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Pulitzer Center Update April 23, 2024

Ocean Reporting Network Fellows Convene in Spain


The Pulitzer Center’s Ocean Reporting Network (ORN) Fellows came together in Barcelona, Spain, for a workshop on April 8 and 9, 2024, and a United Nations ocean science conference on April 10-13. 

Led by Ocean Editor Jessica Aldred, the Fellows were joined by members of the Pulitzer Center’s Editorial team, including Jelter Meers and Federico Acosta Rainis, from the Data and Research unit; Doménica Montaño, environmental investigations program coordinator; and Eric Selemani, from the International Education and Outreach (IEO) team. 

The ORN was launched in May 2023, offering professional journalists the opportunity to spend a whole year on an in-depth or investigative ocean story. The current cohort represents a diverse range of topics, backgrounds, geographies, and outlets that will publish their work. They receive a salary and reporting expenses, along with the support of a dedicated editor, data, Research and Engagement teams, plus regular topical and skills-based training.

Based on the Center’s successful model of rainforest reporting, they collaborate with their co-Fellows, benefiting from one another’s skills, networks, and diverse perspectives. 

Applications are now open to join the second ORN cohort 



Bringing the cohort together 


The ORN cohort on a rooftop
Image by Ocean Reporting Network/Pulitzer Center.
The ORN cohort in a workshop
Image by Ocean Reporting Network/Pulitzer Center.

This was the first time that many of the 2023 cohort had met each other—or Pulitzer Center staff—and the benefits of bringing people together in-person could be seen as the week progressed. 

The first day of the workshop was spent reflecting on progress in the first seven months of the Fellowship. The cohort talked about the stories published so far and the status of their upcoming work. There were sessions on data, research, publishing, and promotion plans, and reflections on potential investigations after the Fellowship that could use the new skills and tools Fellows have acquired. 

Selemani, from IEO, led a session on “The Power of a Single Story: An Immersion Into the Pulitzer Center’s Full Model Strategy.” This enabled Fellows to fully engage with the new full model, which combines breakthrough journalism and audience engagement across all of the Center's programs. IEO success stories were showcased, followed by a group exercise where Fellows generated potential outreach and education activities inspired by their own projects. 


Eric gives a presentation to the ORN fellows
Image by Ocean Reporting Network/Pulitzer Center.

On Tuesday the cohort spent time together on an educational field trip, which involved a boat trip, seafood lunch, and a visit to Barcelona’s traditional fishing port. Guide Nuria Izaguirre, a marine biologist from local NGO El Peix Al Plat, showed us the artisanal and semi-industrial fishing boats and gear in the harbour, the auction house, and some of the species that had been caught that day. The cohort learned about the local and regional policies and regulation that help to conserve marine species and keep the seas productive for everyone. 


The ORN fellows pose for a photo on a boat
Image by Ocean Reporting Network/Pulitzer Center.
Fishnets at a port with a tall structure in the background
Image by Ocean Reporting Network/Pulitzer Center.
A woman shows a box with fish in it to the group
Image by Ocean Reporting Network/Pulitzer Center.

UN Decade of Ocean Science 

For the remainder of the week, the team attended the UN Decade of Ocean Science conference. This global forum, hosted by Spain and UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC/UNESCO), was the first in-person gathering of the Ocean Decade community. It brought together 1,500 representatives from science, governments, NGOs and civil society, philanthropy, industry, and United Nations entities to set the key priorities for ocean science in the coming years. The agenda for the week was to provide a stocktake of the decade’s achievements so far, set a common vision for the future, and spark new partnerships and collaborations. 

Plenary sessions, exhibition booths, and side events covered themes including climate change, food security, biodiversity, the blue economy, and pollution. There was also a program of cultural satellite events, with film screenings and exhibitions for the public taking place all over the city throughout the week. 


A sign for the ocean decade conference
Image by Ocean Reporting Network/Pulitzer Center.
Peter Thomson addresses a large conference audience
Peter Thomson addresses the opening plenary. Image by Ocean Reporting Network/Pulitzer Center.

The largest global ocean science initiative ever undertaken, the Ocean Decade began in 2021, a year after a global report described the state of ocean science as “insufficient.” The aim of the Ocean Decade program is “the science we need for the ocean we want”—having a solid foundation of science to enable policymakers to act to protect the marine environment within the U.N.’s sustainable development framework. 

The decade also focuses on raising public awareness and ocean literacy in wider society. 

Vidar Helgesen, the new IOC executive secretary, explained that when the idea of the Ocean Decade was first discussed in 2015, the landscape was very different. “Ocean issues were at best siloed and at worst, invisible. Since then there has been a groundswell of ocean science and activism. We have seen a global movement convening science, community, governments, philanthropy, and industry. [There has been] increased awareness of ocean science to underpin sustainable development and support emerging global policy frameworks.” 

Crucially, he told the opening plenary session, there had also been a recognition of Indigenous and local knowledge and advances in inclusivity in ocean science. 

But there remain significant challenges for the rest of the decade. 

“[There are] critical knowledge gaps—in the deep sea, pollution, small-scale fisheries, ocean economy,” he said. “We need a clear process for policy triggers for science at global, national, and regional levels; support to Small Island Development States and Least Developed Countries to set and fulfill national and regional priorities; investment in science and in infrastructure for observations, data, and predictions.” 

While the conference didn’t make any legally binding commitments or pledges, it closed with the “Barcelona declaration,” a roadmap that identifies the areas where ocean solutions must be accelerated in the next few years. 

The meeting was one of an important series of upcoming global ocean events, culminating in the third UN Ocean Conference in Nice, France, June 9-13, 2025. The presence of heads of state, monarchy, and high-level U.N. representatives showed how seriously the conference was taken internationally. 

