Ocean Newsletter

No.503 July 20, 2021

  • Aiming for a “Sea of Fertility”: The Engineering Academy of Japan’s Proposal for Ocean Terroirs FUJII Teruo
    President, The University of Tokyo / Project Leader, Strategic Promotion of Ocean Research Project, The Engineering Academy of Japan
    Selected Papers No.27
  • International Shipping’s Transition to Zero Emissions and the Efforts of Japan’s Shipbuilding Industry YAMATO Hiroyuki
    Chairman, Planning and Design Center for Greener Ships / Visiting Professor, Yokohama National University / Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo
  • Tango Province’s Ocean and Shinto Gods and Buddha KOYAMA Mototaka
    Team TANIWA

Aiming for a “Sea of Fertility: The Engineering Academy of Japan’s Proposal for Ocean Terroirs

What kind of approach is necessary in order to use the ocean, one of the global commons for those of us living on planet Earth, in sustainable ways in the future? Based on such an awareness of the issue, The Engineering Academy of Japan prepared an Ocean Terroirs proposal in March 2021. This article outlines the “Sea of Fertility”, a future vision for the ocean based on the proposal’s underlying philosophy, and also introduces approaches for developing the technology needed for creating high added value as mankind endeavors to coexist sustainably with nature.

The Ocean Terroirs Proposal

The oceans have blessed humanity for eons. However, our healthy coexistence with this common is in danger due to global warming, environmental degradation caused by the inflow of plastic and other wastes into the ocean, and the decrease in the number of fishery workers in Japan. On the other hand, modern technologies - especially digital technologies - have significantly advanced. They have now placed us on the verge of realizing Society 5.0, a new form of society that will provide both abundance and improved quality of life. Amid this situation, as we go about our life on earth, how can we utilize the technologies of today and tomorrow to ensure our continued use of the ocean, one of the global commons, in a sustainable manner? What kind of approach do we need to implement to these technologies in society to realize a rich and healthy ocean? Based on a recognition of these issues, in 2017 The Engineering Academy of Japan commenced its first project to draft a proposal in the field of oceanography. A message acting as the basis of the project was then prepared in October 2018, and based on this, five working groups (WGs) were formed and examined each issue. Ocean-related stakeholders from various areas participated in the discussion, enabling the Ocean Terroirs proposal to be compiled in March 2021. The Academy's proposal set out a new philosophy in the “ocean terroirs” concept, which originated from an article in this journal1, as the starting point of these discussions, presented the core ideas of the ocean terroirs, and a vision for the technologies needed to realize them.

Democratization of the Oceans and the Sea of Fertility

Members of the Ocean Monitoring Network Initiative (OMNI) project, Institute of Industrial Science, The University of Tokyo, aim to develop an ocean observation system with public participation, which is designed to be built and operated at low cost (photo taken during a field test in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture; the author is in the center).

Terroir is a concept originating in French wine production. It is a philosophy that integrates nature, culture, and society within a particular region, placing values on natural environments, including climate and soil, the land, and the winemaking methods traditionally practiced in vineyards. Vineyards are seen not just as places for harvesting grapes but as actors in a terroir, in which people and nature try to live in sustainable symbiosis and create high added value. Similarly, ocean terroirs which can be described as the marine version of terroir, are also a philosophy that integrates people's lives and culture with the productive power of the sea in a sustainable manner. Unlike traditional terroirs, which are based on empirical and tacit knowledge, we defined the ocean terroirs as a democratized and open forum where all citizens can participate in decision-making. The intention is to seek participation from all stakeholders and let them make decisions together as concerned parties.
The realization of ocean terroirs requires the technology development based on the following four ideas: firstly, marine data and information sharing as a foundation for marine activities based on advanced evidence; secondly, democratization of marine observation, which encourages personalization of the ocean by the general public, connecting them to marine spaces through the aforementioned data and information; thirdly, systems that create bounties from the ocean through sustainable production systems without depleting nature; and finally, full-digitalization, remotization, and automation of marine systems. Specifically, it is needed to enhance real-world observation and investigation capabilities as well as cyberspace-based data accumulation and analysis capabilities in an integrated manner. In addition, the crucial issues to be considered include achieving net zero emissions, which is one of the goals for addressing climate change, and pursuing sustainability by establishing recycling systems that do not deplete nature. The latter issue in particular is a core action necessary for mankind to continuously benefit from the sea's bounties. It aims to build a future-oriented fisheries system that combines advanced data-driven ecosystem monitoring, management technologies, and high value-added marine product creation.
The Academy's proposal suggests the term "Sea of Fertility" for its future vision of the sea based on its philosophy of ocean terroirs. New technologies, including digital technologies, will help realize this vision. As a symbol of its vision, the proposal presented Innovative Aqua Farm, a next-generation fish farming facility that minimizes environmental burdens, and the Offshore Floating City, a coastal or offshore-based installation. The former entirely breaks away from the traditional capture-based fishing industry and acts as a center for creating a futuristic marine ecosystem that can sustainably produce high value-added marine products while maintaining rich biodiversity. The latter acts as a base camp for the realization of the ocean terroirs. It is a center of activity supporting the sea of fertility, promoting coexistence with it and regeneration of ecosystems and urban environments through unique features such as being friendly to the global environment and resilient to natural disasters.

Images of Plug and Play FLOAT (left), a coastal city, and Integrated Ecofriendly FLOAT (right), an offshore floating city.

Towards the Realization of Ocean Terroirs

The Ocean Terroirs proposal was put together by members of the engineering, science, and fisheries science communities. To realize our concepts of Innovative Aqua Farm and Offshore Floating City, we also need to consider this project's business potential and sociological aspects. It is also essential to gain sympathetic understanding from society in general for such new attempts.
New ideas and technologies are needed to realize the philosophy of ocean terroirs, while at the same time it is also essential to consciously nurture the human resources that will support this philosophy. Nurturing the diverse human resources that represent the future of the marine industry requires the provision of a systematic marine education package, from the primary and secondary level to higher and recurrent education, while establishing career paths for them. It also requires the perspective of the "marinization" of human resources through marine education that facilitates connections with different fields.
The world is now seeing a wave of ESG investment—a movement where companies select investment destinations from the perspectives of the environment (E), society (S), and governance (G). There is also an increased emphasis on solving global environmental problems and social issues such as food and population problems. Along with this emphasis, the launch of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development in 2021, which aims to use ocean science to help solve these problems, is consistent with the realization of ocean terroirs, and may also act as a tailwind for this concept.
This proposal's mission does not end up with its publication—it must be used as a springboard for even broader discussions. We must respond flexibly to future societal changes while preserving the concept of the ocean terroirs.

  1. 1Ken Takai: Towards a "Revolution in Marine Microorganisms," Originating in Japan. Ocean Newsletter Vol.354 (May 5, 2015)

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