Celebrating Commonwealth women in ocean science with art, conversation and policy discussions

20 June 2024

To celebrate World Oceans Day 2024, the Commonwealth highlighted the importance and celebrated women within the space, inviting performance artists, musicians, marine biologists, and more to Marlborough House.

The sounds of animated conversation, punctuated by the evocative tones of the steelpan and keyboards, filled the Commonwealth Secretariat’s headquarters at Marlborough House, London on a warm afternoon in June.

Hosted by the Commonwealth Blue Charter in partnership with Blue Marine Foundation, this celebration focused on the pivotal role played by women in ocean sectors, their successes and the continuing work needed to close the gender gap.

Closing the gender gap 

Across the ocean sciences, women make up 37 per cent of the workforce and almost 39 per cent of oceanographic researchers. While there has been tremendous progress, it is important to encourage equity and highlight women’s contributions.

World Ocean Day, celebrated annually by the UN on June 8th, is dedicated to recognising the critical role that the ocean plays in our world by regulating our climate, providing sustenance, and fostering biodiversity.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, welcomed those gathered for the event, titled: ‘Empowering waves: Celebrating women in ocean, science, arts, communications and government’.

She said:

“As we approach the 2024 Commonwealth Heads of Government and the United Nations Climate Change Summit (COP29), these discussions will amplify the voices of those working tirelessly to ensure that our blue economies are inclusive and sustainable – and I cannot wait to listen.”

“The Turning the Tides of Inclusion report, produced by the Blue Charter, is a milestone document, which helps our countries promote gender-responsive practices in ocean-related occupations, highlighting the need for diversity in sectors such as marine conservation, ocean science, fisheries, maritime transportation, and tourism.”


Empowering women through gender-responsive practices

The publication offers practical guidance on how to implement gender-responsive practices to empower women and gender minorities and unlock the full potential of sustainable blue economies. It was created and designed to provide clear and practical guidance, based on in-depth research and stakeholder consultations, on how to meaningfully integrate gender perspectives in ocean economy sectors.


The Secretary-General also recognised the presence of HE Jovilisi Suveinakama, Fiji’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and noted the consistent efforts of Fiji’s leadership in ocean conservation and climate action. Fiji champions the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Ocean and Climate Change.

In his presentation, the High Commissioner said:

"For us in Fiji and the Pacific, the ocean is not merely a resource but an intrinsic part of our heritage, identity and sovereignty. It is our duty to protect and preserve these waters for future generations."

He also recognised the importance of celebrating women's achievements in ocean sectors:

"Historically, these fields were dominated by men, but women have continuously broken barriers, proving that the ocean's call knows no gender. In Fiji, women lead efforts in marine conservation, sustainable fisheries and climate resilience. By empowering women today, we empower entire communities, creating a ripple effect of positive change, not only today but for the future."

Restoring ocean health 

The Blue Marine Foundation partnered with the Commonwealth Secretariat in hosting this event. The NGO works to restore the ocean to health by addressing overfishing, one of the world’s biggest environmental problems. To support this vision, they have created marine reserves, restored vital habitats and established models of sustainable fishing.

Kaija Barisa, Senior Economist at the Blue Marine Foundation, shared:

“Appropriately valuing and accounting for the many benefits the ocean gives the planet, beyond extraction, is essential for nature, climate and people. The ocean provides food and supports livelihoods for billions of people, regulates our climate and protects our coastlines."

“However, to protect these services we need to stop treating it as an endless free resource and instead commit to protecting and restoring it to ensure sustainability for the life in and around it.”

Ocean-inspired performing arts

Before the discussion, Fernando Montano, Royal Ballet Soloist and Ocean Ambassador for the Marine Conservation Society, captivated the audience with a dance inspired by the ocean. A talented artist and photographer, he also displayed ocean-inspired art pieces at the event and joined the panel to offer his thoughts on the evening’s theme.


  Musical compositions, reflecting the emotional connection with the ocean, were provided by Pablo Barrios on keyboards and Samuel Dubois on the steelpan. The duo is part of Commonwealth Resounds, an organisation which connects musical cultures and promotes music education initiatives in Commonwealth countries.

A new wave of marine biology

The evening’s highlight was the spirited and insightful discussion led by an accomplished group of women: Kaija Barisa, Senior Economist at the Blue Marine Foundation; Josephine Latu-Sanft, Global Communications Specialist at the International Maritime Organisation; and Ellen Wilkinson, Young Commonwealth Music Ambassador. Rebecca Self, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Sea Wolf Consulting, facilitated the discussion.


Kelly Forsythe, Marine Biologist and Grants Coordinator from the Wild Animal Initiative, spoke about the systemic barriers women and minorities face in her wrap-up speech entitled, ‘Our oceans are for everyone’.

Following the discussion, a video sharing the perspectives of women involved in marine sciences at all levels, earned enthusiastic applause from the capacity audience in London and kudos from those gathered online for the event.

Media contact

  • Charmaine Wright  Head of Media Relations, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat

  • +44 20 7747 6242  |  E-mail