UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report - Royal Society

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report - Royal Society
UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report

The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable                            report forms part of the workshop output and
Development (hereafter the Ocean Decade)                                  presents a detailed overview of the workshop
challenges nations to identify the ‘science we need                       discussions. It is accompanied by a short synthesis
for the ocean we want’. It seeks to strengthen                            of the high-level findings of the workshop. The
international collaboration to build a shared                             workshop agenda and attendees list can be found
framework, across the science-policy interface, for                       in Annexes B and C, respectively.
the sustainable management of global oceans for
the benefit of humanity.                                                  The workshop was split into four sessions. Session
                                                                          1 brought together speakers from international
In October 2020, the Royal Society’s Global                               organisations and UK Government departments to
Environmental Research Committee hosted a                                 introduce national and international perspectives
virtual workshop, which brought together                                  on the Ocean Decade. Session 2 then invited
representatives of the UK’s ocean research, policy                        researchers to outline pressing science issues in
and funding community to discuss how the UK can                           line with Ocean Decade requirements. This
make a successful research contribution to the                            foundation was used by participants in sessions 3
Ocean Decade. Presentations, panels and group                             and 4 to collaboratively prioritise and further
discussions identified priority research areas to                         develop the research themes and approaches
provide advice to funding organisations,                                  needed to meet the objectives of the Ocean
Government, and research institutions. This                               Decade.

               Image: James Cook JC156 voyage to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
               © Alessandro Tagliabue.

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report - Royal Society
Table of Contents

Introduction ................................................................................................................. 1
Session 1: International context and policy needs for evidence - talks .............................. 3
Session 2: Identifying research questions – panel discussions .......................................... 7
   Panel Discussion 1: Marine habitats ..................................................................................... 7
   Panel Discussion 2: Challenges and threats in the marine environment .................................. 7
   Panel Discussion 3: Ocean-based opportunities, solutions and management .......................... 7
Sessions 3 and 4: Prioritising and Developing Research Questions - breakout discussions .. 8
Essential Elements for Ocean Decade Research ............................................................ 17
Conclusion ................................................................................................................. 17
Annex A: Acknowledgements ...................................................................................... 18
Annex B: Agenda for GERC workshop on UK research priorities for the UN Decade of Ocean
Science for Sustainable Development .......................................................................... 19
Annex C: Attendees List .............................................................................................. 22
Annex D: Session 2 - Identifying research questions ...................................................... 24
   Panel Discussion: Marine habitats ...................................................................................... 24
      Coastal oceans .............................................................................................................. 24
      Coral reefs and associated systems ................................................................................. 24
      The deep sea ................................................................................................................. 24
   Panel Discussion: Challenges and threats in the marine environment ................................... 25
      Sea level rise ................................................................................................................. 25
      Impacts of climate change on the high seas ..................................................................... 25
      Plastic pollution ............................................................................................................ 25
   Panel Discussion: Ocean-based opportunities, solutions and management ........................... 26
      Marine resource governance .......................................................................................... 26
      Blue carbon solutions .................................................................................................... 26
      Sustainability of marine food supply ............................................................................... 26

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report - Royal Society
Session 1: International context and policy needs for evidence - talks
Session 1 included four talks introducing Ocean Decade objectives, providing examples of national and
international actions around the Ocean Decade, and outlining the science that policy makers need to
address critical ocean challenges. Below is a synthesis of the key information shared by the talks.

Talk 1: Introducing the Ocean Decade:                          ●   Collaboration and co-operation; both
context and personal perspective - Professor                       internationally and between disciplines.
Angela Hatton, Director of Science and                         ●   The ability to inspire and engage the next
Technology, National Oceanography Centre                           generation.
                                                               ●   A transformation in the way we work;
This talk introduced the UN Ocean Decade and its                   embracing new technologies.
objectives.                                                    ●   Clear communication of ocean knowledge.
                                                               ●   Natural and social scientists and ocean
There is only one ocean. The ocean represents                      stakeholders working together to design and
roughly 96% of the habitable space on Earth and                    deliver solution-orientated research.
provides the primary protein source for roughly 1              ●   Capacity development.
billion people. It is vital for the functioning of our         ●   Commitments from Governments and policy
planet; it absorbs and redistributes carbon, excess                makers.
heat, and nutrients.                                           ●   Funding and calls for action.

In addition, the ocean is fundamental to                       These needs can act as guiding principles to help
economies and livelihoods. In 2016, the OECD                   us meet the objectives of the Ocean Decade.
forecast the ocean economy would double by
2030, from $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion per year1.             Talk 2: Efforts underway outside the UK:
However, this relies on healthy marine                         Action from global to national scale - Julian
ecosystems.                                                    Barbière, Head of Marine Policy and Regional
                                                               Implementation, Intergovernmental
Protecting and enhancing the ocean relies on                   Oceanographic Commission - UNESCO
collective global efforts to investigate the changes
affecting our oceans. Large scale research,                    This talk provided an overview of how the
observation, prediction systems, and data sharing              development and implementation of the Ocean
are essential to help policy makers make                       Decade is progressing at global, regional, and
evidence-based decisions about the ocean.                      national scales.

Science is at the heart of the Ocean Decade, but               The Ocean Decade was developed to be a non-
science is broad. We must bring together the                   prescriptive, adaptive framework which allows
natural science and social sciences to deliver large           diverse actors at all scales to create programs and
scale, transformative, solutions-driven research.              projects. The Ocean Decade Implementation Plan
The Ocean Decade is an opportunity to help                     identifies a variety of mechanisms to enable
influence funding calls so that funding supports               multi-level engagement.
the science we need for the ocean we want.
                                                               The implementation plan outlines ten Ocean
The Ocean Decade has set out Decade outcomes,                  Decade challenges. These cover the most
and Decade challenges. In addition to this, there              immediate priorities for the Ocean Decade and
are a number of underlying needs which can be                  can be translated into action across scales to
identified:                                                    achieve the Ocean Decade outcomes and build
                                                               ‘the ocean we want’.
●     Leadership; people, communities and
      organisations who can make things happen.

