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United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development: What Is It and How Do We Fit?

Ruth Spence


You may or may not be aware that the United Nations (UN) announced that from January 2021 till 2030 there will be a decade of ocean science for sustainable development. This means for the next ten years governments, policymakers and communities worldwide will focus on education and raising awareness of ocean science and changing the way they carry out policymaking, to effectively restore and preserve the health of the ocean.

“Coral reefs in Panglao, Philippines” (both) - photos by Ruth Spence


Why ocean science?

The state of the ocean is rapidly declining, for instance, 8 million tons of marine debris is ending up in the oceans yearly and ocean temperatures are increasing 24% faster than a few decades ago. Impacts like these are a major threat because the ocean is the largest ecosystem on the planet; it covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and holds 90% of habitable space. The ocean reaches an average depth of 3,688 meters, and 103 million square miles of the deep sea is in perpetual darkness. The vast size and depth of the ocean contribute to the large gaps in our knowledge. For instance, the deepest parts of the ocean have only been explored by 3 people and only 5% of the ocean seafloor have been mapped in high resolution. This means there could be around 1 million marine species that have not been discovered yet! Alongside this, there is a lack of basic knowledge for 99% of habitable marine areas, meaning the management in place could be insufficient or misguided. The correct management of marine habitats is essential for conservation, and as of December 2020, there are 5,652 marine species with populations that are threatened. To effectively restore and maintain the ocean and it’s species, we need to fill these knowledge gaps, which is something the decade of ocean science could achieve!


Not only is the restoration and protection of the ocean essential for marine species, but humans also rely on the ocean’s ecosystems, services and goods. The ocean plays an integral part in communities’ lives - it provides food for 3.1 billion people, creates jobs and helps to transport goods across the world. Currently, ocean policymaking is top-down, meaning coastal communities are often left out of decision making that could directly affect their lives and livelihoods. Often coastal communities know their local area better than anyone, so removing them from the conservations means we are missing out on their expertise. This can be detrimental to finding effective solutions for both environmental and social issues. The decade of ocean science could help to create a dialogue between policymakers and coastal communities.

"Coastal community in Sicayab, Dipolog City, Philippines. Photo by Sarah Esguerra, 2013." by WorldFish is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


The goals of the decade

One of the core objectives of the decade is to improve scientific knowledge through education and awareness of ocean science to a broader segment of society, with a particular focus on SIDS and LDCs (Small Island Developing States and the Least Developed Countries). Additionally, they want to create communication and mutual learning between policymakers and communities globally. Allowing communities to be part of the conversation and decision-making will mean their needs and local expertise can be used to facilitate effective science and policymaking. Ultimately, the decade will mean the coordination and consolidation of observations and scientific research to protect the ocean and its resources.


The UN has listed seven outcomes that they want to achieve for the decade, which are:

  1. A clean ocean - This puts focus on identifying sources of ocean pollution and removing them, which may involve changes in coastal zone and waste management.

  2. A healthy and resilient ocean - This highlights the need for marine ecosystems to be mapped and protected, which could lead to the establishments of more marine protected areas to help restore and protect biodiversity.

  3. A predicted ocean - This goal will be achieved through science-based research and the sharing of information, so societies will be more informed and help them to understand current and future ocean conditions.

  4. A safe ocean - This is focussing on the protection of coastal communities’ lives and livelihoods from ocean hazards such as rising sea level and stronger storms, the frequency of which is linked to climate change.

  5. A sustainably harvested and productive ocean - This is ensuring the protection of food supply for coastal and global communities, by using science-based research to inform fisheries management to develop a more sustainable system, that benefits both humans and the ocean.

  6. A transparent ocean - This will allow people to have open access to data, information and technologies, which will allow them to be better informed on the health of the ocean.

  7. An inspiring and engaging ocean - This will mean sharing information and working with coastal communities to inform sustainable development. Educating and raising awareness within societies will help to change humanity’s relationship with the ocean and inspire people to help protect the ocean.


“Citizen Science being carried out in Panglao, Philippines” - Photo by Ruth Spence


How does Plover Rovers fit in?

Here at Plover Rovers, we are focussed on improving marine conservation by increasing peoples Ocean Literacy to make marine science more accessible to a broad segment of society. Our aim of creating an active dialogue between scientists and local communities to enable effective conservation aligns perfectly with that of the decade’s goals.


We hope to achieve our aim by:

  1. Creating an active dialogue between scientists and members of the coastal communities to discuss scientific topics and to learn from each other.

  2. Collaborating with artists to create a more immersive and emotional connection with ocean science.

  3. Collaborating with local organisations to increase local engagement in ocean science and create locally active community groups.

  4. Using local peoples stories to explore and understand their connection with the seas and their future concerns.


What part can you play?

Communicating and sharing information about ocean science is the real driving force for this decade! That could include volunteering with a marine charity or reading articles and blog posts. Sharing what you already know and what you’ve learnt about ocean science with friends and family will help to achieve one of the decades main goals. So, engage with science that you see and share it with people to raise awareness and to help achieve “the ocean we need for the future we want”.


If you are interested in volunteering with Plover Rovers you can find out how on our website and find our upcoming events on increasing peoples ocean literacy here!

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