How UK research can contribute to the UN Decade of Ocean Science

07 June 2021

The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (hereafter referred to as the Ocean Decade) promotes "the science we need for the ocean we want". It acknowledges that science is essential to addressing the challenges faced by the ocean, and seeks to outline a framework to ensure future ocean research can work to help the global community create an ocean which meets environmental and human needs.

In October 2020, the Royal Society's Global Environmental Research Committee held a workshop which brought together representatives from across the UK's ocean community to identify how the UK can make a successful contribution to the Ocean Decade. The workshop identified four priority research areas for the Ocean Decade and five essential elements which research should meet to fully contribute to the Ocean Decade’s desired outcomes. In addition, the workshop provided advice on how Ocean Decade science can be supported and delivered.

An overview of the four research priorities can be found below. Further information is available in the workshop summary (PDF) and the detailed full workshop report (PDF)

  1. Connecting the deep sea to society to support sustainable development.
  2. Accelerating participatory solutions to the rapid changes facing coral coast ecosystems and dependent communities.
  3. Improving our capacity to understand and predict sea level rise and its extremes to enable sustainable adaptation.
  4. Understanding, forewarning and mitigating the impacts of multiple pressures on marine ecosystems and the services they provide. 

The five essential elements which UK research should address in order to effectively contribute to the Ocean Decade are as follows:

  1. Assess the changes to, and resilience of, marine systems across different space (from local to global) and time scales;
  2. Deliver a step change in the predictive capacity required for forecasting and management of diverse marine resources;
  3. Link ocean and ecosystem services to the quality and equity of people’s lives and livelihoods;
  4. Address human health and well-being in the context of the Decade outcomes;
  5. Assess ecological and societal solutions, including their equity and scalability, via ocean literacy actions.

Why is the ocean so important?

There is only one ocean and it is essential to all life on Earth. Covering over 70% of the Earth’s surface, the ocean is home to a vast array of marine creatures and ecosystems. It also underpins the global climate system on which all life depends, absorbing and redistributing carbon, excess heat, and nutrients. The ocean provides direct and indirect benefits to humans, through biodiversity and ecosystem support, provisioning of food and water, and by contributing to well-being, health, culture, energy, tourism, transport and trade. Protecting the ocean is essential for a healthy planet.