'Commonwealth has PR problem, but we're not some colonial hangover', says oceans adviser

The adviser on Ocean Governance for the Commonwealth Secretariat in London made an impassioned pitch for PR support at the PRCA International Conference on Tuesday (11 June).

Jeff Ardron is also the lead on the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement by all 53 Commonwealth countries to cooperate to solve ocean-related problems and meet commitments for sustainable ocean development.

He said he thought the Commonwealth still had a bad reputation. "People think that we’re still just some colonial hangover, but that couldn’t be further from the truth."

Referencing Brutus in Shakespear’s Julius Caesar, Ardon said the time to act is now if the world's oceans are to be returned to a point of sustainability. He said it is going to require creativity, determination and good PR. He ended his talk with a call to action for the industry.

Ardon said the Commonwealth Blue Charter had gone from idea, to draft and adopt, in about ten months, which was "unheard of". 

"But the Blue Charter needs you," he began, as he channelled his inner Lord Kitchener. "We’re not some stuffy organisation, but our success so far has happened despite the lack of a public relations campaign."

He discussed how Brexit might impact the aims of the charter and how the messaging used on topics like climate change and sustainability have changed over the course of his career, from discussing modelling and data to the human impact. "The language is simpler, with less jargon," he said.

"What does it mean if oceans rise by around an inch? If you can explain that the water in wells on low-lying island countries will become undrinkable at that level, then that brings it back to something simple."

He said communicating across borders and cultures had not been difficult as there is growing realisation between Commonwealth countries and beyond that when it comes to the environment - something just really needs to be done.

His talk, ‘Developing Good Practices in a Shrinking Ocean’, began with a historic look at sustainability in the ocean that began in 1883 with English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, who made a now infamous proclamation about the infinite bounty of the sea.

He described how more than 20,000 tuna are fished every 15 minutes, a figure which rises to well over two million when you include all species of fish. He said fish stocks were reaching a period known as ‘post-peak’ as we entered the anthropocene age.

"This is the first age where man has made a permanent mark on the geological impact of the planet. In that sense, it’s a completely different planet to the one at the end of the Second World War. We’ve exploited resources at an exponential rate."

Ardon explained the Great Acceleration - the rate of impact of human activity upon the Earth’s biodiversity. He talked about how the economist Adam Smith is often considered the father of capitalism, but that he had nothing nice to say about economies based on resource exploitation.

"I get really annoyed when the far right misquote him," he added.

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