    OECD (2016), The Ocean Economy in 2030, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264251724-en.

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
Several global initiatives to facilitate the Ocean          research areas, investments and ocean
Decade objectives will be implemented, most                 management practices.
notably the Global Stakeholder Forum (due to be
established in 2021) and the Ocean Decade                   A major recent output has been their position
Alliance. The former will organise communities of           paper entitled ‘Navigating the Future V: marine
practice around the Ocean Decade challenges.                science for a sustainable future’. This focusses on
The latter is a large-scale resource mobilisation           envisioning a 4D ocean, in which changes over
mechanism.                                                  space and time were predicted.

Initiatives to facilitate the Ocean Decade                  The paper highlighted several priorities for the
objectives also exist at the regional scale, for            Ocean Decade:
instance: the Arctic Ocean Plan; the West Tropical
Atlantic Taskforce; the Pacific Regional                    ●   A clean ocean – tackling pollutants;
Programme; and the African Action Plan. Regional            ●   A safe ocean – the ability to understand and
platforms can be registered as Ocean Decade                     predict extreme events;
stakeholder networks and can enable regional                ●   A healthy ocean – an ocean that is
actors to identify priority issues to meet regional             interconnected and functioning;
needs.                                                      ●   A transparent ocean – accessible and real
                                                                time data.
Finally, national level initiatives exist in the form
of National Decade Committees. These are multi-             The European Marine Board also acknowledged
stakeholder platforms which co-ordinate between             that ecosystem models can help meet the goals of
regional and global initiatives, design and develop         the Ocean Decade. Ecosystem models must be
Ocean Decade actions, facilitate access to Ocean            connected to other models, such as physical
Decade outputs, and leverage funds and                      models, food models, socio-economic models,
resources. Currently, there are National Decade             and biogeochemical models, as well as addressing
Committees in Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France,             uncertainty and multiple spatial and temporal
Germany, Italy, India, Japan, Norway, Portugal,             scales.
the UK (see talk 4) and the USA, with more
planned including in Egypt, Iran, and Russia. The           Finally, the European Marine Board has been
exchange between these committees will be                   working to highlight the interlinkages between
facilitated by the Intergovernmental                        ocean health and human wellbeing, notably
Oceanographic Commission (IOC) governing                    through the SOPHIE Project. The European Marine
bodies and the Global Stakeholder forum.                    Board use the work from the SOPHIE Project
                                                            alongside wider research on the interrelations
Talk 3: Relevant efforts for the UN Ocean                   between human and ocean systems to inform the
Decade -                                                    Ocean Decade.
Professor Sheila Heymans, Executive Director,
The European Marine Board                                   Talk 4: Evidence Needs for Policy Making:
                                                            Defra perspective - Professor Gideon
This presentation introduced the European Marine            Henderson, Chief Scientific Advisor at Defra
Board and outlined the work the organisation is
undertaking in support of the Ocean Decade.                 This talk outlined some thoughts on the UN Ocean
                                                            Decade from a Defra perspective, and highlighted
The European Marine Board is a European                     knowledge gaps that should be addressed to
partnership between major marine and                        enable evidence-based policymaking in critical
oceanographic institutes, research funding                  areas.
agencies, and networks of universities. It focuses
on science strategy and foresight, and provides             Defra is committed to ensuring that outputs of
advice through published materials targeted at              the UN Ocean Decade will be transformational in
the European Commission and Parliament, the                 ensuring a sustainable ocean for all, and are
science community, and the public to shape

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
liaising with international partners to facilitate          nutrient cycles; disease risk; and invasive species
increased collaboration on the Ocean Decade.                and ecosystem disruption. Better understanding
                                                            these areas individually and in relation to each
The Blue Planet Fund, set to launch in 2021, was            other is needed to meet the desired Ocean
noted as the flagship scheme which aligns with              Decade outcomes.
Ocean Decade goals. It will provide £500 million
of UK development assistance to support the                 Finally, understanding the sources and impacts of
protection of the marine environment and                    pollution, including plastics, metals, and organics,
reduction of poverty in developing countries,               is needed to address the Ocean Decade’s
including through investment in marine science. It          objectives. The impact of pollutants on catalysing
aims to: improve marine biodiversity and                    antimicrobial resistance is of particular
livelihoods; resilience, adaptation to and                  importance. Research will be needed on the role
mitigation of climate change; reduce marine                 of pollutants from emerging sources, including
pollution; and ensure sustainable use of marine             offshore wind development and
systems. The Fund marks an important                        decommissioning, and carbon capture and
contribution to achieving the goals of the Ocean            storage.
                                                            It was noted that the UK has major strengths
There are several areas in which greater                    which it can bring to the Ocean Decade. Such
understanding of foundational science is needed             strengths include capacity building, technology,
for policy making.                                          modelling and ocean observation, and existing
                                                            networks (such as the Commonwealth and the
A major area in which more research is needed is            Science and Innovation network).
Blue Carbon and the role of nature-based
solutions. Coastal ecosystems are important for             To close, it was acknowledged that the Ocean
carbon sequestration, in addition to protecting             Decade is broad and international. To make
communities against climate change by providing             progress and emerge as a leader in Ocean Decade
coastal protection and food security. Conserving            progress, the UK could set a specific agenda,
coastal ecosystems is an integral part of nature-           focussing on smaller and realisable goals.
based solutions to tackling climate change and its
impacts, and meeting the Ocean Decade                       Talk 5: Evidence needs for policymaking:
challenges for sustainably managing coastal                 FCDO perspective - Lowri Griffiths, Head of
systems and better understanding ocean-climate              Ocean Policy Unit, FCDO
                                                            This talk provided an overview of the role of the
A second area where more evidence is needed is              FCDO Ocean Policy Unit and the Marine Science
science of marine protection and the                        Coordination Committee (MSCC) within the Ocean
effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).             Decade.
MPAs can form a cornerstone for meeting the
Ocean Decade challenges. Research questions                 The Ocean Policy Unit (formerly the Maritime
include: do Marine Protected Areas work? What               Policy Unit) is centred on the implementation of
are the ecological, social, economic, and cultural          the UN Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS has two
costs and benefits of MPAs? What technologies               parts of relevance to the Ocean Decade: part 13 is
can we use to implement management and                      dedicated to marine scientific research, and part
conservation measures? What framework can be                14 is dedicated to the development and transfer
used to establish MPAs on the high seas? Can                of marine technology. These outline the
MPAs tackle pollution from a variety of sources             international rules and obligations that must be
and materials or is a new framework needed?                 adhered to by Ocean Decade programmes, as well
                                                            as policies related to ocean research and
Thirdly, more research is needed on the science             technological development and transfer.
for adaptation and resilience to: extreme
weather; sea level rise and coastal flooding; ocean
acidification, deoxygenation and changing

