A creative approach to supporting the development of a Code of Conduct for Marine Conservation 

Final Mosaic Mural

Final Mosaic Mural


Workshop group photo.

Workshop group photo.

As a means to further calls made in several current conservation publications (2013-2015) – and discussions that emerged at the Think Tank on the Human Dimensions of Large Scale Marine Protected Areas held in February 2016 – a workshop was sponsored by the Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to continue the critical conversation on the topic of codes of conduct for marine conservation.

Titled, “Continuing the conversation on a code of conduct for marine conservation,” the convening was co-hosted by Nathan J. Bennett, PhD, and Yoshitaka Ota, the then Director of the Nereus Program, as a side event to the 2016 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii on 31 August. Aimed at supporting a reasoned discussion of contextually appropriate and acceptable processes and practices in the context of marine conservation, the gathering sought to co-produce a high-level paper proposing a way forward to develop and promote uptake of a code of conduct within the global marine conservation community.

As there was a desire to (1) incorporate a creative approach to developing a code of conduct, (2) bring beauty, and (3) strengthen participants’ personal connection to the process, workshop co-hosts invited Naiʻa Lewis (And Still the Waters Rise) to present and provide a mechanism for these complimentary objectives to be achieved.

The collaborative art Mosaic Mural™ process was integrated into the existing workshop program and the final artwork completed following the meeting. All participants were provided with the final image and it remains as visual representation of the writing process and the published paper.

Click on the following links to download the final paper and corresponding Policy Brief. 


Native Hawaiian cultural symbolism was considered alongside the workshop’s purpose and objectives to select the overall image of the heʻe (octopus) as the Mosaic Mural™ theme. The title of the final artwork is Mana Kiaʻi, which means guardian mana or power - that which guards over, and this is what we ultimately hope a code of conduct will provide to a community.

Squares post-coloring by participants but before reassembly and the final artistic overlay that merges all of the contributions into one cohesive

Squares post-coloring by participants but before reassembly and the final artistic overlay that merges all of the contributions into one cohesive

The image was drawn onto a master 16-inch sheet, which was then cut into smaller three-inch squares.  The intent was for each workshop participant to have their own square to work on. During the opening session on the day of the convening, the 20 participants were provided with an overview of how the collaborateive art experience would be conducted and given a square. A table with colored pencils and sharpeners was set up at the back of the room and after instructions were given, they had access to the supplies throughout the day.

At the start of the workshop participants were asked to begin producing their square by doing the following:

Mural squares have been reassembled mid-process but no additional work by Naiʻa has been applied.

Mural squares have been reassembled mid-process but no additional work by Naiʻa has been applied.

1.     Sign their name on the back but not as a way to identify them as the artist but as a means to hold themselves accountable. They were asked to view this step as being akin signing a contract around the code of conduct and committing to contribute authentically to communities they engage with.

2.     Write a single word representing how they would want to feel if they were a community member being engaged by researchers or "others" working in their community and employing a proposed code of conduct.

3.     Commit at least 10 minutes of focused effort (at some point during the workshop) to complete the square and while doing so, hold in their minds positive outcomes for the communities they have worked with. 

Final mural.

Final mural.

Word Cloud visual of participantsʻ chosen terms.

Word Cloud visual of participantsʻ chosen terms.

Post workshop, the words on the back of the cards were transcribed and a word cloud produced to create a visual of the participants' sentiments. This grouping of words were not utilized for further discussion in this particular workshop but in other situations where the Mosaic Mural process has been employed these collections of terms have been used to initiate more in-depth conversations about the issue at hand.

In this case, had time allowed, a conversation could have been facilitated around the importance of language and the need to talk about the underlying meanings of words, which may or may not always be held as having the same meanings amongst a group or community. As an example, key follow up questions could have been asked, such as: (1) What does the term respect mean to you? or (2) What behaviors might the researchers have employed to engender positive experiences by community members? or (3) Does the word “respect” match what you would want to feel if you compared it to the other words – “empowerment” as an example?


The overall symbolism represented in the mosaic mural™ comes from Native Hawaiian cultural perspectives and relationships with the natural world. The image in the mural is the heʻe (octopus), which is a kinolau or body form of Kanaloa–god of the ocean. The heʻe is also an iconic species across Polynesia. 

As heʻe are boneless and can become a seamless part of the environment around them they embody how researchers “should” behave. They also have eight tentacles that can reach out and bring together multiple ideas or perspectives and feed them into the body or symbolically the a singular source to create a unified presence. Heʻe can also excrete dark ink - a darkness that hides deep knowledge that could be seen as being the primordial darkness of pō, the place from which all spirits emerge and then return to after death.

As each square of the mural represents an individual commitment to the code, the artwork as a whole represents the collective commitment. Symbolically, this says the success we achieve is going to be based on the commitment and integrity of the collective. The work of the lead artist represents the overall process and outcomes of successful of community engagement.


The workshop objectives were as follows:

  1. To continue and build on a number of recent conversations on the need for a code of conduct for marine conservation.
  2. To explore and examine the rationale for, the elements of, and the implications and challenges posed by a code of conduct. 
  3. To co-author a high level and impact review paper that raises the issues and need for a code of conduct to prominence.
  4. To propose a way forward to develop and promote uptake of a code of conduct for the marine conservation community.

The complimentary collaborative art process objectives were as follows:

  1. To bring beauty and art into conservation.
  2. To create a visual representation of a code of conduct.
  3. To bring participants into a more creative mind set so as to enrich the engagement and outcomes.
  4. To create a deeper sense of "personal accountability" for the contributions made during the workshop.
  5. To offer a more cultural based approach to enhance the workshop process and means of communicating outcomes.


From all accounts, the Mana Kiaʻi Mosaic Mural was successful and achieved its objectives. The paper has been published and the final scanned image provided to the participants. Although it would have been beneficial to have had additional time to facilitate a dialogue around the selected terms, when the process has been shared with other groups and/or audiences, the reaction is positive; people are easily able to make the connection between this particular creative process and enhancement of the outcomes of the workshop.