Over 40% of the global population lives within 100km of the coast, and this trend is on the rise. In the coming decades the majority of coastal dwellers will live in increasingly densely populated urban areas, which are already subject to rising sea levels, heightened storm intensity and frequency, and elevated temperatures. The results will be flood damage, erosion, infrastructure damage, and greater pressures on social and health services due to increased environmental hazards.
Concentrating the population in such narrow coastal areas requires quick action to make coastal ecosystems and communities worldwide more resilient to the changes underway.
How can ocean knowledge help our current and future coastal communities cope with this massive challenge?
Ocean Decade Actions for Coastal Resilience
The 2021-2030 UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (“The Ocean Decade”) has endorsed three transformative programmes developed by global partnerships of ocean scientists, governments and industry to enhance coastal resilience, for both humans and ecosystems.
The three programmes have been endorsed as part of the first set of flagship Decade Actions of the Decade that will contribute to achieving the vision of the Decade of the ‘science we need for the ocean we want’.
The Ocean Decade, which is being coordinated by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, is a framework to facilitate transformative ocean science solutions, connecting people and our ocean.
Many populated coastal areas include deltas and estuaries which provide critical habitat for many species of bird, mammal, fish and other wildlife. They are also important for tourism, fisheries and recreational activities and serve as natural filters against pollutants and can act as nature based solutions in the fight against climate change. Delta environments are threatened by climate impacts such as erosion, flooding, and deteriorating habitats, but their health is crucial to the resilience of communities.
The Mega-Delta Programme, led by the State Key Laboratory of Estuarine and Coastal Research of East China Normal University, intends to build up a comprehensive picture of delta dynamics to inform human development, and conservation strategies.
Two deltaic habitats of particular importance are salt marshes and mangrove forests. They stabilise sediment reducing the risk of flooding and preventing erosion; provide habitat for other marine species important for biodiversity, subsistence and commercial livelihoods; act as a carbon dioxide sink; and help counteract the effects of chemical pollution.
Global Estuaries Monitoring
Urban coastal areas are major sources of these marine contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, but our understanding of pollutant distribution requires improved monitoring systems.
The Global Estuaries Monitoring (GEM) Decade Programme, led by the City University of Hong Kong, will work closely with scientists, policy makers, and pharmaceutical companies around the world.
By training a global network of scientists in sampling, processing, and analysing estuary data for contaminants, and collaborating with relevant stakeholders, this programme will support better knowledge and management of polluting industries.
Ocean Cities Network
Alongside natural science, fostering a harmonious relationship between coastal communities and the ocean is critical to the sustainability of the ocean and resilience of the human-marine ecosystem.
The Ocean Cities Network Programme will focus on developing a network of communities along coastlines around the world. Through unique partnerships between city councils, harbour authorities, research institutions and other diverse stakeholders this programme will seek to revitalise the ocean identities of coastal cities.
The leaders of the programme say that “Cities should not end at the shoreline. Cities impact heavily the shoreline and nearshore waters, but affect the entire continental shelf and slope. Cities should be aware that the health of their marine surroundings is critical for the health of the entire population.” By showing community members how their city is intertwined with the marine environment, a shift from exploitation to sustainable management of marine resources can take place.
"Citizens living in coastal towns have to open their mind and soul to the ocean. This requires an increased awareness of the essential role of the marine environment in our everyday lives and, possibly even more important, a more intimate and harmonic relation between the city, its citizens and the companion sea”, Josep Lluís Pelegrí, the ICM CSIC director and coordinator of OC-NET Programme.
This will not only increase support for the natural science programme activities, but also contribute to the resilience of the communities themselves through renewed local stewardship of the environment.
Co-design and Co-delivery of knowledge-based solutions
Together these programmes will be amongst the first building blocks of the Decade. They will lead a global Community of Practice throughout the Decade that facilitates the co-design and co-delivery of initiatives to increase ocean knowledge and contribute to the ten Ocean Decade Challenges.
Future Calls for Decade Actions will be launched throughout the Decade to stimulate actors around the world to join forces to identify, implement and resource transformative and inclusive ocean science initiatives that contribute to sustainable development solutions from the global to local scales.
Ocean Decade Actions Factsheets: