Explore the Decade


Opinion: We need a global movement to transform ocean science for a better world

Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO

United Nations / Ocean Science & Technology / Ocean Policy & Sustainable Development / Business & Industry / Donors & Foundations

The ocean is our planet’s largest life-support system. It stabilizes climate; stores carbon; produces oxygen; nurtures biodiversity; directly supports human well-being through food, mineral, and energy resources; and provides cultural and recreational services. The value of the ocean economy speaks to its importance: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that by 2030, $3 trillion USD will be generated annually from ocean sectors such as transportation, fishing, tourism, and energy (1). Unsustainable resource extraction, pollution, climate change, and habitat destruction are on the rise and affecting many parts of the world’s oceans (2). The ocean is rapidly changing, and yet the ways in which these changes will play out are not yet clear.

Although improved management and conservation have helped to reduce threats and restore some key ecosystems, the basic benefits that people receive from a healthy ocean are in overall decline (3). If left unchecked, a growing and resource-hungry human population will add additional pressures on the ocean. Scientific research, experimentation, data collection, monitoring, and modeling provide the knowledge, frameworks, and evidence needed to model and explore the environmental consequences of policy and development proposals and thus to chart a sustainable future ocean.

The current scale, pace, and practice of ocean scientific discovery and observation are not keeping up with the changes in ocean and human conditions. We need fundamental changes in the way that researchers work with decision makers to co-create knowledge that will address pressing development problems. Researchers need to share their data more freely and sooner so that their work can inform decisions in near real time. Academia, government, and industry need to find new and better ways to collaborate and innovate. Huge gaps in scientific capacity and capability around the world will require that we fundamentally change the way we train and employ researchers from developing countries. Above all, we need to dramatically expand the breadth of disciplines that are directly involved in new transdisciplinary ocean research.

  • Accelerating Ocean Science

To catalyze this transformation, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly has called for a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030), “The Decade,” to develop the frameworks and tools required for the sustainable development of the ocean. The aim of The Decade is to create a new movement for bringing together researchers and stakeholders from all relevant sectors to generate a new scientific process to inform policies that ensure a well-functioning, productive, resilient, and sustainable ocean (ref. 4; Fig. 1) and support the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)



(Published under Proceedings National Academy Science of the US license).



1. OECD, The Ocean Economy in 2030. (OECD, Paris, France, 2016). https:/doi.org/10.1787/9789264251724-en. Accessed 5 November 2019. Google Scholar
2. United Nations, The First Global Integrated Marine Assessment, (Cambridge University Press, 2016). https:/doi.org/10.1017/9781108186148. Google Scholar
3. IPBES, Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, E. S. Brondizio,


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