The Ocean Decade and what it means for ocean protection and the future of our relations­hip with the sea

By CarolAnne Black

published July 10, 2023
A scuba diver swims under the sea next to rocks and small fishes.

For those whose daily life, work or study involves the ocean, the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (Ocean Decade) has been an energetic presence these last two years. It is busily uniting efforts across the globe to understand, protect and responsibly use our ocean. And critically, though behind the scenes for most, it may be our greatest hope for a sustainable, just, and healthy ocean; and planet.

In 2018, the United Nations declared 2021 to 2030 the Ocean Decade, to support achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are goals agreed to by all UN countries. There are 17. They range from Gender Equality (Goal 5) to Climate Action (Goal 13), and from Zero Hunger (Goal 2) to Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (Goal 16). Life Below Water (Goal 14) deals specifically with the ocean and ocean life. The SDGs are the international community’s mission to, by 2030, make the world a better place.

It is in recognizing the key importance of the ocean in achieving the SDGs that the Ocean Decade was created.

A 2021 article describes its overarching goal: “to promote science-based ocean and coastal management, making healthy oceans one of the pillars of progress for all of humanity.”

The Ocean Decade is our opportunity to get right sustainably managing our ocean.

Central to the Ocean Decade is ocean research and science. Its slogan, The Science We Need for the Ocean We Want, gets at the connection between ocean data, which can be translated into information and then to knowledge, and the decisions we make about the ocean. Ocean research allows us to produce the knowledge we need to make decisions that can effectively protect the ocean and the people who depend on it, now and for future generations.

The Ocean Decade is anchored in the inclusion of all people across the globe, with a focus on youth, women, Indigenous people, and holders of local knowledge. It aims in particular to increase our capacity to do ocean research, helping more people from diverse backgrounds to participate in the field. Changes in capacity will be measured by periodic Global Ocean Science Reports which track the ‘who’ and ‘where’ of ocean research. The first report was released in 2020, and provides a baseline from which we can measure progress toward including more people with more perspectives in ocean science.

The Ocean Decade identified 10 challenges, to “unite partners around common ocean science priorities.” Meeting these challenges is meant to bring us to these seven outcomes:

  1. A clean ocean where sources of pollution are identified and reduced or removed.

  2. A healthy and resilient ocean where marine ecosystems are understood, protected, restored and managed.

  3. A productive ocean supporting sustainable food supply and a sustainable ocean economy.

  4. A predicted ocean where society understands and can respond to changing ocean conditions.

  5. A safe ocean where life and livelihoods are protected from ocean-related hazards.

  6. An accessible ocean with open and equitable access to data, information and technology and innovation.

  7. An inspiring and engaging ocean where society understands and values the ocean in relation to human wellbeing and sustainable development.

To get to the ocean we want in 2030, organisations, groups, and individuals can put forward their initiatives to become recognised as a Decade Activity, a central mechanism for community building and synergy. In 2022, Ocean School became an endorsed Ocean Decade Activity under the title Ocean School Global Community Project: Building Ocean Literacy through Community Engagement. Focused on the Canadian Arctic and Peru, Ocean School will use its platform to develop new approaches to sharing and helping people learn about far-off communities creating innovative ocean solutions.

We’re proud that, through the support of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ocean School will be part of Canada’s contribution to the Ocean Decade. Our work will highlight how communities in our northern latitudes and around the world are innovating to solve ocean challenges, fostering a stronger connection between people and the sea.

Boris Worm
Boris Worm Scientific Director of Ocean School

At the launch of the Ocean Decade, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “Restoring the ocean’s ability to nurture humanity and regulate the climate is a defining challenge,” and that we need to “make peace with nature to deliver a prosperous and equitable world for all, leaving no one behind”.

This is what the Ocean Decade means and what it promises. And it takes political will to act on behalf of the ocean, which stems from people pressing governments to act on behalf of the ocean and engaging in open and informed conversations about the ocean’s critical and various roles on our planet.

About CarolAnne Black

CarolAnne Black tells ocean stories. She writes on all topics related to the ocean, and especially loves to work on writing projects that help empower girls and women in ocean science. In her work, CarolAnne gets to talk with ocean experts from around the world and write about how they’re working to understand and protect our global ocean. She likes to swim with her three kids in the Ottawa River by their home and talk about how the water is making its way back to the ocean.

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About CarolAnne Black

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