“Ocean science, as considered in this report, includes all research disciplines related to the study of the ocean: physical, biological, chemical, geological, hydrographic, health, and social sciences, as well as engineering, the humanities, and multidisciplinary research on the relationship between humans and the ocean. Ocean science seeks to understand complex, multi-scale social-ecological systems and services, which requires observations and multidisciplinary and collaborative research” (Global Ocean Science Report, 2017).
Covering over two-thirds of our blue planet, the ocean makes it habitable. It is at the origin of all life on Earth and affects each of our lives: it is the source of our freshwater and half the oxygen we breathe; it also influences our climate and weather. Our ocean provides food, medicine, and mineral and energy resources. It supports a multitude of life forms and shapes the Earth’s characteristics.
The ocean was once thought to be a vast and indefinitely resilient compartment of the Earth system, able to absorb practically all human population pressures, from resource exploitation to fisheries and aquaculture development to marine transport. However, our civilization is running out of time to avoid the detrimental cycle of decline in ocean health that will have dramatic repercussions on the ocean's ability to keep providing the support we need.
Conserving the diversity of life on Earth and ocean health is critical to global human welfare, yet essential resources are at risk from the direct results of unsustainable practices. Sustainable development cannot be achieved by technological solutions, political regulation or financial instruments alone. We need to change the way we think and act.
Global environmental change has profound social and human dimensions. The ocean surface currently absorbs almost one-third of the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere from human activities, including fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, and cement production. Over 30 UNESCO programmes in the ocean and natural sciences, education, culture, and communication contribute to creating knowledge, educating and communicating about climate change, and understanding the ethical implications for present and future generations.
Sustainable development requires quality education and learning at all levels and in all social contexts. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) enables us to constructively and creatively address present and future global challenges and create more sustainable and resilient societies. UNESCO has been recognized globally as the lead agency for ESD. It coordinates the implementation of the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD, as well as the official follow-up to the United Nations Decade of ESD (2005-2014).
With the support of the World Heritage Convention, the most important natural sites receive international recognition and technical and financial assistance to deal with threats such as agricultural encroachment, alien species and poaching.
As part of its worldwide efforts to safeguard our common cultural heritage in its diverse forms, UNESCO adopted the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage in 2001. This international treaty sets out ethical principles for the protection of submerged heritage. It provides a detailed state cooperation system and practical scientific rules for the treatment and research of this heritage.
Monitoring the Ocean
We depend on the ocean for our well-being, yet our knowledge does not match its importance. The formulation of sustainable, ecosystem-based policies and measures for oceans and coasts needs to be supported by science, including research and observations. Monitoring efforts are especially crucial at a time when the world’s ocean, coasts, and marine ecosystems are undergoing great changes caused by increasing greenhouse gases, coastal pollution, overfishing, predatory fishing, coastal development or increasing population pressure.
Ocean Decade (2021-2030)
The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)
On 5 December 2017, the United Nations declared that a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development would be held from 2021 to 2030. This Decade will provide a common framework to ensure that ocean science can fully support countries to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC) plays a key role in implementing the SDG 14, which aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
- Ocean Decade: Summary of the Implementation Plan (Version 2.0) submitted to the United Nations General Assembly
- Ocean Decade website
Coastal and Marine Zones
The coastal environment is particularly important, both socio-economically and culturally, and there are typically high levels of conflict in the demands for coastal space and its resources. This conflict is often accentuated by high and increasing population densities on the coast and by the development of economic sectors such as tourism.
Many coastal zones in developing states of the world have vastly extended the fisheries and other marine resources available. Potential benefits may be great. But so too are the problems and challenges faced by the countries concerned in seeking to grasp and optimize these potential benefits.
For both terrestrial and marine environments, difficulties in planning and implementing effective integrated approaches to resource management are reflected in overexploitation of particular resources, pollution and degradation of land and water ecosystems, and acute conflicts between competing resource uses.
Linking Nutrient Sources to Coastal Ecosystem Effects and Management
Nutrient over-enrichment of coastal ecosystems is a major environmental problem globally, contributing to problems such as harmful algal blooms, dead zone formation, and fishery decline.
Yet, quantitative relationships between nutrient loading and ecosystem effects are not well defined. The development of such relationships, concurrent with an improved understanding of the complexity of these relationships is critical to effective management of coastal resources; without such understanding degradation of aquatic systems will almost certainly continue, resulting in increased social, economic, and environmental hardship.
UNESCO is strongly engaged in reducing the risk posed by tsunamis and other extreme sea-level events such as coastal flooding and storm surges. As coastal development continues at a rapid pace, increasing the vulnerability of coastal populations, UNESCO seeks to encourage communities to implement effective mitigating measures and become aware both of the hazards they face and the most effective ways to respond.
- Rio+20 - Saving our ocean
- Statement on the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s Contribution
- UNESCO and Marine Sciences
- Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS)
- Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC)
- International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE)
- Integrated Coastal Area Management (ICAM)
- IOC Tsunami Programme
- Nutrients and Coastal Impacts Research Programme (N-CIRP)
- Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS)
- UN World Ocean Assessment