The Ocean Decade

On 5 December 2017, the United Nations declared that a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development would be held from 2021 to 2030. The Ocean Decade provides a common framework to ensure that ocean science can fully support countries to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Ocean Decade provides a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to create a new foundation across the science-policy interface to strengthen the management of our oceans and coasts for the benefit of humanity.

The Ocean Decade will strengthen the international cooperation needed to develop the scientific research and innovative technologies that can connect ocean science with the needs of society. It will also contribute to the UN processes protecting the ocean and its resources, such as the SAMOA Pathway, the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea, the post-2020 framework for the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The Ocean Decade requires the engagement of many different stakeholders to create new ideas, solutions, partnerships and applications, these include: scientists, governments, academics, policy makers, business, industry and civil society. The Ocean Decade revolves around 10 challenges in order to achieve seven major outcomes.

The 10 Ocean Decade challenges

The Ocean Decade identifies 10 challenges for ocean science to support the sustainable development goals, to be attained through an open, participative and inclusive, process.

Challenge1: Understand and beat marine pollution

Understand and map land and sea-based sources of pollutants and contaminants and their potential impacts on human health and ocean ecosystems and develop solutions to remove or mitigate them.

Challenge 2: Protect and restore ecosystems and biodiversity

Understand the effects of multiple stressors on ocean ecosystems, and develop solutions to monitor, protect, manage and restore ecosystems and their biodiversity under changing environmental, social and climate conditions.

Challenge 3: Sustainably feed the global population

Generate knowledge, support innovation, and develop solutions to optimise the role of the ocean in sustainably feeding the world’s population under changing environmental, social and climate conditions.

Challenge 4: Develop a sustainable and equitable ocean economy

Generate knowledge, support innovation, and develop solutions for equitable and sustainable development of the ocean economy under changing environmental, social and climate conditions.

Challenge 5: Unlock ocean-based solutions to climate change

Enhance understanding of the ocean-climate nexus and generate knowledge and solutions to mitigate, adapt and build resilience to the effects of climate change across all geographies and at all scales, and to improve services including predictions for the ocean, climate and weather.

Challenge 6: Increase community resilience to ocean hazards

Enhance multi-hazard early warning services for all geophysical, ecological, biological, weather, climate and anthropogenic related ocean and coastal hazards, and mainstream community preparedness and resilience.

Challenge 7: Expand the Global Ocean Observing System

Ensure a sustainable ocean observing system across all ocean basins that delivers accessible, timely, and actionable data and information to all users.

Challenge 8: Create a digital representation of the Ocean

Through multi-stakeholder collaboration, develop a comprehensive digital representation of the ocean, including a dynamic ocean map, which provides free and open access for exploring, discovering, and visualizing past, current, and future ocean conditions in a manner relevant to diverse stakeholders.

Challenge 9: Skills, knowledge and technology for all

Ensure comprehensive capacity development and equitable access to data, information, knowledge and technology across all aspects of ocean science and for all stakeholders.

Challenge 10: Change humanity’s relationship with the ocean

Ensure that the multiple values and services of the ocean for human wellbeing, culture, and sustainable development are widely understood, and identify and overcome barriers to behaviour change required for a step change in humanity’s relationship with the ocean.

The seven Ocean Decade outcomes

The Ocean Decade aims for transformative ocean science solutions for sustainable development, connecting people and our ocean. The Ocean We Want is expressed in terms of seven major outcomes.

Outcome 1: A clean ocean, where sources of pollution are identified and reduced or removed. Society generates a wide variety of pollutants and marine litter, such as toxic and persistent organic compounds, heavy metals and plastics. It also causes various physical and biogeochemical alterations of the aquatic environment, from eutrophication caused by excess nutrients to underwater noise of anthropogenic origin. These disturbances come from a wide variety of land and marine pollutant sources, including localized and non-lo¬calized sources. Their effects endanger ecosystems, human health and natural resources. It is essential to fill the interdisciplinary knowledge gaps on the causes and sources of pollution and its effects on ecosystems and human health. These insights will underpin the joint formulation of shared solutions to eliminate pollution at source, mitigate harmful activi¬ties and contribute to the transition of society towards a circular economy.

