Laura Pereira [1,2], Guillermo Ortuño Crespo , Silvana Juri , Patrick Keys , Hannah Lübker , Andrew Merrie , Edoardo Superchi , Naomi Terry , Bwalya Chibwe , Juliano Palacios-Abrantes [5, 6], Maria A. Gasalla , Erick Ross Salazar , Moriaki Yasuhara [9,10], Farah Obaidullah , Gabrielle Carmine , Salomão Bandeira , Diva J. Amon [14, 15], Ghassen Halouani , David E. Johnson , Lynne J. Shannon , Jean-Baptiste Jouffray , Colette C.C. Wabnitz [6, 19], Beth Fulton 
Ever since humans ventured into the ocean to fish for the first time 40,000 years ago, the principle of Mare Liberum, an ocean without boundaries, prevailed (Corbyn, 2011). In 1982, the third United Nations (UN) Conference on the Law of the Sea successfully opened the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the ‘constitution for the ocean’. For the first time in history, humanity had drawn a jurisdictional divide between the coastal ocean and ocean in the areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ, referred to as the High Seas) at the 200 nautical mile mark from the coastline. Over the past four decades, various sectors, including shipping, underwater cable infrastructure, and fishing, as well as mining interests have expanded from the familiar sunlit waters of the continental shelf far into the open ocean, and into the deepest, most unknown corners of our blue planet (Jouffray et al. 2020). Despite the High Seas covering 40% of the surface of the planet, comprising nearly 95% of the ocean’s volume and being highly connected to coastal ecosystems and communities (Popova et al. 2019), the High Seas remain a distant concept that is out of sight and out of mind for most people.
Cultivating a relationship to almost half of our planet is essential if we are to protect this vital ecological system – both for its own intrinsic value, and for our own culture and needs (Allison et al. 2020). However, inculcating such a connection is no simple task. One way to start to build such empathy is to envision a sustainable future for the High Seas — one that embodies both empathetic connections and hope (Blythe et al., 2021).
The COVID-19 pandemic provided a fortuitous opportunity to convene a diverse group of High Seas stakeholders virtually across multiple time zones to explore the ingredients and composition of more desirable futures. We used an adapted science fiction prototyping approach with inputs from artists to foster a space for creative reimagining. Below we share the science-fiction narratives that emerged from this process, drawing on knowledge ranging from technological innovations, like gene editing, to marine cultural connections that have been eroded by industrialisation. Governance was a central feature of all of the stories, accentuating how important upcoming negotiations are in setting out an international framework to steer humankind towards more equitable futures and away from current extractivist paradigms. Our aim is for these outputs to help inform alternative framings of what is possible in the ongoing UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, as well as negotiations for a new international legally binding treaty towards the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ negotiations), and the Mining Code being developed at the International Seabed Authority, to advance pathways toward a thriving High Seas. We will also ensure the work feeds into the upcoming Intergovernmental Science-Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Transformative Change Assessment to strengthen marine aspects of this initiative.
A diverse group of 30 stakeholders, many of whom are co-authors of this article, joined an online workshop in three parts to undertake a creative process to define transformative visions for the High Seas. These participants ranged in terms of their expertise on marine issues, from fisheries experts, marine ecologists and modellers to practitioners and activists at all career stages, representing all six continents. Crucially, many of the participants play key roles in shaping the future of the High Seas, whether through participating in ongoing negotiations or undertaking scientific research that will inform these negotiations. The Nature Futures framework (NFF) from the IPBES expert group on scenarios and models (Pereira et al. 2020) was a starting point for the discussions. The NFF is a triangle space with each of the corners representing a different positive value perspective on nature and its contribution to people (Fig 1).
- Nature for Nature: in which nature has value in and of itself (emphasising the intrinsic values of nature);
- Nature for Society: in which nature is primarily valued for the benefits or uses people derive from it (focussing on instrumental values for nature);
- Nature as Culture: in which humans are perceived as an integral part of nature (recognising relational values for nature).
The aim of the NFF is to provide a simple way to illustrate a complex blend of values for appreciating nature, particularly in thinking about diverse desirable futures that recognise all of these values.
During the workshop, we combined the approach from “Seeds from the Good Anthropocenes” project (goodanthropocenes.net/; Raudsepp-Hearne et al. 2019) in conjunction with science fiction prototyping (Merrie et al. 2018). Using the ‘Seeds approach’, we asked each participant to submit their idea of a seed – ‘a process, initiative or way of seeing the world’ that was currently marginal, but that they thought could contribute to a better future for the High Seas (Bennett et al. 2016).
Participants were then allocated into the three groups formed around each corner of the NFF triangle to discuss a future, where either instrumental values for nature (Nature for Society), intrinsic values for nature (Nature for Nature) or relational values for nature (Nature as Culture) were emphasised. Each of the seeds (see Appendix in Chibwe et al. 2021) was allocated to a corner by the participant as they introduced the seed, but for purposes of keeping groups equal in size and mixed in terms of geography and expertise, the three groups did not always have all the people who had submitted seeds to that corner. As is outlined more fully in the method described in Chibwe et al. 2021, each group had rich discussions about their seeds, what they represented and how they could grow to contribute to better futures. The result was a set of stories about the future of the High Seas focusing on each corner of the NFF triangle. To help with the development of the narrative, each group started their narrative journey on board the same ocean research vessel, the Manta. Additionally, to push for more transformative, creative thinking, a set of seven characters were defined prior to the workshop by the workshop coordinators and allocated to each story based on their corner and a throw of the dice (Figure 2). This allowed for common threads through the stories although not all original characters are in the final stories and some new ones emerged.
The stories are not chronological, they are intended as parallel futures, but it is possible to see potential links and pathways between them. Due to the level of technology and progress in each of the stories, the reader may pick up a temporal logic to the order in which each of the stories is presented here. This is more for ease of reading than to put them on any single timeline. However, it may help if the reader jumped ahead a few decades in their mind in-between reading each narrative. This is, however, not essential as each should also be able to stand alone and read in any order. These stories are not intended to be utopian, but they hopefully offer a pause to reflect on where we want to go and how we might get there…
(Please see the slides)
Figure 2: Short description and image of each of the seven characters © Care Creative
*Take a deep breath* As you read this, realise that some of the oxygen that is now flowing through your veins was generated from the High Seas. Embrace that connection.
–-Continue reading “The Living Infinite“