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Indigenous voices lead calls for the ocean's rights to be recognised

by The Ocean Race 19 Apr 11:52 BST
The Ocean Race 2022-23 - 18 April 2023. The Ocean Race Summit in Itajaí. Relay 4 Nature, Baton Ceremony © Sailing Energy / The Ocean Race

Speaking earlier today at The Ocean Race Summit Itajaí, Santa Catarina, Brazil, Eunice Kerexu -Secretary of Environmental and Territorial Indigenous Rights of the Indigenous People Ministry of Brazil- warned that indigenous rights and better governance are critical for the success of ocean protection initiatives.

"We have a lot of respect for the ocean," said Kerexu, who spoke of how indigenous people don't see nature as a separate entity: "There is no 'other', it's all about "us."

She noted the general apathy towards the marine environment, despite its vital role in the health of the planet: "Where is our responsibility with the oceans that offer us more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe?" Kerexu also spoke about the destruction of vital on-land habitats, referring to the Atlantic forest and Amazon forest as "lungs of the world that are being destroyed". She urged the Summit participants: "Let's talk about protection, protection and reforestation of spaces. This awareness needs to be urgent".

Speaking to over 150 government, civil society and private sector representatives gathered at the event held at the Ocean Live Park in Itajaí, Kerexu said she was speaking as an "indigenous leader, as a technical expert and now, as a political leader"

The Ocean Race Summit Itajaí was held during The Ocean Race stopover in the Brazilian city. Since the beginning of April, Itajaí has hosted The Ocean Race for a 4th consecutive time. The fleet arrived in Brazil after the mammoth 12,750 nautical miles Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa, and will set sail for Newport, USA, on Sunday 23rd April in the next leg of the round-the-world Race.

Brazil, one of the world's most biodiverse countries, has been in the spotlight for years and faced mounting international criticism for the way its rich natural environment has been depleted. Thiago Morastoni, Secretary of Tourism and Events and Economic Development of Itajaí, urged the Brazilian government "to explore and promote the concept and development of ocean rights. We need to ensure that our natural resources and the environment are protected to ensure a better future for us and for generations to come."

This is the 10th time that The Ocean Race has stopped in Brazil, making the Auriverde nation by far the most visited country in South America. So far, over 250,000 people have visited Ocean Live Park, the dedicated race village where visitors can experience the event up-close and learn about how to protect the ocean.

Following a moving performance by children from the Tekoa Tarumá Guarani Mbya indigenous community, three panels explored how governments should ensure the rights of indigenous peoples; sailors shared their experiences of racing around Antarctica through the vast Southern Ocean; scientists explored the changes that are occurring in this critical part of the planet and what needs to happen to protect it; and political leaders explained what they are doing to tackle these issues.

The Ocean Race Summit Itajaí is part of a series of high-level events to promote the recognition of the inherent rights of the ocean, held in some of the stopover cities that are hosting the teams as they circumnavigate the planet.

??The Ocean Race and partners - including the Government of Cabo Verde and US-based Earth Law Center - are working to give the ocean a voice and gather global support for the adoption of a Universal Declaration of Ocean Rights by 2030. The Summit's discussions are later analysed and explored with experts in international law, policy, diplomacy and ocean science in a series of workshops called the Genova Process (named after the host city of the Grand Finale - the finish port of the Race).

Following his speech at The Ocean Race Summit Cabo Verde, held during the Race's first stopover in this edition of the Race, Cabo Verde's Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva addressed the attendees in Itajaí by video message to reaffirm his country's commitment to the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean and the need for the ocean to have legally recognised rights.

Representing the Sacred Natural Sites Brazil Initiative, Érika Fernandes-Pinto said: "We need to pay attention to nature's sacred sites and recognise different relations between culture and nature. Most of the time our society forgets this, and to understand it, we need to talk to indigenous people, original people from their land, because they remember".

Addressing the delegates, Vanessa Hasson, Executive Director of NGO MAPAS, UN Harmony with Nature Program, spoke about the importance of recognising that "we all are nature and nature is not for us to use. We need to use the ancestral knowledge of indigenous communities to live in harmony with nature." Hasson described how, in Brazil, MAPAS has enabled the recognition of nature's rights in five municipalities, the last one being the Guajará-Mirim, in the north of the country. The author of the law is, for the first time, a member of the local Warí indigenous community.

Sharing their strong connection with the ocean, Summit speakers included champion athletes: one of the sailors competing in The Ocean Race - skipper of Team Holcim-PRB, Kevin Escoffier - alongside legendary Brazilian sailor Torben Grael, twice Olympic champion, and winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup and The Ocean Race 2008/2009.

Speaking about his experience sailing through the Southern Ocean last month, Escoffier said: "I am very lucky to be passionate about offshore sailing, but also about the ocean. In The Ocean Race, I am able to do both. Over my racing career, I have seen changes in the ocean and this has impacted the racing. During Leg 3 we saw that the ice around Antarctica is melting faster and sending icebergs into the sea in a way we have not experienced before. Because of this, the Ice Exclusion Zone was at times further north than we ever experienced before."