Outcome 2: A healthy and resilient ocean, where marine ecosystems are understood, protected, restored and managed. The degradation of marine ecosystems is accelerating due to unsustainable activities carried out on land and at sea. To manage marine and coastal ecosystems sustainably, and to protect or restore them where necessary, we need to improve our understanding of ecosystems and their reactions to multiple stressors. This applies both to the local degradation of the coastal and marine environment and to the global effects of climate change on the marine environment. This knowledge is essential in order to develop tools for implementing actions that create resilience, avoiding situations of no return and thus guaranteeing that ecosystems continue to provide their services for the health and well-being of society and the planet as a whole.

Outcome 3: A productive ocean, supporting sustainable food supply and a sustainable ocean economy. The ocean is a key pillar in global economic development and future human health and well-being, especially in terms of food security and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people. Knowledge and tools are essential to support the recovery of exploited stocks with sustainable fishing and aquaculture practices while protecting essential biological diversity and ecosystems. The ocean also provides es¬sential goods and services to a wide variety of industries, including the extractive industry, energy, tourism, transportation and pharmaceuticals. Each of these sectors has specific needs in knowledge, technology and innovation, as well as in decision-support instru¬ments that minimize risks and optimize the development of a sustainable ocean economy. Governments also need information and tools to guide the development of sustainable ocean economies and to promote the marine sectors.

Outcome 4: A predictable ocean, where society understands and can respond to changing ocean conditions. The enormous volume of the ocean has not been adequately mapped or observed, nor is it fully understood. It is essential to improve the exploration and understanding of the elements that control changes in the ocean, including its physi¬cal, chemical and biological components and their relationships with the atmosphere and cryosphere, particularly in relation to climate change. This knowledge ranges from the shoreline to the high seas and from the surface to the deep ocean, including past, current and future ocean conditions. A comprehensive understanding of the interconnections and responses in ocean ecosystems will support the predictions necessary for a dynamic ocean management that is adapted to changes in the environment and use of the ocean.

Outcome 5: A safe ocean, where life and livelihoods are protected from ocean-related hazards. Hydrometeorological, geophysical and biological hazards, as well as those caused by humans, have devastating, cascading and unsustainable effects on coastal communities, ocean users, ecosystems and economies. The changing frequency and intensity of weath¬er- and climate-related hazards are exacerbating these risks. Mechanisms and processes are necessary to assess priority risks, mitigate, predict and warn of these hazards, and to formulate flexible responses to reduce short- and long-term impacts on land and sea. This means having higher density ocean data and better forecasting systems, including those related to sea level, marine meteorological conditions and climate in near real-time and at the scales of decades. These improvements, accompanied by education, outreach and communication, will allow the formulation of policies and decisions aimed at greater indi¬vidual and community resilience.

Outcome 6: An accessible ocean, with open and equitable access to data, information and technology and innovation. The data must be managed under the FAIR principles, which ensure that they are Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. Educational inequalities in ocean science and knowledge of our environment must be eradicated, and it is therefore essential to ensure access to knowledge, technology and data resulting from experimentation and observation of the ocean, together with precise knowledge of its ori¬gins and quality control. This must be accompanied by increased skills and opportunities to collaborate in data collection, knowledge generation and technological development, particularly in less developed countries, landlocked regions and small island states, whose well-being is not unrelated to the global knowledge of our planet. The management, inno¬vation and adoption of sustainable strategies and policies will improve with a greater and better dissemination of oceanic knowledge among the scientific community, governments, educators, companies, the industrial sector and the general public, contributing to the so¬cial objectives related to sustainable development.

Outcome 7: An inspiring and engaging ocean, where society understands and values the ocean in relation to human well-being and sustainable development. In order to en-courage a change in behaviour and ensure the effectiveness of the solutions formulated within the framework of the Ocean Decade, a profound change in the relationship be¬tween society and the ocean is necessary. This can be achieved through approaches based on marine culture, traditional and innovative education and awareness tools, and measures to ensure equitable physical access to the ocean. Together, these approaches will generate a broader societal understanding of the economic, social and cultural values of the ocean and of the multitude of roles they play in advocating for health, well-being and sustainable development. This result will highlight the beauty and inspirational nature of the ocean, thereby influencing the next generation of scientists, policy makers, government officials, administrators and innovators.