Knowledge about the sea—ecosystems, acidification, rising water levels, temperature increases etc.—has increased at an unprecedented rate over the last 15 years. The Second International Ocean Research Conference, to be held from 17 to 21 October in Barcelona (Spain), will give the scientific community an opportunity to take stock of global research and determine a roadmap for the years to come. The purpose of the event is also to help secure recognition for the important role of the ocean in the international political agenda.
Close to 600 scientists from more than 70 countries are scheduled to take part in the conference which is co-organized by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (COI), Fundació Navegació Oceànica Barcelona (Spain) and the Oceanography Society (USA). Notable speakers will include: Jane Lubchenco, of Oregon State University (USA); Daniel Pauly, of the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Colombia (Canada); Shin-ichi Uye, of Hiroshima University (Japan), Patricia Miloslavich of Simón Bolívar University (Venezuela) and Coleen Moloney, Director of the University of Cape Town Marine Research Institute (South Africa).
Since the first International Ocean Research Conference, which took place at UNESCO Headquarters in June 2005, marine science has made considerable progress, notably thanks to international science programmes such as the Global Ocean Observing System and the Ocean Biogeographic Information System. They have facilitated the creation of scientific networks and the consolidation of data. Thus the Census of Marine Life, a 2010 study produced by more than 300 scientists, improved our knowledge of biodiversity on the seafloor. Advances in marine science are also due to the progress of robotics which facilitates the collection of ever more data.
In fact phenomena unknown just a few years ago, such as sea hypoxia—the lack of oxygen that is responsible for what is commonly known as “dead zones”—are now well documented. These topics along with many other crucial issues, notably the state of coral reefs, the effects of overfishing, the impact of climate change on the poles, and ocean governance, are included in the programme of the Conference.
The ocean, the first supplier of oxygen on Earth, is at least as important as forests in serving as the “lungs” of our planet. The seas play a crucial role in regulating climate change as they absorb nearly one quarter of all carbon emissions generated by human activity. But the rise in CO2 emissions leads to the acidification of sea waters, threatening corals and shellfish.
Nevertheless, the ocean has taken a backseat in international climate negotiations which have focused on terrestrial CO2 emissions. The Conference will set out to correct this by raising awareness about marine issues ahead of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) which will take place in Paris next year.