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
The Ocean Policy Unit is involved in two                                      The MSCC is a body that aims to align UK marine
international negotiations. The first is Biodiversity                         science to inform policy and implement the UK
Beyond National Jurisdiction legislation. Two                                 Marine Science Strategy. It has been designated
research questions which could support the                                    as the UK’s national co-ordination committee for
development of this multilateral agreement are:                               the Ocean Decade, ensuring relevant information
                                                                              is made available to the UK science community.
     ●    How to identify and establish effective                             The MSCC will maintain a log of the UK projects
          MPAs?                                                               endorsed as Decade programmes and
     ●    How best to undertake modern                                        communicate Governmental priorities for the
          environmental assessments in marine                                 Ocean Decade, to help researchers align their
          systems?                                                            work with policy objectives.

A second multilateral agreement in development
relates to regulation of deep-sea mining in areas
beyond national jurisdiction. Scientific evidence is
important to developing and implementing
regulation which takes into account the likely
damage caused to ocean health by deep sea

 Image: A deep sea ecosystem. Photo courtesy of the NERC funded Deep Links Project – University of Plymouth, University of Oxford, the British
 Geological Survey, and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
Session 2: Identifying research questions – panel discussions

Session 2 featured nine short talks across three panels, which together provided an overview of marine
habitats, outlined major challenges facing the ocean, and offered possible solutions. Details of each talk can
be found in Annex D.

Panel Discussion 1: Marine habitats                         extent of sea level rise, long-term impacts of
Panel 1 explored a range of ocean systems, from             plastic pollution, and biological and
coastal oceans and coral reefs to the deep sea.             biogeochemical changes were outlined as
The discussion drew links between ocean and                 frontiers for impactful research.
human systems, highlighting their
interdependence.                                            Understanding the multifaceted impacts on
                                                            ecosystem services, weather, infrastructure, and
The multifaceted impacts of climate change on               geomorphology from sea level rise was
ocean physics, and the subsequent consequences              acknowledged as an important emerging area of
for fish stocks in coastal systems, were identified         research. The impacts of climate change on
as a priority area for research. Coral reef and             carbon sequestration and food supply were also
mangrove systems support the lives and                      found to be significant. Finally, it was agreed that
livelihoods of over 100 million small-scale fishers,        strategies to reduce the long-term accumulation
but these systems are in serious decline due to             of nano and microplastics in the oceans are
over-extraction, climate change and pollution. In           pivotal.
these contexts, understanding the drivers of
change and developing bespoke solutions were                Understanding complexity and broad systems
agreed research foci.                                       thinking was a prominent theme, from exploring
                                                            the varied trade-offs involved in addressing plastic
The deep sea was noted as having high                       pollution sources on land, to understanding the
biodiversity, despite comparatively little being            full suite of impacts on ocean systems from ice
known about it. Improved exploration of the                 sheet melt.
dynamic relationship between the deep sea with
other Earth systems and human health was                    Panel Discussion 3: Ocean-based
outlined as a frontier for research.                        opportunities, solutions and management
Modelling, data gathering, local empowerment,               Governance, equity, and partnership building
data democratisation, and interdisciplinary                 across scales featured prominently in the final
systems were highlighted as the primary                     panel discussion. Understanding the multifaceted
mechanisms for understanding these complex                  trade-offs between the environment, society, and
interrelations and developing solutions which will          the economy, in addition to the interests of
be context appropriate and effective over space.            decision makers, countries, industries,
The UK was discussed as being particularly well             communities, and individuals was identified as an
placed to play a leading role in this research, due         area which needed to be more carefully
to its strong transdisciplinary research base,              considered.
overseas territories, and international
partnerships.                                               Better understanding of trade-offs can enable
                                                            integrated management and help build optimal
Panel Discussion 2: Challenges and threats in               and equitable solutions to major challenges. It
the marine environment                                      was noted that questions of equity and
                                                            partnership building are an important tenet of the
Panel 2 addressed major uncertainties around                Ocean Decade and should be integral to future
challenges and threats faced by the ocean, and, in          research designed to contribute to the Decade.
turn, the consequences to human society. The

