Tiffany and Co., NRG Energy Inc., Sandals Resorts, Kor Water, Hublot Geneve and the Puntacana Ecological Foundation came together with visionary Caribbean governments in an ambitious collaboration known as the CCI 20 by 20 (Caribbean Challenge Initiative). They aim to protect at least 20 percent of the marine and coastal environment of the Caribbean by 2020. Crossing the Timor and Arafura Seas to reach Australia about 40,000 years ago the Australian First People point to the influence of oceans on the development of societies and cultures.

Oceans continue to influence the aesthetic, religious and spiritual dimensions of cultures. Tyrian purple- a dye derived from shellfish was once a luxury commodity. From around 1800-1500 BCE it was produced in semi-industrial fashion in Crete.  The cost was exorbitant because large numbers of shellfish were needed to produce small quantities of the pigment. Its use was therefore restricted to the elite. Under the Roman Republic, the togas of Senators were distinguished by a border of this colour, and soon became the mark of emperors. This usage has produced a whole cultural structure revolving around the colour purple and spreading out into a range of metaphors and ideas: including “purple prose,” an elaborate passage in writing, first used by the Roman poet Horace.

Ocean derived goods from marine ecosystems are given cultural value. The worth assigned to them depends on their aesthetic or religious significance, their rarity and the difficulty of obtaining them. Mediterranean red coral was used in the first century as a charm to protect children and its scarcity increased because of export to India. Humans interact with the ocean in a large number of ways, and many practices are beginning to be inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

In Belgium, the fishing for shrimp on horse-back twice a week, except in winter months required riders on strong Brabant horses to walk breast-deep in the surf, parallel to the coastline, pulling funnel-shaped nets. A dragging chain over the sand created vibrations, causing the shrimp to jump into the net. The Chinese tradition of building junks with separate water-tight bulkheads has been recognized as a cultural heritage that needs protection. Another cultural tradition linked to the sea is that of the lenj boats in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Lenj vessels are traditionally hand-built and are used by Persian seafarers for fishing, trade and pearl diving. The traditional knowledge surrounding lenjes includes oral literature, performing arts and festivals, in addition to the sailing and navigation techniques, terminology and weather forecasting that are closely associated with sailing and the skills of wooden boat-building itself. The Islamic Republic of Iran has proposed a wide range of measures to safeguard this tradition. The Canadian First Nations and United States Native Americans have moved to protect canoes. Canoes came to represent clans especially the Haida, Tlingit and Nuu-Chah-Nulth and were traded in the past.

Recently, there has been a revival in the craft of making and sailing them. Similar important navigational traditions survive in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Using a combination of observations of stars, the shape of the waves, the interference patterns of sea swells, phosphorescence and wildlife, the Pacific Islanders have been able to cross vast distances at sea and make landfall. Although now largely being replaced by technology, the Pacific navigational tradition shows how many aspects of marine ecosystems can be welded together to provide results, that at first sight, seem impossible.

The fishing fleet is blessed throughout the Roman Catholic world on the Feast of the Assumption. This dates back to at least the 17th century in Liguria in Italy. It spread generally around the Mediterranean, and was then taken by Italian, Portuguese and Spanish fishermen to Anguilla and other islands in the West Indies. On the 21st May 2018 the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, the Kingdom of Belgium and the UNDP’s Centre of Excellence for the sustainable Development of SIDS hosted the UN Special Envoy for the Ocean who reminded participants that they should never underestimate the power of the Blue Economy.