#01 2021

The science we need for the ocean we want

By Professor Juliet Hermes, Manager, SAEON Egagasini Node

January 1 this year saw the launch of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021–2030 (‘the Ocean Decade’). The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a framework to convene stakeholders from diverse sectors to generate scientific knowledge and develop the partnerships needed to support a well-functioning, productive, resilient and sustainable ocean that underpins human health and well-being.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO has been mandated to coordinate the preparatory phase of the Ocean Decade and is working to create a robust enabling environment at national, regional and global levels.

Even in the current unusual times there is a lot of excitement and commitment to making this initiative really count for raising the profile of ocean science and for creating ‘a common framework to ensure that ocean science can fully support countries’ actions to sustainably manage the oceans, and more particularly to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’.

The key thrust is around ensuring that our ocean science responds to the needs of society in a participative and transformative manner. Information can be found on the official website: https://www.oceandecade.org. There are regular webinars and workshops, and you can register to receive this information. SAEON is a registered institute (under its full name – South African Environmental Observation Network).

In early 2020 the Ocean Decade hosted the Africa and the Adjacent Island States Regional Planning Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. The focus was mostly on East Africa, with west African countries more actively involved in the Atlantic meetings. In each of the seven Ocean Decade ‘themes’ there was a convergence of ideas and there is a strong drive for a coordinated African approach, so watch this space!

Ocean Decade programmes and projects

January 15 saw the deadline for Ocean Decade programmes and projects to be submitted and over 250 were received.

I have been involved in two. The first of these, OceanPractices, is driven by the International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) ocean best practices group. Jordan van Stavel, a Nelson Mandela University/SAEON MSc student, is also part of this proposal, playing a key role as an early-career ocean professional.

OceanPractices supports all ocean stakeholders in securing, equitably sharing and collectively advancing methodologies across the observation value chain. The aim of this proposal is to engage diverse communities of practice and to interlink them through FAIR and digital technologies.

The second programme is focused around observing air-sea interactions (OASIS, airseaobs.org), which is also a Special Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) working group in which Dr Warren Joubert (South African Weather Service) and myself are members. OASIS is a community working to harmonise observational strategies and develop a practical, integrated approach to observing air-sea interactions through capacity development, leveraging of multi-disciplinary activities and advancement of understanding. Both these projects are open and invite participation; if there is any interest please go to the respective websites or contact me.

There is no doubt many other South Africans have contributed to numerous other programmes being submitted as our marine science community has a strong international standing. We are also fortunate to have Dr Gilbert Siko of the Department of Science and Innovation as one of the Executive Planning Group members.

The next step we would like to see happen in South Africa, or Africa, is a national or regional committee for the Decade to ensure knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Societal impact

As oceanographers we know how important our work is to many different segments of society. Every second breath we take is because of the ocean, which is a sink for more than 25% of the atmospheric CO2 emitted by human activities and drives our weather and climate.

But are we doing a good enough job of translating ocean science into policy and informing society of what it all means?

The 2017 Global Ocean Science Report (published by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission) found that ocean science accounts for only between 0.04% and 4% of total research and development expenditures worldwide. One of the major aims of the Ocean Decade is to foster action at all levels of society towards reversing the cycle of decline in ocean health.

One way of raising awareness is through oceans accounting and creating a blue economy. The first step towards this is the UN’s adoption, in early March, of a new framework – the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting: Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA), that encompasses the contributions of nature (including the ocean) when measuring economic prosperity and human well-being.

Ultimately the Ocean Decade is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our oceans and for the ocean science community, especially for early-career ocean professionals who will be in the driving seat at the end of the decade.

The Ocean Decade provides a framework to convene stakeholders from diverse sectors to generate scientific knowledge and develop the partnerships needed to support a well-functioning, productive, resilient and sustainable ocean that underpins human health and well-being (Photo: Shutterstock)

Prof Juliet Hermes has been involved in two Ocean Decade programmes – Ocean Best Practices for the Decade and a programme focused on observing air-sea interactions