Efforts to achieve the goals of the UN Decade of Ocean Science
Commemorating the arrival of the large sailing vessel Statsraad Lehmkuhl at its first port of call in Asia
Organized by the Ocean Policy Research Institute
By Satoko Takahara, Senior Communications Officer
March 31, 2023
Translated from Japanese
10 Min. Read
Opening remarks are given at the 191st Ocean Forum.
On September 14, 2022, the Ocean Policy Research Institute of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (OPRI-SPF) hosted an online event entitled “The First Port Call of the ‘Statsraad Lehmkuhl’ in Asia and the ‘UN Decade of Ocean Science’: What We Must Do to Correct the Knowledge Divide in Ocean Science” (the 191st Ocean Forum).
Statsraad Lehmkuhl, a Norwegian tall ship, landed at Yokohama on September 12, 2022. This was the first port of call in Asia on its “One Ocean Expedition,” a voyage around the world to study the effects of global climate change and ocean pollution. To commemorate this visit, OPRI invited guests including Dr. Vladimir Ryabinin, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO), which advocates and promotes the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (UN Decade of Ocean Science), and Dr. François Houllier, Président Directeur Général of Institut Français de Recherche pour l’Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER), which leads France’s ocean science and policy, to discuss the current status of the UN Decade of Ocean Science and issues for the future.
*A related public event was held the day before the forum. Read the event article here for details.
At the start of the discussion, OPRI President Hide Sakaguchi gave opening remarks and described the goal of the UN Decade of Ocean Science as “to explore all of the ocean, much of which remains unknown.” He also noted that “if we don’t know where, what, and how things are going on, we can’t do anything. Ten years seems to be very long, but in fact almost two years have passed. It is becoming increasingly important just how much we can achieve over the next eight.”
Next, the event featured addresses from Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Norway, H.E. Inga M. W. Nyhamar, and the Republic of Palau’s ambassador to Japan, H.E Peter Adelbai. Ambassador Nyhamar remarked on the significance of this visit by Statsraad Lehmkuhl, the first port of call in Asia on its voyage around the world. She also emphasized the importance of closing knowledge gaps in science and technology to achieve the goals of the UN Decade of Ocean Science. Ambassador Adelbai touched on the role played by both Norway and Palau as co-chairs of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, and expressed his hope that the Statsraad Lehmkuhl study and this event would contribute to the spread of knowledge on the ocean and its conservation.
Progress on the Decade of Ocean Science
The UN Decade of Ocean Science began in January 2021. This initiative was declared at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly in 2017, based on the vision of “the science we need for the ocean we want.” During the 10 years until 2030, international efforts are being made to study the ocean, much of which remains a mystery, focused especially on achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life Below Water).
Dr. Vladimir Ryabinin (Executive Secretary of IOC-UNESCO)
Dr. François Houllier (Président Directeur Général of IFREMER)
Executive Secretary Ryabinin of IOC-UNESCO, which promotes the UN Decade of Ocean Science, summed up the current situation in one sentence: “Humankind is running out of time to start managing the ocean sustainably.” Looking back over the first two years of the decade, he referred to the increasing amount of work required in ocean science. As an example, he outlined 43 related programs undertaken by IOC-UNESCO. In addition to initiatives to raise the status of women in ocean science, he highlighted advances in network-building by Early Career Ocean Professionals (ECOP), in which OPRI participates as a key member in Asia.
Dr. Ryabinin also explained how various countries, including the U.S. and India, are increasing their investment in ocean science and advocated the need for it to be “not just the science for curiosity, [but also] the science that will help us to live sustainably.” In particular, he argued that science must be linked to the ocean economy and openly shared. To conclude, he emphasized the importance of ethical and fair science, saying that “this is the vision of a new science that will guide us to live in harmony with the ocean.”
Next, Président Directeur Général Houllier of IFREMER described the contribution of IFREMER to the UN Decade of Ocean Science. IFREMER and its sister organizations, under the sponsorship of the French government, are implementing research programs related to the ocean and climate from 2021 to 2027. Dr. Houllier introduced several examples of these projects, including the One Ocean Network for Deep Observation project to construct networks to observe the ocean floor and water columns, implemented with the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) and ocean research agencies from Canada and elsewhere.
He also described Ocean Spy, a project where members of the public, researchers, students, and schools analyze deep ocean data and images, providing the public with opportunities to learn about deep ocean environments with which they usually have no contact. He described how activities such as annotating images captured by deep ocean observatories enable people to gain a deeper understanding of the deep ocean and promote collaboration between scientists and the public, what he called the positive side of “citizen science.” This also provides opportunities for scientists to collect new information.
In addition, he introduced the Floating University program, where ocean science students with backgrounds in a wide range of academic disciplines including the arts, communication, and marine logistics, live together on a research boat with a multinational group of experts. This, he argued, contributes to filling the gaps in knowledge, a goal of the UN Decade of Ocean Science. In conclusion, he explained: “I perceive the UN Decade of Ocean Science as both a duty and an opportunity. We must share knowledge, not just within the scientific community, but more broadly with the public. Sharing knowledge will enable us to involve more people in new projects, leading to new opportunities.”
