Building peace in the minds of men and women

30th Session of the IOC Assembly

Memorial Lectures

The Anton Bruun Memorial Lecture Series is dedicated to the memory of the noted Danish oceanographer and first chairman of the Commission, Dr Anton Frederick Bruun. The Anton Bruun Memorial Lectures were established in accordance with Resolution 19 of the 6th session of the IOC Assembly (1970), in which the Commission proposed that important intersession developments be summarized by speakers in the fields of solid earth studies, physical and chemical oceanography and meteorology, and marine biology.

The N.K. Panikkar Memorial Lecture Series is dedicated to the memory of the noted Indian oceanographer Dr N.K. Panikkar. Following a proposal by the German Delegation during the 18th session of the IOC Assembly (1995), which received the support of the Indian delegation, it was decided to hold a Dr Panikkar Lecture during each IOC Assembly to address capacity building in marine science issues at regional and national levels.



The world’s oceans contain an amazing diversity of life that is a bountiful source of oxygen & food plus a sink for CO2. Oceanic phytoplankton are the primary source of organic carbon in the ocean. They consume some 50 gigatonnes of CO2 and produce ~ 40% of global oxygen every year. Over the last few billion years plants, primarily phytoplankton, have removed ~99% of the CO2 from the atmosphere and replaced it with oxygen. The exponential rise of humans has put these natural processes under stress from increasing pollution and overexploitation.   

Our predictions of the future state of our oceans come mostly from models. For phytoplankton these models predict a decline due to oceans that will be warmer, more acidic, increasingly stratified and have less nutrients in the euphotic zone. There is an increasing amount of laboratory evidence regarding the magnitude of these risks for phytoplankton associated with changes in temperature, light, nutrients, pH and CO2. A brief synopsis shows these factors have substantial potential to reduce phytoplankton abundance and biodiversity. While laboratory studies provide a strong basis for predicting the future of phytoplankton the complex interactions of many factors that vary in time and space makes reliable extrapolation challenging. A more reliable method of predicting the future may come from examining the past. Examples of regional and global changes in phytoplankton that can be associated with proximal factors will be presented. Some of these changes are complex and appear to be determined by factors not well represented in our global models.

At regional scale the increasing strength central oceanic gyre currents appears to be driving the translocation of phytoplankton populations. A strengthening East Australia Current has moved phytoplankton populations, and some aspects of their preferred environment, thousands of kilometres over several decades. Some of these translocated species have achieved complete dominance in their new locations.  In the Tasman Sea changes to stratification have also produced a new autumn phytoplankton bloom. Changing patterns of precipitation are driving changes in phytoplankton communities within estuaries and our coastal seas. Long term drying, or droughts, are reducing nutrients in the ocean thousands of kilometres away from their riverine inputs. The impacts of these changes on higher trophic levels are not known.

Satellites measuring ocean colour provide a magnificent picture of global phytoplankton biomass. They tell us that over the past 20 years 57% of the ocean has shown a decline in phytoplankton, primarily in the central gyres. At the same time, however, only 10% of the ocean is both warming and declining in phytoplankton while 22% is warming and increasing in phytoplankton. Therefore, temperature alone is not enough to predict phytoplankton ecology. The best global data for understanding mechanisms and impacts on taxa comes from the ~ 350 long-term time-series laboriously compiled as part of the UN IOC Working Group IGMETS.  They also show that climate impacts on phytoplankton are often different from our predictions. For example, the time-series indicate there have been significant long-term changes in the phytoplankton taxa with diatoms increasing and dinoflagellates decreasing.  These observations are in strong contrast to model predictions. 

The existing dichotomy between models and observations strongly suggests that both are needed to properly manage our marine resources in a changing world. The adage “you can't manage what you can't measure” is very applicable.


Peter Thompson graduated from the Department of Oceanography at the University of British Columbia (Canada) and has since conducted research for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Canada), the University of Tasmania, (Australia) and Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO, Australia). He has gladly participated in a number SCOR and IOC working groups and very much appreciates the global leadership provided by the UN-IOC.  

Peter has spent years studying how phytoplankton live and grow in the laboratory, in estuaries and oceans. He has completed many field campaigns including ~ 20 oceanic research voyages to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. He has served the Australian government as an expert on ocean dumping and provided advice on creation of national and state marine protected areas. Peter has published ~ 120 peer-reviewed papers. His current scientific passion is using time series data to understand the effects of environmental change on phytoplankton ecology and thereby better support the sustainable use of our oceans.


The Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) was established as a regional professional, non-profit, membership organization, in 1993. With a view toward sustaining the use and conservation of its marine resources, WIOMSA is dedicated to promoting the educational, scientific and technological development of all aspects of marine sciences throughout the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) 10-country region: Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Réunion (France).
The development of capacity in marine science in the WIO region can be traced back to the pre-1970 period where there were few research Institutions with little or no involvement of nationals in the national and regional research programs. There were few marine scientists and majority of them were fisheries biologists. Amongst the research institutions there was also an absence of research priority setting mechanisms. There was poor dissemination and communication of research results limited research collaboration amongst scientists and linkage to priority management issues were sporadic.
Several research granting programmes were initiated between 1990 and 2000 that responded to priority needs of the region and national Universities starting offering MSc and PhD degree programs that focused on marine and coastal ecosystems. There were several competitive research programmes initiated, regional collaboration increased and there were more scientific outputs from the region.
Between 2000 and 2018, there has been a move towards the consolidation of knowledge from publications into regional reports and programmes that can move the science beyond scientific publications to the realm of policy makers. The focus of the region is changing and scientists are working to become more responsive to societal needs. There is also greater dialogue on how to influence policy makers for the protection and maintenance of critical marine habitats in the face of national development initiatives.
Effective science to policy dialogues are dependant on a number of factors including adequate capacity for trans-disciplinary research; mechanisms for coordinating the inputs of the scientific community and boundary organizations to support cross linking and communications between the scientific research and the policy communities.
The lecture will highlight the journey of WIOMSA since its establishment and the partnerships that have led to the development and growth of the scientific dialogue in the WIO region.


Dr. Uku is a Senior Research Scientist and Research Coordinator at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI). She holds a PhD in Plant Physiology from Stockholm University and a MSc in Biology of Conservation from the University of Nairobi.
She is currently the President of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA).
She has been leading the initiative focusing on the Network for Women in Marine Science (WIMS), which addresses the gender equality issues facing women marine scientists in the Western Indian Ocean region, since 2018. She has also been focusing on providing a space for Early Career Scientists in the Association through the development of a network that can provide mentorship and guidance for career development in the unique field of marine and coastal research.
She is Co-chairing the Global Ocean Science Report 2020 Editorial Board – which in line with the Panikkar lecture - has a new focus area on capacity building.
In the recent past, she has also been the Project Coordinator of the World Bank funded Kenya Coastal Development Project.
Her work is focused on strengthening research, resource mobilization and fostering linkages between scientists and policy makers as well as raising awareness of marine issues within the Western Indian Ocean Region.

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