The Ocean Decade – Ten years to save our oceans and our planet

By Emily Vidovich. Emily has a background in environmental journalism and sustainability and is a member of the George Washington University Class of 2019.

When the United Nations (UN) published its first world ocean assessment in 2017, the report’s overarching conclusion was that humanity is running out of time to start managing the ocean sustainably. As a response, the UN established the years from 2021 to 2030 as the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, or the Ocean Decade for short. AltaSea is proud to be selected as a Partner Organization for this movement. 

The current decade is crucial for our oceans because it is crucial for our planet. Human activity has already raised the average global temperature approximately 1°Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Scientific consensus maintains that we must limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels to prevent the most severe consequences of climate change. Globally, this requires reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the oceans have prevented humans from already surpassing the 1.5°C warming threshold. This is because the oceans, “absorbed more than 93% of the excess heat from greenhouse gas emissions since the 1970s.” The oceans serve as a climate change buffer, taking in excess heat as well as approximately 30 percent of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. But they have been protecting us to their own detrimentrising ocean temperatures damage ecosystems, threaten the survival of marine species, and endanger the global supply of seafood, while excess carbon dioxide in the seas leads to ocean acidification, which could collapse the entire ocean food web by impacting the development of crucial shell-building species.

Coral reefs are crucial biodiversity hubs that have already been harmed by ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures. Photo by Biorock Indonesia on Unsplash.

The oceans are also struggling under the pressure of overfishing. Data from the World Bank shows that almost 90 percent of global marine fish stocks are already categorized as fully exploited or overfished. With the human population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, it is clear that our relationship with the ocean needs to be restructured in order to restore and protect ocean biodiversity and sustain the global food supply.

The Ocean Decade underscores that we need to stop climate change to protect the oceans just as much as we need the oceans to help us stop climate change. From the ability of algae to draw down carbon, to clean energy in the form of offshore wind farms and wave-generated power, blue technology is key to a future in which we halt our reliance on fossil fuels and reabsorb our past emissions. If we protect biodiversity and ecosystem health by reimagining the fishing industry and curbing pollution, we can magnify the ability of the oceans to combat climate change through natural processes

The goal of the Ocean Decade is to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water, which encompasses all aspects of ocean sustainability. Because the challenges facing our oceans are diverse and vast, the Ocean Decade has identified ten key challenges to overcome over the next ten years:

  1. Understand and beat marine pollution 
  2. Protect and restore ecosystems and biodiversity 
  3. Sustainably feed the global population 
  4. Develop a sustainable and equitable ocean economy 
  5. Unlock ocean-based solutions to climate change 
  6. Increase community resilience to ocean hazards 
  7. Expand the global ocean observing system 
  8. Create a digital representation of the ocean 
  9. Skills, knowledge, and technology for all 
  10. Change humanity’s relationship with the ocean
The impact of the oceans on the climate, and vice versa, means that Sustainable Development Goals 13 and 14, Climate Action and Life Below Water, are completely intertwined. Source: United Nations Website

The Ocean Decade plans to address these challenges by increasing ocean data and developing a comprehensive understanding of the ocean. AltaSea’s workincluding using innovations in aquaculture to sustainably feed the population, developing a responsible use of ocean resources through a blue economy, and providing a home for innovative ocean research—coincides with multiple Decade Challenges.

At the heart of the Ocean Decade is the concept of transformation—transforming the capacity for ocean science to understand and heal the oceans, restructuring humanity’s relationship with the ocean from harmfully extractive to mutually beneficial, and expanding the field of blue technology to address some of the most pressing problems our planet faces. At the end of the Ocean Decade, the UN hopes that the ocean will be clean, healthy, resilient, and sustainable.

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