WASHINGTON, D.C.June 5, 2024 — Azul, the Center for American Progress, and Urban Ocean Lab welcomed fellow environmental, ocean policy, and progressive organizations and ocean-climate leaders and advocates to Upwell: A Wave of Ocean Justice on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. The event, held for the second consecutive year in person and online, focused on the rising tide of justice and equity in ocean policy by highlighting the stories, experiences, and voices of historically-excluded and marginalized communities in ocean conservation. 

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. (NOAA Okeanos Explorer)
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. (NOAA Okeanos Explorer)

With welcome remarks by Azul’s Founder and Executive Director, Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš, and featured panels—ranging from high-profile keynotes to panel addresses—the conference addressed timely issues at the forefront of the movement for ocean-climate action.

  • Click here to see a full list of panelists and speakers. 
  • See the recording of the virtual livestream, here.

In-person and virtual attendees heard from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (introduced by Angelo Villagomez of the Center for American Progress), White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory (moderated by EarthEcho International’s Emma Chong), to In Conversation with Jainey Bavishi, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere; Deputy Administrator at NOAA (moderated by Katherine Muniz of Azul and Rob Vergara of NRDC), to Plastics are Fossil Fuels, moderated by Gutiérrez-Graudiņš, with Break Free from Plastic’s Policy Advisory Dr. Jamala Djinn, the Ocean Foundation’s Head of Plastics Initiative Erica Nunez, and Beyond 30×30, moderated by Jasmin Graham, President and CEO of Minorities in Shark Sciences. Additionally, the one-day event featured two local artists in residence, Qrcky and Sofia Gawer, who each created art and interactive opportunities inspired by Upwell and its audiences.

During the symposium, Secretary Haaland announced that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will soon implement final management plans for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts and Mariana Trench marine national monuments. She also thanked the Upwell community for their “encouragement and input” in finalizing the plans — which are a critical step toward achieving effective management of our nation’s marine monuments.

“We believe this space can become one where we continue to prioritize the experiences of people who have been historically excluded in ocean conservation, while celebrating their expertise — that’s what I first dreamed of in conceiving this space. A space where we can support fellow leaders of color, people at all stages of their careers — to elevate their voices and provide resources that can ensure we aren’t burning out the very leaders this ocean movement needs to better embrace,” said Azul Founder and Executive Director Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš.

“Ocean access, justice and equity, and quality of protections are just as important as acres of protected areas,” said Campaign Manager Kat So. “We need to go beyond 30×30 to grow a conservation movement with a more holistic approach, that focuses on implementation, not just promises, and makes room for Indigenous knowledge.”

“Sea level rise and storms are hitting coastal communities hard – and it’s poor people and people of color who are getting the worst of it,” said Co-founders of Urban Ocean Lab Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Jean Flemma. “Upwell uniquely gathers frontline leaders and policymakers to exchange ideas toward building a safer and more just future, and Urban Ocean Lab is proud to be a supporter.”

“Watching Upwell’s success in its second year is inspiring and reflects how deeply the ocean conservation community wants and needs change,” said Earthjustice Associate Legislative Representative Kristin Butler. “We need equitable ocean policy that centers the voices and experiences of ocean justice communities while ensuring opportunities for them to meaningfully engage in places of power and decision-making. This year’s event demonstrates how people from frontline communities up to the highest levels of government can make this a reality.”

“Upwell 2024 showcases the importance of shaping ocean policy with both urgency and equity in mind,” said Adriane Alicea, Managing Director of Green 2.0. “These conversations come at a critical time for coastal communities on the frontlines of climate change. To achieve true ocean justice, we must center the leadership of historically marginalized communities that rely on a safe, clean, and healthy ocean.

The Azul, Center for American Progress, and Urban Ocean Lab event was supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, Green 2.0, and the Ocean Defense Initiative – with funding provided by Mosaic, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Oceankind, the Walton Family Foundation, Vere Initiatives, and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.



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