Proposal for an International Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC) and its partners are calling for 2021-2030 to become the International Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

Key objectives:

  • Build an inventory of marine resources and identify opportunities to manage these resources in a sustainable manner
  • Gain a better quantitative knowledge of the ocean bottom and water column ecosystems
  • Understand the impacts of cumulative stressors on the ocean and recommend specific actions to obtain more benefit from the ocean.
  • Share knowledge and enhance capacities through the transfer of marine technology, leading to economic benefits for SIDS and Least Developed Countries.

The development of the initiative towards a Decade of Ocean Science would help to increase public awareness about the urgent need for new science and use of existing science to increase our understanding of the cumulative impacts affecting our oceans. The First World Ocean Assessment found that much of the ocean is now seriously degraded and many fear there has been a global failure to integrate scientific evidence into the sustainable management of our oceans.  A continued failure to address these problems is likely to create a destructive cycle of degradation that will ultimately deprive society of many of the benefits we currently derive from the ocean.

The International Decade of Ocean Science would stimulate the development of new observation technologies which could help to address many of our remaining information gaps, such as the mapping of the ocean space and its sub-soil in three dimensions. The entire process of developing and implementing the Decade could also help to build stronger cooperation between the different bodies responsible for ocean science while facilitating a faster and more effective delivery of knowledge to policy and decision-makers.

Ocean Facts & Knowledge Gaps

  • Basic biodiversity knowledge is non-existent for 99% of habitable marine areas
  • Up to a million marine species could still be unknown to science
  • Only 5% of the ocean has been mapped and less than 0.05% of the ocean floor has been mapped at high resolution
  • Science cannot yet reliably measure the cumulative impacts of climate change, marine pollution and biodiversity loss on the global ocean
  • 276 million square kilometers of “deep sea” exists in perpetual darkness
  • Only 3 humans have explored the deepest known point of the ocean
  • There is no internationally-agreed methodology for estimating the value of the ocean and the services it provides


  • A new generation of observing technologies for the ocean expanded to include more biochemical, biological, biodiversity and ecosystem related parameters, in support of ecosystem-based management
  • Use of new generation modelling tools for prediction of ocean conditions, including biological and biochemical parameters such as oxygen and pH, going beyond the existing abilities to describe the physical state of the ocean
  • Complete mapping of the ocean conditions, bathymetry, subduction zones and hot vents, functions and roles of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, and an update of the Census of Marine life
  • More transdisciplinary and integrating oceanographic research, with prospects for much improved delivery of the science and technological results and data, with knowledge that is applicable for achieving sustainable development and supporting related adaptive management
  • Strengthened and directed capacity building linked to technology transfer, including new technologies, and sustained observations with related training through research
  • An information portal maintained by IOC-UNESCO addressing the new role of science in the communication and use of scientific results, regularly providing and updating information on the state of the ocean to all stakeholders, through available new communication and data assimilation technologies
  • Enhancing sustainable use of ocean and marine resources including a focus on: making an inventory of ocean resources and ecosystem services; understanding and quantifying biogeographical zones and the potential role of marine protected areas
  • Expanding use of knowledge about the ocean conditions including data management, data gathering, modeling, forecasting ocean food productivity and evaluating its capacity to meet growing demands
  • Development of the ocean economy including analyses of economic and social benefits from the sustainable use of marine resources and science-based management
  • Sustainable management of coastal ecosystems including ecosystem resilience and marine spatial planning to minimize impacts of sea-level rise, extreme weather events, flooding and erosion, improvements of baselines on environmental conditions and public perceptions
  • Increasing scientific knowledge about the impacts of cumulative interacting stressors such as warming, acidification and habitat destruction
  • Achieving integrated observations and data sharing, including the use of satellites, fixed and moving observing platforms, all feeding into common data management and the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS)

For the Decade to be successful, a definite set of themes and programmes will need to be determined, on the basis of agreed criteria and indicators of progress. Partnerships must also be established to fund and execute the programmes.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO is now working to develop the proposed International Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development into a plan of action with shared goals and responsibilities.

With the broad overall goal to achieve and maintain a healthy life-supporting ocean, the Decade will provide a new collaborative, cross-sectoral and coordinated framework for a range of institutions to work together on critical ocean science issues. A coordination mechanism will need to be put in place with the task of developing an international programme and a plan to be monitored between now and 2030.

“An International Decade of Ocean Science could help to build a shared information system based on trustworthy, science-based data, from all parts of the world's ocean.”

Professor Peter M. Haugan, Chair of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO