Science for sustainable ocean development starts with people

We have just entered an international “Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.” This ambitious initiative will leverage the global ocean research community to promote solutions, policy and actions from private and public institutions to foster viable communities, desirable livelihoods and healthy environments. It ultimately aims to address the international goal to “leave no one behind.”

But how can science best be designed and implemented in ways that leave no one behind? The Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development offers an opportunity to think critically on this question. Conventional ocean science, focusing on expanding ocean exploration and industry innovations aimed at “understanding the ocean,” has at times been misused or distorted in ways that have contributed to environmental and social harm throughout history. To promote sustainable development, we need to consider how, where and by whom ocean science is used. 

To better ensure that science contributes to international development goals and benefits the lives of ocean-dependent people, we all need a model that first understands the needs of ocean-dependent communities, then implements and assesses a range of possible solutions with the communities in question. Science excels at evaluation and diagnosis, more so than predicting the outcomes of policy interventions and technological innovations; existing programs aimed at promoting sustainable development should be evaluated, so we can follow through with what’s working and drop what isn’t. By developing science that recognizes the voices of ocean-dependent people and addresses problems in context, the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development can address equity gaps and sustainable relationships between people and the ocean.

Read more in a new paper published in PNAS, led by Ocean Nexus Deputy Science Director Gerald Singh and Research Fellow Harriet Harden-Davies.

Opinion: Will understanding the ocean lead to “the ocean we want”?

“I was born in Osaka, Japan, which is highly urban and densely populated. Still, in my youth I loved the ocean. We would go to the beach or hang around in the bay. My ocean was never blue, but dark green. It was the only ocean for me. Thinking about a “not blue ocean” make me aware of the reality of oceans for many people in urban environments and that should be represented in our sustainable development.” – Dr. Ota | Artist Katie Breen