sea conference shone a light on some of the key maritime challenges and solutions facing society today. The conference was wide ranging and drew from science and technology through to the arts and humanities to bring novel perspectives on some of the most pressing challenges for the maritime world. 

The conference took place in the unique setting of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, home to the University of Greenwich.

Keynote Speakers were:

Alastair Fischbacher (Sustainable Shipping Initiative)

Steve Fletcher (UNEP: World Conservation Monitoring Centre)

Professor Sarah Palmer (University of Greenwich/Greenwich Forum)

Tim Carter (Norwegian Centre for Maritime Medicine)

Fernanda Balata (New Economics Foundation)

The themes of the conference included:


Innovation and the Blue Economy 

The oceans are the setting for multiple industries, including fisheries and aquaculture, renewable energy, oil and gas, shipping and trade, mining, tourism and leisure. They are thus an integral and crucial part of national and global economies. Blue growth - the sustainable growth in maritime sectors – is a source of great opportunity for the development of vibrant coastal communities and blue economies, with the potential to provide sustainable jobs, tackle unemployment and improve prosperity. However, blue growth faces many challenges, from skills shortages and labour issues, through to environmental and health concerns. To develop viable maritime industries in a sustainable way, innovative approaches and technologies are needed, drawing upon the knowledge and skills of multiple sectors and disciplines. These may range from solutions to problems with ballast water in the shipping industry, through to community-based approaches to coastal tourism development, or methods towards a more sustainable fishing industry.

Conservation and Environmental Change

The use of oceans for multiple industries, combined with society's tendency to treat them as a place to both dump waste and as an infinite resource, threatens the survival of many marine species and ecosystems, and the ability of the oceans to provide for humans now and into the future. Pollution, impacts of oil and gas exploration, over-fishing, transporting of invasive species in ballast water, unsustainable coastal development, sea level rise, natural disasters, acidification and coral bleaching are all pressing issues that affect multiple sectors and communities, whether in terms of responsibility for making change, or in terms of impact upon their health, wellbeing and livelihoods. Protecting marine life and ocean health requires innovative approaches, improved governance and regulation, capacity building, cooperation and collaboration between sectors, education, participation of stakeholders, use of local knowledge and expertise, and economic incentives.

Human Health and Wellbeing

The sea may have both positive and negative effects on health and wellbeing. Plagues have been spread, but port health controls have been seminal in the development of population health. The sea may be the setting for recuperation from distress while also being the loneliest place in the world, and lives continue to be lost among those who transport, exploit resources or take their leisure on the sea. These effects arise because the seas are a constant but also an erratic, threatening and mobile setting for human activities that both link and separate the lands of the world. Their influence on physical and mental health can be found not only among those who sail on them but also at their margins: along coasts, in ports and among people who come into contact with those at sea and with goods traded across the oceans.

History, Heritage and the Arts

Throughout history the oceans have been sites of challenges, opportunities and inspiration. The history of human encounters with the ocean help define national identities and have helped shape modern nation states. Innovations in technology through time have helped facilitate conquest of the oceans in diverse areas such as warfare, resource use, ecological understanding and leisure and recreation. In addition to our changing ability to utilise the ocean as a resource the sea has served as inspiration for artists, writers and musicians over the centuries and continues to do so in contemporary society. 

Governance and Security

There are many maritime governance and security challenges, including regulation of fisheries, piracy, migration, pollution, climate change, coastal disaster management, ocean acidification, and the use of ocean resources. There are challenges surrounding maritime spatial planning, marine protected areas and the use of the high seas. These challenges need to be tackled at multiple scales, from the local through to the global. The UN Convention on the 'Law of the Sea' is the overarching legal framework for today's international ocean governance. There are many problems with the existing framework including implementation of protocols and lack of co-ordination underpinned by a general lack of knowledge about the interconnected global ocean system.