Join the Effort to Improve the Health of Our Oceans


Susan Lozier, AGU’s President-elect, encapsulated the forward-looking spirit and dialogue of global ocean experts earlier this month:

As an oceanographer, I view the upcoming United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development as an incredibly important opportunity for the global community to focus on the health of Earth’s oceans. Many recent studies have revealed the negative effects humans have had on the oceans, from the sea surface to the deepest trenches. I look forward to learning how our collective scientific understanding, research, and innovation, discussed at the first Global Planning Meeting in Copenhagen, will help advance ocean sustainability. 

From 13 to 15 May, I was fortunate to attend the first Global Planning Meeting convened by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in preparation for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, 2021–2030. It was hosted by the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. Also in attendance was Margaret Leinen, AGU past president and director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

The meeting aimed to “present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver scientific knowledge, foster technological innovation, and build capacity to achieve the 2030 Agenda and reverse the decline of ocean health.” The meeting brought together approximately 200 thought leaders from around the world, who discussed issues as diverse as ocean science and technology, ocean policy and sustainable development, the role of business and industry in ocean conservation, and the interplay of nongovernmental organizations and civil society. Our collective goal was to find concrete ways that key stakeholders might work across disciplines and sectors to achieve the decade’s six key societal objectives that align perfectly with AGU’s mission of science for the benefit of humanity:

  • A safe ocean
  • A sustainable and productive ocean
  • A transparent and accessible ocean
  • A clean ocean
  • A healthy and resilient ocean
  • A predicted ocean

Posters illustrating the Decade of Ocean Science’s six key societal objectives at the first Global Planning Meeting hosted at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. Credit: Chris McEntee, Executive Director/CEO, AGU

I found the meeting incredibly inspirational—there were excitement, passion, and hope that significant progress can be made within a decade, through science, to ensure a healthy, resilient, safe ocean for all. This spirit of collaboration was summed up by Craig McLean, acting chief scientist and assistant administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who spoke of the importance of partnerships “to do more together than we ever could alone.”

These themes from the meeting especially resonated with me:

  1. The need for a robust, diverse research agenda—drawing upon the knowledge of those working in the natural and physical sciences, social sciences, and indigenous and traditional knowledge—to best address the challenges facing the world’s oceans
  2. The need for mechanisms that encourage cooperation and innovative problem-solving that break down traditional silos of expertise
  3. The imperative to have a better understanding of ecosystem restoration that works in concert with Earth observation systems to help recognize, monitor, and respond to critical environmental “tipping points”
  4. The need for integrated systems to disseminate ocean data and information to the public and key decision makers at all levels: local, regional, national, and global
  5. The imperative to build and develop a broad bench of talented experts who can interpret and share important conclusions, resources, technology, and infrastructure
  6. A pledge to keep the momentum that was initiated at the meeting going beyond 2030

The challenges facing the world’s oceans can seem insurmountable. Thus, the collaboration of researchers across disciplines and with a diversity of communities will be essential to realize the promise and hope from transformations envisioned by the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. AGU members are already contributing to this effort. For example, AGU past president Margaret Leinen and the Oceanography Society president, Martin Visbeck, are deeply involved in the IOC executive planning group. AGU members can also take part in regional workshops and stakeholder forums in which you will have the opportunity to engage and share your ideas about the design and planning of the decade. This is an “all hands on deck” moment. I hope you take up this challenge and join the global science community in this effort to improve the health of our oceans.

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