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
Sessions 3 and 4: Prioritising and Developing Research Questions - breakout
The outcome of session 2 was used to design                      international partnerships, most notably overseas
eight research ideas for discussion in session 3.                territories and Commonwealth countries.
The later focussed on identifying four salient
                                                                 The following four questions were identified as
research areas using a set of criteria:
                                                                 priority research areas to: advance the science
(i)       Fit to the remit of the Ocean Decade;                  needed for the Ocean Decade; expand the impact
(ii)      Transformative nature;                                 of UK science in partnership with international
(iii)     Need for a large-scale research                        colleagues; and to address pressing challenges
          programme;                                             facing the UK and Commonwealth countries.
(iv)      Opportunity for the UK to make a leading
                                                                 Overall, those ideas not selected to be taken
          contribution; and
                                                                 forward were felt to be key components of either
(v)       the opportunities for international
                                                                 the framing of all Ocean Decade work or could be
          connections and synergies.
                                                                 encompassed within the four chosen themes.
Session 4 took the four priority research areas and
further structured and developed them. The                       Four research priorities for the UN Ocean
guidelines used for the refinement of ideas during               Decade
session 4 were:                                                  What is the science necessary to deliver a
(i)       Statement of the idea, the research needs              breakthrough in our understanding of how
          to address the idea, and its outcomes;                 coral reef socio-ecological systems respond
(ii)      Potential research sub-themes; and                     and adapt to climate change and other
(iii)     Links with UK and international capacity,              stressors?
          as well as potential funders.
                                                                 Coral reefs and associated coastal systems, like
A key recognition emerging from the discussion in                mangroves, are the most biodiverse marine
session 3 was that priority research areas are                   ecosystems. It is estimated that approximately
those which are both poorly understood and have
                                                                 850 million people worldwide (many of whom are
complex interactions within and between
                                                                 among the world’s poorest) derive benefits from
ecosystems and societies. These priority research
areas examine uncertainty at the society-                        reef ecosystems2. They are therefore both
environment interface, looking at how human                      ecologically and socially important. However,
impacts affect ecosystems, and how ecosystem                     these systems are very sensitive to climate change
changes in turn affect society. In particular,                   and human impacts. In recent decades,
priority research areas rely on engagement with                  approximately 50% of these ecosystems have
local communities, moving away from top-down                     been severely degraded to non-coral dominated
research and integrating the knowledge and                       systems through human and environmental
experiences of communities who live at the                       pressures. There is therefore a pressing need to
forefront of ocean ecosystems.                                   better understand these ecosystems and their
                                                                 relationship with human societies to address the
It was felt that the UK is particularly well                     Ocean Decade objectives.
positioned to tackle each of the priority research
areas, due to the breadth and standard of UK
research expertise and the track-record of strong                ‘Socio-ecological systems’ (SES) refers to the
                                                                 complex and dynamic interrelations between
                                                                 ecosystems and human society, outlining that the

2Burke,L., Reytar, K., Spalding, M. and A. Perry. 2011. Reefs at Risk Revisited. World Resources Institute, Washington

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
two are not independent of one another, but in              Research in this area could help deliver a number
fact inextricably interwoven. This is particularly          of impacts:
clear for coral reef SESs: many societies
                                                            •   Forming the basis for stronger coastal
worldwide depend on the biodiversity of reef
                                                                ecosystem management.
ecosystems for food and livelihoods, and, in turn,
reef ecosystems are highly sensitive to direct and          •   Supporting the SDGs and wider societal
indirect human pressures.                                       outcomes.
                                                            •   Development and roll-out of technologies and
This research question was found to be of great                 approaches to enable measurement of coral
priority in driving the science needed to meet the              coasts both by local communities, as well as at
Ocean Decade objectives, benefitting ecosystems                 the national level.
and communities worldwide, and further                      •   Greater data generation at a global scale,
developing the impact of collaborative UK                       which could be democratized and shared. This
research.                                                       may prove to be a diplomatic boon for the UK.
At its core, this research question depends on              •   A better understanding of ecosystem tipping
participatory action, bringing together place-                  points and the associated human vulnerability
based managers, scientists, and local communities               to tipping points.
who directly depend on coastal coral ecosystems,
hold traditional knowledge and expertise, and are           It was felt that the UK is very well placed to
best placed to manage these systems.                        address this research question. For instance,
                                                            overseas territories and associated Exclusive
To capture the need for participatory action and            Economic Zones (EEZs) contain a vast array of
the fact that coral SESs extend to wider                    coral coast systems. UK Non-Governmental
ecosystems, such as mangroves, the question was             Organisations (NGOs), universities, social
restructured as:                                            scientists, and Government agencies are currently
                                                            working on a breadth of topics which relate to this
Accelerating participatory solutions to the rapid
changes facing coral coast ecosystems and
dependent communities.
                                                            What is the key fundamental knowledge
A number of research angles and needs were                  required to manage and monitor human
identified as being necessary to address this               impacts on deep sea ecosystems?

•   A better understanding of the sensitivities and         The deep sea is very much ‘out of sight’, yet is an
    stressors faced by coral coast systems.                 essential marine ecosystem which interacts with
•   A better understanding of the global and local          the rest of the ocean. For instance, exchanges of
    stressors relevant to different coral coasts            energy, mass and nutrients between the open
    across space.                                           ocean and the ocean floor, known as bentho-
•   The need for real-time monitoring and data              pelagic coupling, is a globally important
    gathering in coral reefs, deep-water corals,            relationship between the deep sea and wider
    and wider coastal ecosystems to better                  ocean. It is also fundamentally tied to the global
    understand the stressors faced by these                 carbon cycle, helping to ‘lock away’ carbon and
    systems at different scales.                            therefore regulating Earth’s climate. However, the
                                                            deep sea is facing substantial, and rapidly
•   Social science approaches, alongside physical
                                                            increasing human pressures. There is a risk that
    sciences, to integrate local historical
                                                            the sea floor and its associated ecosystems will be
    knowledge. Doing so can help identify past
                                                            devastated before we knew they existed or how
    biodiversity and therefore predict future
                                                            they worked, with unknown knock-on effects on
                                                            wider ocean health.

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
The technological challenges of studying the deep           •   A better understanding of a ‘frontier’
sea means there remains a lot of fundamental                    ecosystem, and its relationship to human
knowledge to uncover about this important                       society, can be used to underpin
ecosystem. Research is essential to understand                  management.
how the deep sea will be impacted by human                  •   Addressing the above research sub-themes
activity, as well as the knock-on impacts on the                will help us develop frameworks for the
wider ocean and human society.                                  sustainable use of the deep sea.
                                                            •   Deeper understanding of the stressors on the
Industry is increasingly active in the deep sea;
                                                                deep sea, including what impacts and
collaborating with industry is essential to progress
                                                                stressors are the most salient, and which
this research area, as is working collaboratively
                                                                areas of the deep sea are most important to
with nations and organisations around the world.
                                                                protect from such stressors.
To strengthen the applicability of this area to the         •   Greater knowledge of the physical interaction
Ocean Decade, and to highlight that the deep sea                between the deep sea, ocean circulation and
is interconnected with the rest of the ocean as                 the global transport of heat and carbon, to
well as human society, the question was reframed                improve projections of future climate.
as:                                                         •   Better collaboration with other countries.
                                                            •   Better data to conduct future research.
Connecting the deep sea to society to support
sustainable development.
                                                            The UK is one of the few countries with both the
Several research sub-themes are valuable to                 expertise and existing technological capabilities to
engage with this area in the context of the Ocean           access and monitor the deep sea; there is
Decade:                                                     therefore an opportunity for the UK to become an
                                                            even more prominent leader in deep sea
•   The response of the deep sea environment to             research. Indeed, the UK is already a leader in this
    human and climatic pressures.                           field, operating the few existing long-term time
•   Better understanding the processes and                  series data on the deep sea. UK universities have
    mechanisms governing the response of the                extensive research using paleo records which can
    deep sea to external pressures.                         complement understanding of historic deep sea
•   The links between the deep sea and society:             changes to inform possible future change. All this
    quantifying the impacts on ecosystem services           considered, the UK is in a good position to enable
    will enable better understanding of the                 capacity building in this space and to lead this
    impacts of deep sea change on society.                  component of the Ocean Decade.
•   Study of past oceanic change using archives
    from the deep sea, to inform the changes that
    may occur in the future.                                What breakthroughs are required to
•   Incorporating traditional and indigenous                revolutionise our ability to reduce
    knowledge to inform sustainable                         uncertainty on how sea level rise impacts the
    management.                                             coast under different societal choices to
•   Understanding the vulnerability of bentho-              facilitate adaptation in the most vulnerable
    pelagic coupling systems, to help understand            communities and beyond?
    possible consequences of human disturbance
                                                            Sea level rise (SLR) is a critical indicator of climate
    for the cycling of carbon, nutrients and
                                                            change and will impact the lives and livelihoods of
                                                            hundreds of millions of people globally. Coastal
                                                            cities, low-lying deltas, and small islands are
Research in this area could help deliver a number
                                                            particularly vulnerable. It will impact coastal
of impacts:
                                                            environments, ecosystems, assets and economies
                                                            across the world.

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
While the challenge is global, the type and scale of            thresholds and impacts on vulnerable
impacts and, therefore, their solutions are often               ecosystems. Coastal ecosystem modelling and
specific to local geographies and regions; not                  computational fluid dynamics will be useful to
everywhere will experience the same impacts of                  this research.
SLR, nor have the same capacity to respond. As              •   The amount of saltwater intrusion and its
such, research to understand the impacts of SLR                 impacts on drinking water availability and
over space must integrate regional and local                    irrigation.
realities and priorities.                                   •   The possible impacts on human health from
                                                                coastal flooding.
There are three interrelated areas of uncertainty
                                                            •   The resilience of coastal infrastructure.
under this research theme: uncertainty
                                                            •   Understanding the role of nature-based and
surrounding the level of SLR itself; uncertainty
                                                                technology-based solutions (and hybrids of
about how coasts and ecosystems will respond
                                                                the two) for adaptation will be crucial, and the
(e.g. can corals keep up with sea level and still
                                                                efficacy of each will vary spatially.
provide for and protect communities?); and
uncertainty over how people and the economy                 •   Better understanding of the amount of
will respond (e.g. where will people migrate?                   habitat loss and change in coastal ecosystems,
Where and how might they adapt?). Addressing                    and the associated impacts on societies, can
this research theme under the context of the                    help develop adaptive management
Ocean Decade requires an approach that                          frameworks for coastal areas.
considers all three.
                                                            A number of impacts can occur from engagement
The research question was reformulated to                   with this research area:
heighten focus on the tools needed to better
predict sea level rise for the support of                   •   Better communication of the impacts of SLR
sustainable adaptation approaches. Sea level rise               to decision makers.
is a global challenge, requiring adaptation which is        •   Scientific evidence integrated into risk
appropriate and sustainable in local contexts:                  management strategies for SLR and
                                                                associated hazards and impacts.
Improving our capacity to understand and                    •   Better-informed resilience strategies,
predict sea level rise and its extremes to enable               underpinned by interdisciplinary research.
sustainable adaptation.                                     •   Future coastal management and urban
                                                                planning will be informed with more certain
There are several areas of research which can
contribute to this research theme and address
these three areas of uncertainty:
                                                            This cross-cutting question relies on both the
•   Enhanced modelling of SLR will help define              physical, biological and social sciences to design
    space-specific management strategies.                   and deliver solutions-focused research. The UK
    Modelling will be dependent on data                     has excellent research capacity in each of these
    availability and, where more localised                  areas. However, the UK must work to develop the
    management strategies are considered,                   infrastructure needed to address this question,
    access to local observational data.                     including access to suitable observational
•   The consequences and magnitude of ice loss              platforms and monitoring equipment, a global
    and glacier collapse for SLR.                           digitized tide gauge network and data, and
•   Better prediction of extreme weather events             greater continuity and interoperability of satellite
    under a changing climate will help those in             measurements. Working with other nations will
    vulnerable areas anticipate the impacts of              be needed to help bridge these gaps.
    SLR-related hazards.
•   Identifying tipping points of environmental
    systems impacted by SLR will help understand

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
How can we transform our understanding of                   broader integrated research themes which serve
multiple concurrent environmental changes                   to link the physical sciences with the human
to enable prediction and forewarning of the                 dimension. These include an assessment of:
impacts on marine ecosystem services?
                                                            •   What the non-climate anthropogenic
                                                                pressures on marine ecosystem services are
There are many interlinked ocean ecosystems
                                                                (such as sediment influx and pollutants), and
which provide ecosystem services to society.
                                                                how these pressures might change in the
Direct and indirect stressors compound to affect
these ecosystems and, in turn, impact society.
                                                            •   How land-use change affects blue carbon
Such stressors, compounding effects, and impacts
                                                                ecosystems (such as coral reefs, fisheries,
on environmental and human systems vary
                                                                seagrass ecosystems, mudflats, and maerl
geographically, and each ecosystem and society
                                                                beds), and associated impacts on the blue
will have differing levels of vulnerability.
                                                                carbon sink.
This research theme is cross-cutting and broad,             •   The impact of expansion of ocean-based
taking a holistic approach to the challenges faced              activities including offshore renewable energy
by ocean ecosystems and the knock-on impacts                    infrastructure and deep sea mining.
on livelihoods, health, and economies worldwide.            •   The impact of human behaviour, such as
As environmental change continues,                              ‘shifting baseline syndrome’, and how this
understanding how these challenges manifest                     needs to be mitigated in management
over space and time will underpin work to better                strategies.
our ocean, meet international objectives like the           •   The role of local knowledge and traditional
SDGs, and benefit human wellbeing.                              expertise.
The question was restructured to highlight three            •   New frameworks and data for conducting
complementary tenets for addressing marine                      multi-stressor experiments and models.
pressures: understanding, forewarning and                   •   Developing indicators of ecosystem health
mitigation.                                                     and vulnerability. This requires gathering time
                                                                series data for multiple stressors over space.
Understanding, forewarning and mitigating the
impacts of multiple pressures on marine                     Focussing the research regionally could help to
ecosystems and the services they provide                    narrow the scope of this broad theme and create
                                                            outputs applicable to different locations. Specific
This research theme relies on modelling,                    questions that need addressing include: where are
observation and laboratory-based work. In                   stressors causing the most change? where could
particular, an ensemble of models that enables              marine ecosystems be most rapidly restored? at
forewarning of hazards could underpin adaptation            what rate are stressors having an impact on
and mitigation strategies, and can help inform              ecosystems and communities? To address these
policy and sustainable management of natural                spatially focussed questions, integrating local
capital. Such models would require:                         knowledge and expertise is essential.
•   Process studies and mechanistic                         Research under this theme could have several
    understanding, supported by strong                      benefits supportive of the Ocean Decade
    theoretical frameworks.                                 objectives:
•   Integrated human behaviour and local
    knowledge.                                              •   Better understanding and forewarnings of the
•   Representation of terrestrial activities and                pressures that ecosystems face, and the
    land-sea interactions.                                      subsequent risks to communities dependent
                                                                on these systems.
While modelling has a role to play, addressing this         •   Improved models that can better inform
research under the Ocean Decade also relies on                  policy.

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
•   A better understanding of how marine biota              Four research questions not taken forwards
    responds to concurrent and compounding                  to session 4
    pressures, and the resultant implications for           The following four research questions were
    ecosystem services.                                     identified as important areas for future research,
•   Assessment of cumulative effects of multiple            but were not selected as priorities in the context
    stressors.                                              of the Decade because they either represented
•   Assessment of the efficacy of potential                 higher level cross cutting comportments of UN
    interventions in different ecosystems and               Decade Science or could be encompassed in the
    regions around the world.                               four priority areas.
•   Stronger engagement with local people and
                                                            How do we fully integrate the changing
•   Management interventions, including
                                                            physio-chemical environment into our
    adaptation and mitigation strategies,
                                                            understanding of the dynamics of fish stocks
    underpinned by evidence-based advice.
                                                            to significantly enhance sustainable
                                                            management strategies in key regions
The UK has excellent modelling capabilities,
including the NERC funded Marine Ecosystems
Research Programme (MERP), supported by
                                                            Sustainable management of fish stocks is essential
expertise in long-term monitoring and time series           if we are to ensure a healthy ocean which can
data gathering. UK researchers are adept at                 support human needs. Understanding the
working across a range of scales and disciplines            environments fish live within and interact with is
and integrating field-based observations with               necessary to underpin evidence-based sustainable
experimental process-based work. This will enable           management strategies.
research to more easily bridge terrestrial and
marine boundaries to assess impacts.                        This question focusses not just on fish stock
                                                            numbers and the science of primary production,
The UK has a strong track-record in experimental            but rather how fish use complex and
observations and capacity to measure the                    interconnected environments. It aims to reframe
parameters needed for physical and                          environments through a holistic lens at a large
biogeochemical models, as well as good long-term            scale, looking at the life course of fish and the
coastal benthic data, which is essential to this            organisms and processes they depend on. For
field of inquiry. The UK also has a sensor and              instance, consideration is needed of the many
platform base from which to undertake small                 factors controlling biogeochemistry, the transport
scale and wider observations. These will need to            pathways for larvae and fish to and from
be equipped with new biogeochemical sensors,                spawning grounds, the pressures on plankton, and
                                                            the life cycles of shellfish and fin fish, alongside a
imaging capability coupled with in situ
                                                            range of wider ecosystem processes. There is also
measurements that can be integrated on a variety
                                                            a need to link different ecosystems, such as the
of spatial and temporal scales.                             open seas and tropical shallow ecosystems.
It is important that adaptation and mitigation are
combined with an improved understanding of the              Ocean and marine ecosystems are facing
                                                            substantial challenges from climate change, such
impacts of multiple pressures on marine
                                                            as temperature rises, de-oxygenation,
ecosystems and the services they provide to allow
                                                            acidification, and sea level rise. These will
better forewarning.                                         drastically impact the ecosystems to which fish
                                                            belong. An ecosystem approach is therefore
                                                            critical to understanding how fish stocks may be
                                                            impacted in the future.

