WMU Delivers Closing-the-Circle Conference in Eastern Caribbean

From 4-7 April, a high level Conference took place in Dominica on the topic of Identifying Regional Challenges and Opportunities to Address the Issue of Marine Debris, Sargassum and Marine Spatial Planning. The conference also explored the special needs of Small Island Developing States in light of the global pandemic, biodiversity loss and the climate emergency.

The Conference was delivered by the World Maritime University (WMU) - Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute (GOI) and conducted in partnership with the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and with the generous support of The Nippon Foundation. This inter-sectoral Conference brought together senior key stakeholders in the region including the President and the Prime Minister Commonwealth of Dominica who delivered keynote speeches, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC) the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United  Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), other UN Funds, Agencies and Programmes as well as regional organizations, academic institutions and civil society. 

The President of Dominica, H.E. Charles Savarin formally opened the Conference at the Jungle Bay Ecological Retreat. Within the context of WMU’s climate resilience initiatives, he welcomed the focus on the protection of our oceans and the need to preserve the abundance of life within it to secure the socio-economic wellbeing of future generations. He particularly welcomed home, Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, the President of the World Maritime University, who is a daughter of the soil and a distinguished Dominican.

The formal proceedings were set in motion by H.E. Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica, who delivered the opening keynote address and welcomed the focus on the conservation of the oceans and the need to conserve the profusion of life within them to ensure the socio-economic well-being of future generations. He also discussed several ways to identify the regional challenges that small island countries face and spoke passionately regarding the developmental agenda for future action and collaborations. 

The Conference sessions followed four thematic strands of research and engagements, namely: Science and Technology, Blue Green Responses, Societal Awareness, and Blue Skies and Clean Seas. The conference also featured keynotes by Dr. Carla Barnett Secretary-General of CARICOM, as well as by Dr. Didacus Jules, Director General of OECS.

The second day of the Conference was opened by the distinguished medical doctor and politician, Dr. Kenneth Darroux, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Business and Diaspora Relations. In his address, he spoke about the threats posed to small island communities by the loss of marine biodiversity, the climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic. He welcomed the work underway at the World Maritime University (WMU) - Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute.

In her address, President of WMU, Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, expressed her appreciation and pride regarding the conference being hosted in her home country. She said that facing a future, the only certainty of which is change, means that Small Island Developing States will continue to be confronted with challenges and difficulties – some intrinsic and timeless, others extrinsic and new. It will be necessary to make progress towards sustainable living and sustainable development. However, small island countries have a record of thriving in challenging times. She ended her address with these words: 

”This tremendous Conference has given me great hope. With initiatives such as this, I am very positive that we can change our ways and behaviors for a better future. I am confident that this new generation of PhD scholars and experts who we are training from the region will have the knowledge and skills to meet the existential challenges the countries in the region are facing”.

Dr. Doumbia-Henry also paid tribute to the entire team at the WMU-Sasakawa-Global Ocean Institute led by Professor Ronán Long, as well as the Closing The Circle Research Group under the direction of Dr. Aleke Stöfen-O’Brien. The Conference was delivered in hybrid format on site in Dominica at the Jungle Bay Resort with a world leading team of experts from the region and the WMU-Sasakawa-Global Ocean Institute and a global virtual audience of 222 registered participants from over 40 countries representing a wide range of sectors as Governments, Academia, Industry, UN entities and intergovernmental organizations (IGO), non-governmental organizations (NGO) as well as Philanthropic Foundations, and Civil Society. The gender representation of the speakers and audience was close to 50/50. 

In his closing remarks, Dr. Hide Sakaguchi, President of the Ocean Policy Research Institute of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF), said that he would convey the immense success of the programme and the key messages from the conference, with a view to taking them forward in other global processes concerned with Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. 

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