The Ocean Race, the Government of Cabo Verde and US-based Earth Law Center present principles to guide a new relationship with the ocean.

The ocean, the foundation to all life, has inherent rights and intrinsic value, and they need to be recognised and included in legislation at national, regional and global levels. This is the strong message that The Ocean Race, the government of Cabo Verde and Earth Law Center delivered to the United Nations General Assembly Member States.

The Ocean Race Summit - Presenting Ocean Rights, held yesterday at the UN headquarters during the 78th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 78) in New York, culminates several years of work to develop principles for a Universal Declaration of Ocean Rights.

The proposal is also a call for urgent action: the ocean is not only a resource but critical to all life, and a change is needed in the way society values, treats and interacts with the blue heart of our planet, facing cumulative impacts from pollution, habitat destruction, overfishing and climate change.

Principles on ocean rights

Principles on ocean rights, developed by over 150 global experts, policymakers, business leaders, lawyers, Indigenous Peoples, scientists, NGOs, and other stakeholders, include recognising that we are all ocean guardians and have a shared responsibility to care and ensure responsible use of the ocean; respecting diverse values, knowledge and practices; recognising the ocean’s right to representation and to have a voice at the table; and guaranteeing the principle of precaution and prevention when serious and irreversible damage is suspected.

The principles were shared with an audience of heads of State, ministers and delegates from Permanent Missions to the UN with the aim of growing support with United Nations Member States, with the goal of securing a Universal Declaration of Ocean Rights by 2030 that would provide a global approach to protecting the seas.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement to legally grant nature rights. Over 200 laws and policies in over 40 countries around the world have recognized that nature, including ecosystems and species, has inherent rights, and legally should have the same protection as people and corporations; that ecosystems and species have legal rights to exist, thrive and regenerate.

The Ocean, as the largest ecosystem on the planet, generates oxygen, sequesters carbon dioxide, regulates climate, is the primary source of food and jobs for millions of people, and sustains millions of species, both marine and land-based.

The Ocean Race 2022-23 - 19 September 2023. Prime Minister of Cabo Verde, Ulisses Correia e Silva, speaking at The Ocean Race Summit - Presenting Ocean Rights, at the UN HQ in New York.

In his opening speech, Prime Minister of Cabo Verde, Ulisses Correia e Silva, said: “Today, we introduce a resolution at the United Nations, proposing the concept of ocean rights. In the face of climate change, biodiversity loss, and ocean pollution, this initiative aims to empower the ocean with a voice in decisions that affect her, strengthening human and economic rights and laying an ethical foundation for a sustainable future.”

“Cabo Verde, in collaboration with The Ocean Race and other stakeholders, is proud to champion this cause, forging a special partnership to advance ocean rights, foster a sustainable blue economy, and position our nation as a premier sustainable tourist destination. I call upon all member countries to join us in recognizing the inherent rights of the ocean, collectively shaping a brighter future for generations to come." the Prime Minister of the archipelago nation added.

He also announced that Cabo Verde and The Ocean Race are developing a long term partnership based around the promotion of ocean health.

© Cherie Bridges / The Ocean Race

The Ocean Race 2022-23 - 19 September 2023. The Ocean Race Chairman Richard Brisius, speaking at the UN HQ.

The Ocean Race Chairman Richard Brisius, said: "I want to underline that the ocean had its power and place long before we came. But we can, and we must, reset our relationship with the ocean and recognize the rights of the ocean. Our future depends upon it.”
At today’s Summit, Michelle Bender, Legal Consultant, Earth Law Center and Ocean Vision Legal, creator of the Ocean Rights framework in 2017, stressed: “Ocean rights is the recognition that the ocean is much more than a resource and that humankind has a responsibility to steward the ocean in a manner consistent with our interconnected relationship.”

© Cherie Bridges / The Ocean Race

The Ocean Race 2022-23 - 19 September 2023. Michelle Bender, Legal Consultant, Earth Law Center and Ocean Vision Legal, creator of the Ocean Rights framework in 2017.

“A Universal Declaration of Ocean Rights would improve implementation of international ocean governance by providing consistency and coherence through common standards and principles across all ocean related frameworks. It would also move us away from the prevalent anthropocentric regulation of human activity by providing a legal foundation for ocean protection and accountability, which would prevent irreversible harm before it occurs and foster a global wave of ocean guardians to ensure the Oceans interests are represented in decision making and disputes,” she added

Along with the principles, The Ocean Race and partners presented the One Blue Voice petition, which contained signatures from citizens from 178 countries, showing that there is strong support from the public to give the ocean a voice.

In the ambitious journey towards the adoption of a Universal Declaration of Ocean Rights, the short term ambition of the principles presented is to serve as a foundation in supporting the inclusion of Ocean Rights in the 2023 United Nations Omnibus Resolution on ‘Oceans and Law of the Seas.’

