Breaking ocean wave
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Scientists and policy makers are gearing up for what they see as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to draw attention to the world’s oceans, make a lasting impact on increasing scientific knowledge, and foster beneficial management of the oceans.

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which begins on 1 January 2021 and continues until 2030, “will provide a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to create a new foundation, across the science-policy interface, to strengthen the management of the ocean,” according to the United Nations (UN) Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Sessions at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2018

Several sessions at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2018 focus on the decade, which the UN General Assembly endorsed last December and for which the UN’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) is preparing an implementation plan.

The ocean science decade “is not just a science experiment.”

Fall Meeting 2018 sessions include a presentation on Friday afternoon by Craig McLean, who is the acting chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, assistant administrator for the agency’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, and U.S. representative to the IOC.

A Monday town hall with McLean and other experts discussed science priorities and the decade’s implementation planning process, and explored how the science community can collaborate with the UN and others, including government and the private sector, through the decade.

Not Just a Science Experiment

The ocean science decade “is not just a science experiment,” McLean told Eos. He said there are “compelling reasons” to be looking at the oceans, including various threats—including warming temperatures, the demise of coral reefs, ocean acidification, and plastics in the seas—and the interconnection between people, economies, and the oceans.

The oceans bear the marks of the human influence on Earth,” he said. “As that ecosystem changes very quickly, we need to know what the future is going to look like. And the [ocean] decade could be answering purposeful questions.”

Motivation for the Ocean Decade

The main motivation for the decade “is to support efforts to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health and create improved conditions for sustainable development of the oceans, seas and coasts,” according to a roadmap for the decade approved by IOC’s executive council.

The roadmap notes that the endorsement of the ocean decade by the UN General Assembly “implies an acknowledgement by the global community of the importance, need for and role of ocean science, data and information exchange for sustainable development, and that science can play an important role in helping the ocean support the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development].”

Research Priorities

Research and development priority areas in the roadmap include creating a comprehensive digital atlas of the ocean; implementing a comprehensive ocean observing system; developing a quantitative understanding of ocean ecosystems and their functioning; improving an ocean-related multihazard warning system; and capacity building, education, and ocean literacy efforts.

The roadmap also notes that the decade can spur UN member states and others to implement adaptation strategies and policies, and can catalyze investments in ocean science and support for sustainable development.

In addition, the roadmap outlines some potential outcomes of the decade, including a healthy and resilient ocean, a predicted ocean, a safe ocean, and a sustainably harvested and productive ocean.

Looking Ahead to 2030

“Hopefully, by 2030, the world will be accepting of the notion that sustainability is achievable and we’re on a path for it.”

McLean told Eos that his hope is that, by 2030, the closing year of the decade, the public will be making sounder decisions to preserve the environment. “Hopefully, by 2030, the world will be accepting of the notion that sustainability is achievable and we’re on a path for it.”

“If we could truly, through the decade, arrive at a point where matters that relate to the ocean are driven by science,” he added, “maybe decisions that are detrimental would not be tolerated.”

There’s no time to waste, McLean explained. “This is a one-shot deal that we’ve got. The Earth is changing so fast around us,” he said. “If you can have a little bit of positive influence in the direction of the science, take it now and do something special with it. This a very important time to do it.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer


Showstack, R. (2018), Ocean science decade comes at time of precarious decline, Eos, 99, Published on 12 December 2018.

Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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