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Nature's Baton and the Relay4Nature connect world leaders at Our Ocean Conference in Athens

by The Ocean Race 17 Apr 10:51 BST 16 April 2024
Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis holds Nature's Baton, from the Relay4Nature, at the photo call with world leaders at the Our Ocean Conference 2024 in Athens, Greece © Austin Wong / The Ocean Race

The Ocean Race joined world leaders at the Our Ocean Conference 2024 at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) in Athens, Greece on Tuesday, who had gathered to advance measures to protect and restore ocean health.

The Race Chairman, Richard Brisus, handed Nature's Baton to the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The baton is a symbol of the Relay4Nature joint initiative by the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson and The Ocean Race created to help give the ocean a voice on the critical issues affecting our planet at the landmark events where decisions are made about the environment.

Under the theme "An ocean of potential", the Our Ocean Conference (16-17 April) gathered 12 high-level international dignitaries (including heads of state, presidents and prime ministers) as well as 70 ministers and other official delegates from 115 countries and 10 international organisations to discuss sustainable tourism in coastal areas, tackling marine plastic and microplastic pollution, shipping, and boosting the green transition in the Mediterranean.

Addressing participants at an "Opening Lighthouse" event and describing fond childhood memories of Greece, Richard Brisius said: "At The Ocean Race we have fully transformed from being a race around the world for over 50 years to being in a race for the ocean."

He stressed the paramount importance of the race's learning and science programmes: "We gather ocean data from the most remote parts of the world. This includes high-level quality microplastics testing carried out for a number of years, so we know it is a massive problem that is only growing. Wherever we tested, we found plastic, even in Point Nemo, the most remote place in the ocean between New Zealand and Chile. So the question is not how many particles we will find but if there is anywhere on this planet where we can get a sample without plastics."

At the opening, Greece's Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Oceans and Coordinator of the "Our Ocean 2024" Conference, Dr. Dionysia-Theodora Avgerinopoulou, said: "Let us carry forward the spirit of collaboration, innovation and leadership. Together, let us continue to work towards a future where our oceans thrive, guided by passion and dedication."

The Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, acknowledged the impact we are already seeing from climate change, and stressed the importance of taking concrete action as he announced important new initiatives.

"No matter how fast we reduce emissions we cannot outrun the climate crisis," Prime Minister Mitsotakis told the conference delegates. "Last year, Greece experienced our longest heatwave on record, followed by a mega-forest fire and then an unprecedented flood. And all this happened in the span of a few weeks. The frequency and severity of extreme events is rising. So as we build the low carbon society of the future, we must build up the society of the present... We must focus on protection and restoration... to give space to nature to heal."

To that end, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of two large additional marine national parks, which said would increase the size of marine protected areas by 80 percent and cover nearly one-third of territorial marine waters. He went on to announce that Greece has identified 21 actions, enabled by 780 million euros in secured funding, making what he called "a significant downpayment on the future health of our ocean."

Tomorrow, following the closing ceremony of the Our Ocean Conference, Nature's Baton will continue its Relay4Nature journey to pass the message to the delegates of the UN Ocean Conference (UNOC 2025), which will be held in Nice, France in June 2025. By then, at least 60 countries will need to have ratified the UN High Seas Treaty - which will allow for a global approach to marine conservation - for it to come into force.

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