                                                            A number of innovations can arise from research
                                                            in this area:

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
to help understand which processes are most
•   Improved ecosystem modelling, directly                  important for shoal movement.
    relevant to the prediction of fish stock size
                                                            Science outputs can then be democratised; for
    and fish movement. Forecasting can link local
                                                            instance, forecasts of fish stocks can be sent to
    climate to fish dynamics.
                                                            local fishermen to aid their fishing and support
•   A transformation in how we understand
                                                            sustainable management strategies.
    environments, not just for human value but
    for marine value (which in turn can yield               Closer integration of human systems, in addition
    human value).                                           to physical processes, would help further align
•   The deployment of new technologies such as              this research area to the Ocean Decade
    automated sampling.                                     objectives.
•   An opportunity to link science with local
    experts such as fishermen; moving science
    ‘from papers into pockets’.                             What is the science necessary for an
•   Further evidence on the effectiveness of
                                                            integrated understanding of (and solutions
    Marine Protected Areas.                                 to) the long-term impacts of plastics and
                                                            persistent pollutants on ecosystems
Modelling is central to this research area. Physical        throughout the ocean?
models of relevant processes exist but are not yet
able to go down to the 1 km scale relevant to fish          Plastics and persistent pollutants are a significant
stocks. Linking existing physio-chemical models             stressor in marine ecosystems and are important
like ERSEM-NEMO, food web models such as                    to the public and politicians globally. Pollutants
Ecopath, OSMOSE or Atlantis, and socio-economic             accumulate in the environment, can damage
models would be a way to make meaningful                    ecosystems, and can harm human health by
progress under this research theme. A challenge             entering the food web.
will be to ensure the models are dynamic and
interact with each other effectively, for instance          This question has two main dimensions. The first
capturing how socio-economic changes can                    is how plastics and pollutants accumulate in the
impact fisheries and the food-web, and how                  ocean, the direct and indirect impacts of these
changes in the food-web can in turn impact socio-           pollutants, and their synergistic effects. Impacts
economics. Using multiple models in an ensemble             are not confined to the oceans; the effects of
approach can help quantify uncertainty in such              microplastics and marine pollutants on human
work.                                                       health is receiving growing attention. Coastal
                                                            communities who depend on marine ecosystems
There is also a lot of existing data on fish stocks
                                                            are particularly vulnerable to this stressor.
and ecosystems; the challenge is to link up the
different researchers, organisations, industries            Secondly, this research area also addresses the
and communities who are gathering this data to              source of pollutants. Most plastics and pollutants
help contribute to holistic modelling. Improved             originate on land. Therefore, there is a need to
data gathering, for instance through automated
                                                            adopt a systems approach, bringing together land
sampling, can help support models, but planning
                                                            and marine science, to better understand land
is needed before developing such data gathering
methods.                                                    and sea interactions. Research on the different
                                                            sources and flows of pollutants from the land
As with other research themes, bringing together            would better inform strategies to reduce the
researchers and local communities can progress              impacts of these pollutants in marine
understanding of this field. For instance, past             environments. There are numerous sources of
research has found that fishermen are able to               pollutants, driven by a variety of processes and
advise fish stock models by telling researchers             entering the ocean via many different routes. For
what lines they take when on the water, and                 instance, agricultural chemicals can enter soils
researchers can align their routes with simulations         and weathering can then lead to increased

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
sediment flux to river systems. Meanwhile,                  become increasingly seen as ways to reach net
microplastics may transfer to the ocean via the             zero emissions. Some countries have already
atmosphere. Better understanding these                      included coastal ecosystems in their national
pathways and how they might change in the                   emissions inventories. However, the contribution
future can narrow the focus for policy                      of blue carbon solutions to climate mitigation and
recommendations.                                            sustainable development depends on the health
                                                            of these ecosystems.
Tackling the sources of pollutants requires
engagement from organisations, governments,
and industries. It was noted that trade-offs exist in       Research on this important question can help
managing the sources of pollutants; how must                progress the Decade outcomes, but in order to do
society and industry change to minimise input of            so it must go beyond the value of blue carbon as a
pollutants to the ocean, and how can we adapt to            climate mitigation action and instead focus on the
the impacts of pollutants?                                  numerous other services offered by these
                                                            ecosystems. There exist many different possible
Several research themes arise under this area:              trade-offs; what may be beneficial from a climate
                                                            perspective may not benefit local communities or
•   The primary pathways through which                      ecosystems. For instance, encouraging seagrass
    pollutants enter the ocean, and the                     growth in areas where it does not normally grow
    magnitude of each pathway.                              can sequester carbon, but will also disrupt existing
•   The trade-offs and co-benefits of managing              ecosystems. Therefore, blue carbon strategies
    land-based pollution alongside industry,                must be based in enhancing and protecting
    governments, and wider society.                         existing marine ecosystems, for the benefit of
•   How flows of pollutants vary geographically.            local environments and communities.
•   What the most important pollutants are,
                                                            There are many uncertainties in this area that
    including which are most abundant, most
                                                            need addressing. Ecosystems are under pressure
    toxic, and most challenging to remove.                  from climate change and human impacts. It is
•   The ways in which different pollutants                  therefore important to understand the extent to
    accumulate and behave in the ocean.                     which blue carbon can contribute to climate
•   The synergistic and compounding effects of              mitigation and support livelihoods while subject
    multiple pollutants.                                    to such pressures. Physical science on current and
•   The impacts on human health.                            future carbon uptake, alongside social science on
                                                            development, can fill this knowledge gap.
The group agreed that this question could form a
component of the broader priority research area:            Locally grounded research can help identify a
                                                            balance between climate mitigation and
Understanding, forewarning and mitigating the
                                                            adaptation aims, while also helping to identify
impacts of multiple pressures on marine
                                                            appropriate adaptation measures. Such research
ecosystems and the services they provide.                   should be conducted alongside local communities.