Peter Thomson, the U.N. special ocean envoy, told delegates that the meeting came at a unique moment in the global ocean governance landscape, in which we had “many reasons for hope.” He hailed the signing of treaties in recent years to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 and the high seas; and progress toward a global plastics treaty and to end harmful fishing subsidies

But, he warned, “there is a moral malaise in us not tackling a world on track for 3C (3 degrees Celsius) of warming. We need to find an alternative road to a 1.5C (1.5 degrees Celsius) livable world, and we need to rely on science to provide us with that roadmap.” 


The ORN fellows in the media center
The ORN Fellows in the media center. Image by Ocean Reporting Network/Pulitzer Center.

Making the most of the conference 

While none of the Fellows was reporting directly on the proceedings of the conference for their outlets, most of the benefits came from meeting scientists whose work is linked to their reporting projects, and building a wider knowledge base of many ocean issues. 

Fellow Aryn Baker interviewed Peter Thomson, U.N. special ocean envoy, for her investigation into the human health impacts of plastic pollution for TIME, and other sources relevant to her project. 

“I also came home with several story ideas about ocean science, marine fisheries, and ocean communities that I plan to develop in the near future,” Baker said. 


Aryn Baker interviews Thomson
TIME's Aryn Baker interviews Peter Thomson, the U.N. special ocean envoy. Image by Ocean Reporting Network/Pulitzer Center.

While everyone has met virtually during regular Zoom meetings over the course of the Fellowship, meeting in person deepened connections, Baker said. 

“My fellow Fellows helped sharpen my reporting angles, gave me excellent ideas, and suggested sources that I never would have found on my own.” 

Gideon Sarpong, who is looking into the impact of European fisheries policy in Ghana, agreed. “Attending the conference connected me with ocean data specialists and scientists crucial to my investigations. Equally significant were the face-to-face interactions with other ORN Fellows, fostering valuable collaborative opportunities for our investigations.” 

As editor of the ORN, it was rewarding for me to get to know everybody better and spend time together as a group taking part in a range of activities. Eman Mounir, a Middle East data journalist, said the week was enriching, personally and professionally.

"We had a fantastic week filled with a mix of work, exploring the city, trying out new delicious foods, and breaking the fast together during Ramadan. On a professional note, I discovered some fascinating databases by visiting exhibition booths and attended some inspiring sessions that sparked ideas for future projects.” 

For Alexandra Talty, who is investigating the expansion of the U.S. seaweed industry, the Pulitzer Center’s Editorial team provided important leadership and insight at her first U.N. event. 

“It was an invaluable experience. I interviewed scientists, nonprofits, government stakeholders, and businesses, while also connecting with sources for future stories. I was introduced to new ocean databases, which will be helpful for my reporting.” 

It was also a unique opportunity for each of the Fellows to discuss the stories they are currently working on in one-on-one meetings with our Editorial team and brainstorm how to leverage them. 

Abdus Somad, who is investigating illegal fishing practices in Indonesia, spent time with the team looking over the data and networks he is using in his project. “We use OSINT (open-source intelligence) methods, document tracing, money flow tracing and illegal activity detection using multiple platforms. For me, this week became a place to learn together and exchange data and information to develop investigative coverage and realize collaboration. We believe that supporting each other, sharing data, through collaboration can expose crime scandals, and change policies.” 


Frederico and Somad look at a computer screen together
Pulitzer Center’s data specialist Federico Acosta Rainis and ORN Fellow Abdus Somad work on Somad’s project in the media center. Image by Ocean Reporting Network/Pulitzer Center.

Magali Estrada Astiquipan, who is following the government lobbying and policy behind Peru’s lucrative anchoveta industry, said, “I leave with the lessons learned from our daily chats and with the satisfaction that I can count on them for my future research.” 

For some Fellows, like Estrada and Somad, Barcelona was the first time they had traveled internationally, or to Europe. There was an abundance of enthusiasm, patience, and good humor, especially given the challenges of bringing people from Peru, Ecuador, Indonesia, Brazil, Italy, Egypt, Ghana, the UK, Portugal, Spain, the United States, and Thailand, and communicating in multiple languages. Several Fellows have already teamed up on their projects.

Phil Jacobson of Mongabay and Aldred were interviewed on CGTN about marine conservation and ocean reporting, with Jacobson referencing his investigation into the global shark trade.  

“The conference overall was really useful to me as an opportunity to chat on the sidelines with sources relevant to my investigation about the global shark trade. I probably had in-depth, in-person interviews with an average of two or three sources a day that were key to honing the hypotheses I've been developing over the past few months,” Jacobson said. “It's extremely efficient to be able to go to a conference like this and meet people in succession as opposed to doing this kind of research from the desk. It really tangibly accelerated the timeline for my investigation.” 

For Pulitzer Center Research editor, Jelter Meers, the conference was a good opportunity to gauge the way journalists are perceived by scientists. 

“During a panel about the communication of scientific research and improving ocean literacy, journalists were mentioned only once, and in a negative light. Some of the scientists we talked to were wary of sharing data with us, thinking that without a scientific background there is room for misinterpretation. We see this as an opportunity to improve the trust between journalists and scientists and are considering hosting a webinar with representatives of both groups, or getting scientists to write a methodology article on our website, for example.” 

For Selemani, participating in the Ocean Decade Conference was a valuable opportunity for the IEO team to enhance their understanding. 

“Engaging in sessions that highlighted priorities for the upcoming years provided us with insightful discussions and inspiration. The knowledge gained from the three-day conference will help our team align their outreach and education efforts with the urgent ocean-related challenges facing our planet. The conference in Barcelona also allowed us to establish important partnerships in the various regions where we operate."


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