Be Nice: Why & How

Be Nice:
Why & How

"Just as life started in the Ocean, our survival as human race depends on its health. The time to act is now because the Ocean can't wait!"

Ambassador Gina Guillén-Grillo, Director General of Foreign Policy, Costa Rica

Why Be Nice?

Ocean change is one of the growing existential crises which we must face head on. We are proposing to move the goalpost to reinforce ocean protection, making it the norm rather than the exception.

The purpose of the #LetsBeNicetotheOcean initiative, including the seminal paper hosted by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and this website, is to encourage others to join us in questioning the current status-quo with more creative and innovative visions and proposals, so that the transformative opportunity the 2025 UN Ocean Conference represents does not get lost.

There is a lot to lose if we maintain business as usual, if we do not look and act outside the box.

Ocean Change


Human activities have disrupted the relative climatic and ecological stability of the Holocene epoch and pushed our planet into the uncharted waters of the Anthropocene, a new historical era where the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, the rate of species extinction or unpredictability of natural processes are bound to increase globally. The Anthropocene is accelerating in the ocean faster than anywhere else. Climate change-induced ocean heatwaves are intensifying and becoming more frequent, overfishing has increased almost uninterruptedly since the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) started releasing statistics in 1974 and mass, heat-induced coral bleaching events are undoing coral gardening restoration efforts.

The interplay between the ocean’s declining health and the climate crisis are becoming more apparent than ever before. The ocean, which has absorbed 93% of excess heat and close to 20% of the anthropogenic CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, is reaching tipping points which will lead to many ecosystems to irreversible regime shifts and collapses. These drastic changes threaten the provision of paramount ecosystem services for humanity and the rest of our planet’s inhabitants.

The Ocean is nice to us humans, to say the least; it is time for us to be Nice to the ocean.

The Third UN Ocean Conference

Co-hosted by the governments of France and Costa Rica, the Third High-Level United Nations Ocean Conference will take place in the city of Nice, France, on the Mediterranean riviera in June 2025.

We now have just over a year to ensure the truly transformative outcome the ocean and marine life so desperately need. Just one year to be Nice to the ocean.

More tangible ocean conservation and sustainable management efforts, alongside the urgent decarbonization of the economy, are needed today to bend the curves of the climate and marine biodiversity crises.


Thinking Outside the Box

The paper 'Let’s be Nice to the Ocean: Thinking Outside the Box before the Third UN Ocean Conference - Making Ocean Protection the Norm rather than the Exception. Modalities, Opportunities and Risks,' is the culmination of three years of thinking outside the box by an inter- and trans-disciplinary community of experts. The aim is to propose innovative actionable ideas, principles, and frameworks that can support a lifeline to the ocean during the Anthropocene, and to flesh out the following ideas into operational propositions for the Nice UN Ocean Conference:

The Protection Principle

A paradigm shift through which the burden of proof is not placed on those seeking conservation and sustainable management measures, but rather on those who wish to pursue extractive or polluting activities. We have identified three key areas where some of these ideas may be tested opportunistically in the context of the Nice Conference: the Deep Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea.

The Precautionary Principle in public policy finds its origin in the report of the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future (1987), which coined the words sustainable development five years before the Rio Earth Summit. This time, we have less than two years to seek the endorsement of the Protection Principle:

“All extractive industries, whether conducted by States or corporations, whose activities are liable to harm the ocean must demonstrate that their operations and plans are environmentally safe, with a negligible, reversible, or acceptable footprint prior to commencing. Where damage has already occurred, mitigation or restoration measures identified by public authorities will be covered by the responsible entities.”

Proposed definition of the Protection Principle

Blue Finance

Contrary to conventional belief, ocean action does not necessarily require more money but a wiser and more rational use of existing public funds, especially the billions of USD which are expected to be available from the agreed reduction of harmful incentives and subsidies after 2025.

Identify by 2025, and eliminate, phase out or reform incentives, including subsidies harmful for biodiversity, in a proportionate, just, fair, effective and equitable way, while substantially and progressively reducing them by at least 500 billion USD per year by 2030, starting with the most harmful incentives, and for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and scale up positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework Target 18, December 2022

Zero Discharge targets

Put in place in priority industrial and geographical sectors to complement and reinforce current efforts to address marine pollution, especially from plastic wastes, and achieve clean seas through the elimination of toxic discharges and emissions in order to protect marine ecosystems, seafood, and human health.

These targets are preferable to a Zero Pollution discourse, because the definition of “pollution” is not free of value judgements influenced by political and economic expediency. Solid wastes, including those made up of plastic are shocking, but they represent only a fraction of the wastes discharged into the ocean, deliberately for the most part. Less visible point and diffuse sources of liquid wastes discharged from land into riverine, estuarian and coastal waters, including pesticide and fertilizer run-offs from agriculture practices, represent approximately 80 to 90% of all pollution inputs into the ocean.

Ministries of the Ocean

From global internet fibre optic cables to the majority of international trade, to the nutrition and livelihood of 3 billion people, the future of the ocean is intrinsically linked to the functioning of our current and future economy. Its sustainable and equitable governance and use deserves priority ministerial recognition and attention.

Bringing Fisheries into wider Ministries of the Ocean with a holistic ecosystemic mandate and vision could be part of the solution, as long as what until recently (or still even now) was perceived in many governments as “a small fish” (environment policy) is not swallowed by “bigger fish” (extractive industries).

Reformed governance of migratory and straddling biodiversity

To develop new ways of operationalizing the UN Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA), including by overhauling the outdated regional fisheries management systems and establishing Regional Ocean Management Organizations, putting at the heart of their mandates ecosystem sustainability and equity in the context of climate and ocean change.

We need a paradigm shift to manage differently shared ocean biodiversity, including questions around access rights, responsibilities, and quotas under a changing climate. This was part of the idea behind substituting weight-based catch limits and quotas by numerical management, in our 2022 paper.

The past successes of the environmental movement which we have lived through since the first UN Environment Conference in Stockholm in 1972 were possible only because people with daring visions did not hesitate to take risks and challenge the status-quo. And now, 50 years later, we know it was a mistake not to take them seriously.

Let’s be Nice to the ocean, this time around.

Our Partners

An initiative coordinated by The Varda Group

Let’s Be Nice to the Ocean is an initiative coordinated by The Varda Group in cooperation with the Ocean & Climate Platform and in partnership with TBA21-Academy, Dona Bertarelli Philanthropy, the Tara Ocean Foundation, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, MedPAN and Ocean Born Foundation.

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