Dr. Siri Granum Carson (Oceans Director at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology)
Next, Dr. Siri Granum Carson, Oceans Director at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Chair of the Norwegian UN Ocean Decade National Committee, presented Norway’s initiatives. She explained that from Norway’s perspective as an ocean nation with a sea area over six times as large as its land, the ocean is an indispensable part of mitigating climate change. She argued that, both nationally and globally, we have a responsibility to contribute to ocean governance and a sustainable blue economy through a knowledge base founded on science, and pointed out that “we have a responsibility, especially to the arctic and northern regions, which will experience severe changes in the years to come.” She declared the intention of the Norwegian UN Ocean Decade National Committee to proceed with further initiatives aimed at achieving the goals of the UN Decade of Ocean Science.
Perspectives throughout the voyage
The next session featured presentations by members of the team that traveled from Palau to Yokohama on the Statsraad Lehmkuhl. OPRI invited six young people to join the team and supported their passage from Koror City in Palau to Yokohama.
Dr. Satoru Yokoi (Senior Researcher of JAMSTEC)
Senior Researcher Satoru Yokoi of JAMSTEC reflected on the voyage during which, despite suffering the effect of typhoons, he continued to monitor the temperature and salinity of the seawater many times each day. He described how the voyage enabled him to gain experience, not only in his current capacity as a researcher but also in the shoes of a trainee. He looked back on the time he spent with the youth members as very meaningful. Discussions on topics such as global warming, rising sea levels, and exclusive economic zones (EEZ) would branch out into larger debates on a range of issues linked to the oceans, like diplomacy, fishery resources, and pollution. He described how these discussions with youth members had made him realize the importance of talking with various stakeholders to fill the knowledge gaps as part of the UN Decade of Ocean Science.
Ms. Lucy Dickie and Mr. Adi Prabowo, members of the youth group
Ms. Lucy Dickie from New Zealand and Mr. Adi Prabowo from Indonesia made a presentation representing the youth group. Working eight-hour shifts each day, they learned navigation techniques and methods for “watching” to ensure safety onboard and around the vessel. They described how the voyage emphasized teamwork, including discussions with researchers. The members of the group came from diverse backgrounds in Palau, Fiji, Indonesia, Portugal, and New Zealand. Ms. Dickey and Mr. Prabowo described their first-hand impression of just how important teamwork between diverse members is to sustainably manage the ocean for the future.
Next, Mr. Steven Victor, Palau’s Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Environment, and Dr. Aoi Sugimoto, a research fellow at the Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency (FRA), commented on the presentations from their respective standpoints. Minister Victor emphasized the need for all countries to work together by engaging in global issues under the concept of a single ocean. He described the leadership taken by Palau in calling for a pause on mining minerals on the seabed without adequate scientific knowledge, then went on to point out “our responsibility, when considering how to use the ocean for the people of Palau, to use the applicable science and make appropriate decisions going forward.” He expressed his hope that similar opportunities would continue to be provided for young people thanks to the efforts of the youth group demonstrated at this event.
Dr. Sugimoto, an environmental social scientist who has been conducting research in Okinawa over the past decade, noted that when discussing the scientific knowledge gap, it is “not clear as to who exactly is the target and with whom.” She expressed her concerns that this has led to a widening knowledge gap between ocean scientists and the general public, and that ocean issues may not be well understood by those not directly involved. She also pointed out the need for further efforts to fill this knowledge gap in the future.
Dr. Naomi Harada (Professor, Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo)
Clockwise from upper left: Dr. François Houllier (Président Directeur Général, IFREMER), Mr. Steven Victor (Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Environment of Palau), and Dr. Aoi Sugimoto (Research Fellow, FRA)
Professor Naomi Harada of the University of Tokyo focused on the differences between the International Decade of Ocean Exploration held 50 years ago and the current UN Decade of Ocean Science. She pointed out that the former was an academia-led initiative mainly aimed at strengthening the utilization of the ocean for the sake of human society and lacked a perspective on sustainable development. Looking ahead, she highlighted six priorities for achieving the goals of the UN Decade of Ocean Science: “ocean big data” (utilizing big data in the ocean field); marine waste; developing island nations; disaster prevention; illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and ocean education. She asserted the importance of the promotion of issues by researchers in Japan, and coordination and international contribution with stakeholders outside the academic sector.
Future of the UN Decade of Ocean Science
Dr. Kentaro Ando (Co-chair of the UNESCO-IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) and director at JAMSTEC)
Next, Dr. Kentaro Ando, co-chair of the UNESCO-IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) and director in charge of International Research in the Western Pacific Region at JAMSTEC, emphasized two points from the perspective of implementing the UN Decade of Ocean Science. The first point was the importance of building international partnerships and cooperation with a focus on developing the skills and ocean literacy of diverse stakeholders, including students. The involvement of more people would facilitate the development of ocean science by collaborating with members of the public. The second point was the importance of exchanging timely and accurate marine science information, and strengthening communication in multiple ways, such as face-to-face meetings as well as through use of information and communications technology (ICT). Regarding the One Ocean Expedition, he also emphasized the need to involve more people from the younger generation in ocean science across national borders and the importance of keeping this perspective in mind moving forward.
In closing, Mr. Haakon Vatle, CEO of the Statsraad Lehmkuhl Foundation, expressed his gratitude and reflected on the comments from the forum. After explaining the future plans of the One Ocean Expedition, he went on to perform Soran Bushi, a famous traditional Japanese dance song, bringing the event to a successful end.
*View the full video of the 191st Ocean Forum here.