                                                            Research sub-themes which emerge from this
What is needed to deliver better
                                                            question include:
quantification, management and
understanding of the benefits and                           •   Linking marine and terrestrial ecosystem
vulnerabilities of blue carbon in the face of                   models, along with sea level rise models, to
ongoing climate change?                                         identify pressures faced by blue carbon
Blue Carbon is the carbon stored in marine
                                                            •   Assessment of various adaptation strategies,
environments. It is an area of great interest to
                                                                and their efficacy into the long term, using
governments and industry, as nature-based
                                                                modelling and local expertise. This could be
solutions and approaches to valuing carbon
                                                                done for different emissions scenarios.

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
•   Linking the global contribution of blue carbon          based on aquaculture and reef fishing may
    for climate mitigation and the local-scale              harbour inequalities, in the same way globalised
    usefulness for adaptation.                              systems of fishing and distribution contain
•   Understanding the trade-offs between                    entrenched inequalities. Working alongside
    different desired outcomes, against the                 governments, industries, and local communities is
                                                            necessary for building a sustainable and equitable
    context of net zero and sustainable
                                                            seafood system.
    development agendas.
•   Developing approaches to carbon storage                 To meaningfully engage with this topic, the
    assessments of different blue carbon                    following research areas were proposed:
                                                            •     The micronutrient content of different
The group agreed that this question could form a
                                                                  species, and how species are consumed in
component of all of the broader priority research
                                                                  different regions.
                                                            •     The impacts of climate change and human
                                                                  activities on both localised and global seafood
How can we catalyse a transition to an                            systems.
equitable distribution of the benefits from                 •     The co-benefits of seafood systems, as well as
seafood systems among multiple users in a                         the trade-offs.
changing ocean?                                             •     The social science needed to ask why the
                                                                  current system is structurally unequal.
‘Blue food’ is an increasingly important topic. Fish        •     The values and roles of communities to
are a major source of micronutrients for many of                  respond to and reshape their food systems, as
the world’s populations, especially those in                      well as the vulnerabilities faced by
coastal communities. However, distribution of the
                                                                  communities by pressures on the system.
benefits of seafood systems is inequitable, and
such inequalities are expected to increase with
continued climatic and human pressures on the               The group agreed that the challenges raised by
ocean. The question transcends many issues,                 this question should form an overarching
including nutrition, food security, poverty, and            component of all priority research areas.

The research question has two complementary
aims. The first is how to create a sustainable
seafood system. The second is how to ensure
equitable distribution of the benefits of the
system. Ensuring equitable distribution is essential
to meeting the Ocean Decade outcomes as well as
broader development objectives such as the

The question not only relates to the open ocean.
Aquaculture accounts for approximately 50% of
global fish production, so there is a need to
ensure research considers marine and land-based
aquaculture, in addition to how the benefits of
these systems are distributed.

The question is inherently rooted in both global          Image: A coral reef ecosystem. Image by Joakant, Pixabay.
and local nested systems. Local food systems

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
Essential Elements for Ocean Decade Research
The discussion of these research priorities                 2. Deliver a step change in the predictive
highlighted the tools and evidence needed to                   capacity required for forecasting and
support a healthy ocean and to make progress                   management of diverse marine resources;
towards the Ocean Decade outcomes. From this
                                                            3. Link ocean and ecosystem services to the
discussion, five Essential Elements for Ocean
                                                               quality and equity of people’s lives and
Decade research were created. These elements
mark a new approach to carrying out research and
can become a framework that distinguishes Ocean             4. Address human health and well-being in the
Decade research programmes. They are:                          context of the Decade outcomes;
                                                            5. Assess ecological and societal solutions,
1. Assess the changes to, and resilience of,                   including their equity and scalability, via
   marine systems across different space (from                 ocean literacy actions.
   local to global) and time scales;
                                                            More information on the Essential Elements can
                                                            be found in the accompanying summary paper.

The workshop successfully identified several                create four holistic and broad priority areas
priority research areas through which the UK                through which future UK research can begin to
could make a substantial research contribution to           address the Ocean Decade. These are:
achieving the objectives of the Ocean Decade. It
also outlined how Ocean Decade research                         1. Connecting the deep sea to society to
programmes could be supported and delivered.                       support sustainable development.
                                                                2. Accelerating participatory solutions to
Interdisciplinarity and international collaboration
                                                                   the rapid changes facing coral coast
were the hallmarks of the most salient and
                                                                   ecosystems and dependent communities.
pressing research needs. Research that can
support policy, deepen understanding of                         3. Improving our capacity to understand
fundamental marine systems, integrate both                         and predict sea level rise and its
environmental and human systems, and                               extremes to enable sustainable
acknowledge trade-offs was identified as the most                  adaptation.
useful and of the highest priority to help the UK               4. Understanding, forewarning, and
contribute to wider Ocean Decade goals. The                        mitigating the impacts of multiple
Ocean Decade presents an opportunity for policy                    pressures on marine ecosystems and the
makers, researchers, industry, and local                           services they provide.
communities to come together and work towards
a sustainable and equitable ocean. In May 2021,             Each of these areas are designed to be compatible
the G7 Ministers responsible for Climate and                with existing UK research expertise, while also
Environment and the European Commission                     helping to further develop new UK research
issued a communiqué reaffirming their support               expertise and provide opportunity for
for ocean action aligned with the objectives of the         interdisciplinary and international work,
Ocean Decade.                                               innovation, use of new technology, and
                                                            participatory research. Addressing these research
Priority research areas were designed through an            areas in the future is a key opportunity for
iterative process encompassing sessions 1-4 of the          effective engagement with the Ocean Decade,
workshop. Research needed to support policy,                and will help the UK create a sustainable future
and fundamental research questions were used to             for the ocean on which we depend.

UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop report _ published 8th June 2021
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