The Ice Exclusion Zone is a 'no go' zone created by the Race organisers to prevent boats from racing through areas of the ocean with icebergs, which could put them at risk. As this zone gets bigger and shifts further north, the tactical options in the race decrease. In the absence of an Ice Exclusion Zone, the sailors would normally push even further south, as this is a shorter route and generally has stronger winds.

"Today we know we can't just race with a 'win at all costs' mindset," continued Escoffier. "We have to change our thinking. If you want to achieve something great, everybody has to pull in the same direction. In this race, every team, every boat, is carrying its own message around sustainability and the ocean and helping to shift the conversation so that we can continue to enjoy our beautiful ocean."

Grael said: "We have to change and lead by example, and the key point here is children and education. I think kids are more open to change, when you explain the damage made by pollution and plastic they get it!"

Addressing the event, Janaina Banwart, Oceanographer & Fisheries Scientist at the Santa Catarina Institute of Fisheries, said: "In regards to artisanal fisheries in the region of Santa Catarina, some aspects I observed working at school is the importance of education and accurate information so that people can achieve sustainable development goals"

Noting this year marks the 50th anniversary of The Ocean Race, Race Chairman Richard Brisius said: "As explained at The Ocean Race Summit, life really is animated water. You are the ocean and the ocean is you: there is no separation."

Describing the dire pollution issue affecting the Baltic Sea, in his home-country, Sweden, Brisius stressed the need for fair play and clear rules: "The ocean doesn't need us humans, but us humans need the ocean. If you have an interest in breathing oxygen in the future, the ocean is your interest. Sport can change the world, and around the world racing in particular as it brings people together across borders and cultures." He noted: "Speed is fundamental to success. In sailing, for every decision we take on board we ask ourselves 'does this make the boat go faster?' Transferring that to ocean rights, we have to ask ourselves when taking action "will this help the ocean?"

Rodolfo Werner, Senior Advisor (Antarctica and Southern Ocean) at The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), said: "Antarctic protection is not an option; it is a necessity"

Tamara Klink, Writer, Navigator, Speaker, Forbes Under 30, was featured in a video message: "Nature will find its balance, but we are the most fragile part of this system. And defending the ocean's rights is mainly defending the rights of the people that don't have power to defend their own. Sailing is something that can be very frustrating sometimes because of the forces of nature that are so much bigger than ours. So there is this power of the will that pushes us to do things that are completely crazy and nonsense. It can also push other people to go beyond their limits on land."

In his closing remarks, Marquito, State Deputy of Santa Catarina Legislative Assembly President of the Environment and Tourism Commission, stressed the pressing need to see "nature as a subject of rights"

Ricardo Rapunik, Senior consultant of Brazil's National Association of Municipalities and Environment highlighted: "We need technical qualification for decision-making on the protection of the oceans. If we don't have information technicians, we can't make good decisions."

Lucy Hunt, Senior Advisor Summits & Learning at The Ocean Race wrapped up the event saying: "We need to acknowledge traditional wisdom and remember to have reverence for our shared planet; to think about our place here on Mother Earth, that we are part of nature, not apart from it," with an invitation to the audience to join The Ocean Race to stand up for the ocean's inherent rights.

The Ocean Race - the round-the-world sailing event known as the toughest test of a team in sport - holds these high-level Summits to promote ocean action in some of the stopover cities that will be hosting the teams as they circumnavigate the planet.

The Ocean Race Summits are a key part of The Ocean Race's multi-award winning 'Racing with Purpose' sustainability programme, which brings together a range of tangible ways that we can have a positive impact on the marine environment. Working with 11th Hour Racing - the Founding Partner of the Racing with Purpose programme and a Premier Partner of The Ocean Race, The Ocean Race is holding high-level summits to drive global decision-makers to create policies to protect and govern the ocean, contributing vital data about the state of the seas to leading scientific organisations, equipping children with the knowledge to help the ocean and much more.

The Ocean Race started from Alicante, Spain, on 15 January 2023 and will end in Genova, Italy in June 2023. It consists of seven legs with stopovers in eight cities around the world: Mindelo, Cabo Verde; Cape Town, South Africa; Itajaí, Brazil; Newport, Rhode Island, USA; Aarhus, Denmark; and The Hague, The Netherlands.

Leg 4 will start on 23 April. The fleet will set sail to the Northern Hemisphere with a 5,550-nautical mile passage from Itajaí to Newport, Rhode Island.


At the event, Relay4Nature, an initiative by The Ocean Race and UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, which involves the Nature's Baton passing between teams and global leaders was passed to Kerexu. Team Holcim-PRB received Nature's Baton in Cape Town and skipper Kevin Escoffier delivered it in Itajaí, Brazil, following Leg 3. Connecting the world's key environmental events, it champions the ocean and calls on leaders to take urgent action to protect nature.

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