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Digital initiative

Tavola: Risk, rights and coexisting voices of the Indian Ocean



On Ocean Archive and on Ocean Space and TBA21–Academy Facebook pages

The Indian Ocean accounts for 30% of global ocean space, but dramatic undersampling, poorly understood biodiversity and the isolation of existing studies have led to its characterisation as the ‘unknown ocean’. Its myriad tropical ecosystems and fish populations support coastal communities across southern Asia, eastern and southern Africa and the Arabian Gulf. At the same time, forces of nature born from land-sea-air interactions, ever-growing in intensity, pose threats to onshore life and livelihoods. This is particularly the case in coastal areas where communities are caught between sea level rise and increasingly precarious subsidence economies. Human interventions exacerbate risk, for example by removing natural flood defences to facilitate economic growth and harming ecosystem resilience through overfishing. Furthermore, responses overlook the possibility to develop efficient systems to prevent catastrophes by focusing on relief rather than mitigating causes and impacts on the affected population. The responses of Indian Ocean coastal states, in the form of national and regional policies, continue to prioritise economic growth under the guise of sustainable development, leaving human and nonhuman inhabitants ever more vulnerable to destructive forms of global change. In what ways can we attune to the diverse sensibilities and agencies giving form to experience, lifeways and survival in the Indian Ocean?

This tavola explores the range of actors, human and otherwise, that inhabit and shape the Indian Ocean by listening to voices from its diverse seascapes and subjectivities. Fiona Middleton experiments with a rights of nature approach to regulating areas beyond national jurisdiction, as seen through the (big)eyes of Indian Ocean tuna, in collaboration with Pietro Consolandi. Pietro Consolandi adopts the interspecies and intertidal viewpoint of mangroves, silently guarding the coasts of India, in conversation with Mumbai-based long term activist B. N. Kumar. Christantus Begealawuh revisits Cyclone Idai 472 days on, one of the deadliest tropical cyclones recorded in the South-West Indian Ocean basin, and discusses African leadership response to the catastrophe.


The "Tavola" are conceived as a space (without walls) for discussion. They are organized and promoted by the participants of the 2020 Ocean Fellowship created by TBA21—Academy within the context of Territorial Agency’s exhibition “Oceans in Transformation” at Ocean Space, in Venice, and its manifestation on Ocean Archive. Each Tavola intersects autonomously the Trajectories identified by Territorial Agency.

This event was conceived and coordinated by researchers: Fiona Middleton, Pietro Consolandi and Christantus Begealawuh under the supervision of the two mentors Barbara Casavecchia and Louise Carver. Click here for more information about the Ocean Fellowship program.