No single nation has the capacity

The reality is that no single nation has the resources, capacity or mandate to undertake all of the research and effort needed to resolve the questions and issues facing our oceans, particularly the least researched Indian Ocean,” said Dr Nick D’Adamo at the Second International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE-2) conference held at Nelson Mandela University in March this year.

D’Adamo is head of the Perth Programme Office of Unesco’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and director of the Australian node of the IIOE-2 joint project office. The IIOE-2’s mission statement is “to advance our understanding of the Indian Ocean and its role in the Earth System in order to enable informed decisions in support of sustainable development and the wellbeing of humankind”.

Countries worldwide urgently need to join forces to resolve the global warming and sustainability issues affecting the entire Indian Ocean — a region with a population of over three billion. This includes researching the ocean’s structure and currents and addressing its warming, changing anatomy, increasing acidification, the stress on its fisheries, changes in its oxygen levels, rapid increases in industrial usage, including marine mining, prospecting and much more.

A gateway ocean

D’Adamo explained the Indian Ocean’s global earth role. “It’s a pathway ocean for global flows, and a gateway ocean that plays a pivotal role in the great ocean ‘conveyor belt’. The Indian Ocean’s surface temperature idiosyncrasies have a profound effect on weather patterns, which affect countries far and wide, including China, Japan, the whole of Africa, northern and western Asia, and the Pacific.”

He added that the Indian Ocean has become an increasingly important transport route for trade and geopolitical reasons, and many more countries are bringing their scientific interest to bear on the Indian Ocean because of these geopolitically strategic imperatives.

Ocean’s GDP is at least US$2.4-trillion

A 2015 Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) report states: “Goods and services from coastal and marine environments amount to about $2.5-trillion each year – that would put the ocean as the seventh largest economy in the world, if put into terms of Gross Domestic Product.”

But the report adds that these goods and services are dwindling fast: “More than two-thirds of the annual value of the global ocean relies on healthy conditions to maintain its current output. However, habitat destruction, overfishing, pollution, and climate change are endangering this economic engine and the security and livelihoods it supports. Marine resources are in a rapid decline and our oceans are changing faster than we have ever seen before.”

“The oceans are our ‘natural capital’ — a global savings account from which we keep making only withdrawals,” said Brad Ack, senior vice president for oceans at WWF. “To continue this pattern leads to one place: bankruptcy. It is time for significant reinvestment and protection of this global commons.”

Big stakes in the Indian Ocean

D’Adamo elaborated on the underplayed dependence on the Indian Ocean and blue economy of so many countries, including South Africa, which has large stakes in the Indian Ocean, and how countries need to increase the emphasis in developing a comprehensive conservation, marine spatial planning and economic strategy.

“Collective ocean observations and research is essential to predict the consequences of climate change, and to design mitigation strategies for the oceans, which play an overarching role in what happens to the planet,” he added.

UN Decade of Ocean Science

This collective action is a key goal of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030), coordinated by Unesco’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

One of the largest ocean science focuses in history, it will enhance and even transform elements of oceanography as a driver to bring together nations to understand and protect the oceans, and to use their space sustainably, bridging science and policy. For the first time, the global ocean community will collaborate in planning the next 10 years in ocean science and technology in order to deliver “the ocean we need for the future we want”.

For more information:

The IIOE-2 conference brought together the “Big Five” committees that play a significant role in steering Indian ocean science endeavours:

  • IIOE-2 Steering Committee
  • Indian Ocean Global Ocean Observing System (IOGOOS)
  • Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS)
  • Indian Ocean Research Programme (IORP)
  • Sustained Indian Ocean Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research (SIBER)
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