The United Nations Oceans Conference (UNOC) concluded on July 1 in Lisbon after a full five days of discussions and events focused on achieving a shared goal: UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 14 (SDG14), which aims to protect life below water. While representatives of governments, NGOs, and other entities made hundreds of conservation commitments, experts say that there is still a lot of work to be done to protect our oceans.

SDG14 has been divided into 10 targets: reduce marine pollution; protect and restore ecosystems; reduce ocean acidification; ensure that fishing is done sustainably; conserve coastal and marine areas; end subsidies that contribute to harmful fishing practices; increase economic benefits from the sustainable use of marine resources; increase scientific knowledge, research, and technology for ocean health; support small-scale fishers; and implement and enforce international law pertaining to the sea. Some of the targets were meant to be achieved in 2020, whereas others are to be addressed by 2030.

But at side events taking place during the UNOC, coalitions of small-scale fishers and Indigenous people voiced their concerns that their groups were being excluded from important discussions and negotiations.

“They don’t have any access, not even language access to the plenary sessions,” Vivienne Solís Rivera, a representative of Costa Rica-based human rights and conservation organisation CoopeSoliDar, told Mongabay in Lisbon. “So how are we going to have a dialogue if you don’t even communicate with the other side? I think there’s a big responsibility for … leaders to be able to open a true and transparent dialogue with the communities that own those resources that we want to conserve.”

Felicito Nuñez, of the Garifuna Indigenous people in Honduras, said Indigenous peoples are the ones who have the knowledge about how to conserve natural resources, but no one is consulting them about the management of the natural places his people have inhabited for years.

Conservation efforts “won’t work without the people who know,” Nuñez told Mongabay. “Academic teaching you can get anywhere, but the connection with nature, you’ll find it with a native people.

“They cannot make decisions for us,” he added. “They should come and sit with us … we are the ones who live close to the ocean, so I think they have to come to us before any decisions [are made].”

Read the full article about Indigenous communities by Elizabeth Claire Alberts at Eco-Business.