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Aligning Impactful Communication to Raise the Voice of the Ocean

Ocean ISU

At COP28, this year, we were invited to speak at the high-level opening event of the Virtual Ocean Pavilion.  The event provided the argument and rationale for increasing coordination and collaboration among ocean-climate initiatives through integrated and ecosystem-based approaches. We spoke about the OneOcean Flotilla and our work to align impactful communication to raise the voice of the ocean.

Below is the text of our opening presentation:

I would like to begin this presentation by saying that we’re highly appreciative of the opportunity to represent strategic communication at the opening event of the Virtual Ocean Pavilion, and for the inclusion of a strategic communication section in the ROCA report for the first time this year. Both of these are key indicators of the increasing recognition in the role that communications can play for us in achieving action. 

As director of the Ocean Insight and Strategy Unit (Ocean ISU) at Communications INC, my job is to help people understand how to talk about the ocean more effectively. At Communications INC, we are home to the OneOcean Flotilla. The Flotilla is a collective unbranded effort of around one hundred organisations across the globe, working to align communications at important moments for the ocean.

To begin, what do we mean by strategic communication and how does it differ from any other forms of communication? With strategic communications, we begin at the end – we start with the impact we want to achieve. Working back from impact, we consider the most effective messages, voices, and channels to affect the change we want to see. We think about what obstacles might be in our way, and how we can best address them.

In the case of COP28, our shared destination is achieving meaningful ocean-climate action. As communicators, we do this by making a healthy ocean central to the climate story.

We began the Flotilla initiative in 2019. We looked around us, at the stories, messages, and content coming from the ocean community, and how those issues were playing out in the media. We found many organisations and many voices doing incredible work, but often they were siloed.

What we were missing was a narrative that pulled these issues together, a cohesive story of why all these issues – from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing to blue carbon to species protection – are fundamental to ensuring a healthy ocean, and in turn why a healthy ocean is vital for the future of human and planetary wellbeing.

The OneOcean Flotilla began as a collective effort to communicate more effectively through alignment. We use the analogy of raising the Flotilla flag. We are all sailing in the same direction, but at key strategic moments we raise our shared Flotilla flag and speak with one voice.

 As more and more groups from across the world joined the Flotilla, our collective voice became louder. We have used this voice at climate COPs, biodiversity COPs, G7 and G20 conferences, and at the High Seas Treaty negotiations. For COP28, the combined voice of the Flotilla has mobilised around key ocean asks from the UN Climate Change High-Level ChampionsOcean-Climate Platform and Friends of Blue COP.

At first, as the Flotilla, we aligned messages. We shared recommended text and communications content, social media tiles, spokespeople, press lines and press releases. But gradually, this approach evolved. Now, as the Ocean Insight and Strategy Unit, we also generate actionable research on how to communicate ocean issues effectively. All this research is open access.

As we seek to provide ocean voices with the skills, insight and evidence they need to communicate effectively, we consider not only communications that are directed towards the policymakers and decisionmakers who might attend this conference, but also the world outside the blue zone walls. It is equally important to create a social mandate for ocean action, by engaging, inspiring and mobilising the general public. We must create a fertile ground onto which specific calls to action can land. Challenge Ten of the UN Ocean Decade calls on us to change humanity’s relationship with the ocean.

We have come a long way since 2019, and the landscape for ocean communication has changed also. As we move into COP28, we recognise that not all organisations within the Flotilla share the same position on emerging approaches that seek to use the ocean to mitigate the climate crisis.  This is why, although through the Flotilla we have championed an aligned communications approach and shared messaging, we do not do so at the expense of erasing vital and useful diversity of opinion.

Aligning communication is not simply about using the same words, but rather about moving in the same direction. It is about understanding our shared story of the role of the ocean, and how each individual story fits into that. We are an ecosystem of communicators. The OneOcean Flotilla has shown us the power of aligning the voices of ocean NGOs, scientists and other ocean advocates from across the world.

We each have our own voices, our own audiences, our own purpose. But in moments like these, at COP28, we’re all here to ensure that the ocean has a voice, and that this ocean voice is heard.”

Natalie Hart, Ocean ISU Director

This presentation was delivered on 30th November at the high-level opening event of the COP28 Virtual Ocean Pavilion.