Working towards a Universal Declaration of Ocean Rights is part of The Ocean Race’s multi-award winning ‘Racing with Purpose’ sustainability programme developed in collaboration with 11th Hour Racing, a Premier Partner of The Ocean Race.


The document “We are the Ocean and the Ocean is us - Establishing a new relationship between humankind and the Ocean”, including principles on ocean rights, presented to the UN General Assembly today, is below for your reference:

We are the Ocean and the Ocean is us - Establishing a new relationship between humankind and the Ocean

Principles underpinning Ocean Rights

This document serves as a foundational text for discussions and decisions concerning the recognition of the inherent rights of the Ocean within the UN and other international fora; to springboard action towards a Universal Declaration of Ocean Rights (UDOR).

The long term goal is the adoption of a Universal Declaration of Ocean Rights by the United Nations by 2030. The short term ambition is to serve as a foundation in supporting the inclusion of Ocean Rights in the 2023 United Nations Omnibus Resolution on ‘Oceans and Law of the Seas.’ This framework is founded on a profound respect for the Ocean’s inherent right to health and restoration, and acknowledges the Ocean’s fundamental role in sustaining all life on the planet.

This document has been developed based on input from over 150 high-level international experts convened  through a series of eight innovation workshops in the “Genova Process” since March 2022. It outlines principles underpinning the framework of Ocean Rights and aims to establish a robust foundation for ongoing dialogue at the international level.

We are the Ocean and the Ocean is us.

[1] The Ocean sustains all life on the planet.
All life on Earth, including humanity, depends on the maintenance of, and is inextricably linked with, the health, integrity and functioning of the Ocean. We acknowledge the Ocean as one dynamic, fluid, and interconnected natural, biological and physical system, including all seas, internal waters, territorial seas, exclusive economic zones, the High Seas, continental shelves, and the sea bed and subsoil, with constant exchange between land-based and atmospheric systems. The Ocean, as the largest ecosystem on the planet, generates oxygen, sequesters carbon dioxide, regulates climate, is the primary source of food and jobs for millions of people, and sustains millions of species, marine and land-based alike.
[2] Humankind is dependent upon a healthy Ocean.
We affirm humankind is one species within Nature. There exists an undeniable relationship between the health of the Ocean and human existence, and thereby the full and effective enjoyment of human rights (present and future), such as the right to life, liberty and security of person, adequate standard of living and food, nationality and property, health and a healthy environment and culture and cultural life, among others. Just as humans have inherent rights for existing, so does Nature. Human Rights are embedded within and dependent upon Nature and Nature’s rights.

[3] Rights of Nature can be a catalyst for transforming the human-Ocean relationship.
We bring attention to over 200 laws and policies in nearly 40 countries that have recognized Nature has inherent rights, and that human society has the responsibility to protect and steward Nature in a manner consistent with our interconnected relationship, aligning human activities with Nature’s principles that govern the natural phenomena of the planet. As a statement and reflection of societal values, rights serve as a legal mechanism and norm indirectly driving the development and effectiveness of law. By shifting the underlying ethics towards an ecocentric worldview, or one where humankind is recognized as one of many interdependent species in the web of life, we foster a global vision that prioritizes both human wellbeing and whole-Ocean protection. Ocean Rights seeks to maintain human activity in or affecting the Ocean in a way that respects the capacity of the Ocean to sustain them and elevates ecological interests alongside socioeconomic interests; in other words, shifting how society relates to and stewards the Ocean. As a holistic approach to sustainable development, Rights of Nature is substantiated in over ten United Nations General Assembly Resolutions on “Harmony with Nature” (2009-2022), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Resolution 100 (2012) and the Convention on Biological Diversity Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (2022), among others. Through these resolutions and treaties, Rights of Nature can help implement comprehensive and holistic Ocean protection including achieving the 30x30 target and effectively conserving biodiversity.

[4] The Ocean is a living entity, not a resource.
The Ocean is our ancestor and kin, is alive with history, ever-evolving, and a place of cultural and spiritual value, with authority, life force, identity and intrinsic value. The Ocean is worthy of protection, and this value is not contingent upon any external, instrumental or relational experience or evaluation assigned by humankind. The Ocean is the common origin of all life past, present and future. We recognize the Ocean as a living entity with inherent rights including to:
exist, ecological health and integrity, biodiversity, the preservation and functionality of vital cycles, a clean, healthy and sustainable environment (clean air and water, and natural climate), freedom from irreversible harm, persistent pollution and degradation, and to representation, participation, restoration and remediation, among others to be defined.
Shifting societal values of the Ocean to respect the Ocean as a complex living being and our source of life with intrinsic value can help prevent overexploitation and irreversible harm.

