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World - Opinion: Will Understanding the Ocean Lead to “The Ocean We Want”? (With ASPN Podcast)

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030, henceforth the Ocean Decade) aims to galvanize the international community to acquire and apply scientific knowledge of the ocean.

The Ocean Decade is specifically intended to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including its promise to “leave no one behind,” which includes coastal Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, and will undoubtedly influence research agendas and financing well beyond 2030. This focus is captured in the phrase “the science we need for the ocean we want” (1). This first-of-its-kind UN Decade will require ambition and commitment, especially during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.

The current draft of the Ocean Decade Implementation Plan establishes a framework of outcomes, actions, and objectives, acknowledging the need for interdisciplinary approaches to design and deliver solution-oriented research alongside ocean-dependent people (1). Recent proposals from the academic literature for the Ocean Decade emphasize increasing our global biophysical understanding through exploration and observation of, and experimentation on, the ocean (25). But will understanding the ocean lead to “the ocean we want”? We argue that proposals for the UN Decade should consider a crucial point: To achieve the ocean we want, we must better understand the needs and priorities of ocean-dependent peoples and evaluate potential solutions for them.

Science, Sustainability, and Equity

Advancements in marine scientific knowledge and technological innovation have brought myriad benefits to people and the planet. They include: understanding global environmental change; assessing effects of anthropogenic activities and ocean-derived benefits to people; understanding the structure and function of ocean ecosystems; informing decisions on environmental management; and the development of technologies that enable humans to connect with and benefit from the ocean (68).

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Listen to ASPN's Decade of the Ocean Podcast