[5] We aim to enhance Ocean conservation through a collective Ocean ethos.
We recognize that in order to maintain the quality of life that the Ocean has provided to humankind, a change is required in how humans view, manage and use the Ocean. Despite the progress made to protect and restore Ocean health, marine biodiversity has significantly declined in the past half-century due to impacts from pollution, overfishing, habitat destruction and climate change. Many international, regional and local instruments, frameworks and bodies relate to Ocean governance, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the Ocean must be carried out, and sets out obligations for its Parties, inter alia, to protect the marine environment, among other fundamental purposes. A universal ethical and values-based foundation can inform and provide consistency to all Ocean related agendas, prioritize restoration, and improve the coordination and implementation of our obligations as set out in relevant Conventions, particularly the common responsibility to protect and preserve the marine environment.

[6] Presenting principles underpinning Ocean Rights.
We call upon peoples and governments of the world to broaden the discussion on the need for laws and norms that embrace the Rights of Nature, including through the initiation of dialogue on developing a Universal Declaration of Ocean Rights, referred to as the UDOR. We recognize the following principles are necessary in order to guide a new relationship with the Ocean. Inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we seek to formalize common standards and obligations for all peoples and nations, which could include the following principles, in addition to principles of other relevant Conventions, as well as national circumstances and capabilities:

[i.] Inter- and- intragenerational stewardship:
We are all Ocean Guardians. All peoples, communities, entities and States have an individual and collective (though differentiated) responsibility as stewards of the Ocean on behalf of present and future generations to care for and ensure responsible use of the Ocean, and strengthen and enforce the obligations set out in the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Convention on Biological Diversity, and other instruments, frameworks and bodies. We aim to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, including ensuring that activities within a State’s jurisdiction or control do not cause irreversible damage to the environment of other States or areas beyond national jurisdiction.
[ii.] Respect for diverse value systems, including the intrinsic value of the Ocean:  
The inclusion of and respect for diverse values, knowledge and practices can advance equity, justice and sustainability in the blue and green economy while preserving the health of the Ocean and human health. Such diverse value systems include cosmocentrism and ecocentrism. We shall ensure the full protection and respect for the rights and cultures of Indigenous, coastal and marginalized communities. It is our obligation to protect the Ocean, and shape comprehensive policies and methods that ensure the inclusion of the Ocean's intrinsic value in decision-making and environmental impact assessments, alongside other values.
[iii.] Representation of all stakeholder interests, including the Ocean:
All peoples have the right and responsibility to ensure the Ocean’s interests and needs are represented in decisions and disputes affecting Ocean health, including through the creation and enforcement of a network of marine protected areas that are well-connected, ecologically representative, and where human activity is effectively managed, within the comprehensive sustainable management of the Ocean system. Furthermore, we acknowledge the Ocean's right to representation and to have a voice within a multinational governance system, which requires further establishing mechanisms to facilitate and ensure all stakeholder interests are properly represented.
[iv.] Adhering to and promoting best available science and ecologically-based criteria, including Traditional Knowledge:
In light of the substantial uncertainty that surrounds our understanding of the Ocean and the impacts human activity has on Ocean health, we recognise the need to ensure adherence to the best available science and Traditional Knowledge, while adopting the precautionary approach. We collectively aspire to achieve a ‘healthy Ocean’ where the definition is informed by ecologically-based criteria, or the Ocean’s needs, natural state, resilience and ecological robustness. This definition should be further informed by the best available data, information, knowledge and science, including the worldviews, values, knowledge and practices of Indigenous Peoples, and holistic approaches including planetary boundaries, whole-of-government (and-society) and an integrated ecosystem approach.
[v.] Full and effective participation:
We shall establish mechanisms that ensure the equitable and inclusive representation and participation in multinational decision-making related to the Ocean. This includes the preservation of the rights, knowledge, innovations, worldviews, values and practices of Indigenous Peoples, coastal and local communities, as well as the representation and participation by women and girls, children and youth, persons with disabilities and other marginalized communities.
[vi.] Transparency and knowledge sharing:
We shall increase and strengthen the equitable and fair sharing of information related to understandings of the Ocean, and empower all peoples and communities with relevant knowledge and skills to contribute to the responsible use of the Ocean. This includes access to justice, research and information to enhance global Ocean literacy. Traditional Knowledge, innovations, practices and technologies of Indigenous Peoples and local communities should only be accessed with their free, prior and informed consent, in accordance with national legislation.
[vii.] Precaution and Prevention:
In cases where the consequences of an activity on the Ocean cannot be elucidated, but there are elements that allow determining or concluding that such activity may cause serious and irreversible damage such as leading to the extinction of species, the destruction of ecosystems, or the permanent alteration of natural cycles, then, such measure or decision should be restricted. The absence of concrete information should not prevent protective, regenerative and restorative action, and where activity may cause significant harm to the Ocean, there exists a duty to prevent and mitigate such harm.
[viii.] In dubio, in favorem Oceani:
In case of uncertain or contrasting impact assessment for any anthropogenic activity concerning the Ocean, the principle “in dubio, in favorem Oceani” or “when in doubt err on the side of the Ocean” shall be applied as a precautionary approach.

Source : The Ocean Race