The Global pendemic has shown we need an Action Plan for the Ocean
Murphy, E.J., Robinson, C., Hobday, A.J., Newton, A., Glaser, M., Evans, K., Dickey-Collas, M., Brodie, S. & Gehlen, M.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the first serious test of how science can inform decision-making in the face of an immediate global threat, yielding important lessons on how science, society and policy interact. The global societal and economic impact of COVID-19 has shown that we need to assess, plan and prepare for potential future changes. These insights are particularly important for the ocean science community because of the global connectivity of the ocean and its crucial role in the Earth's climate system and in supporting all life on Earth. With climate change already impacting society and ecosystems, implementing mitigation measures to avoid and reduce emissions of greenhouses gases is an immediate priority (IPCC, 2021). Irreversible changes are already underway in the oceans and their impacts over the coming decades will continue to affect human communities, requiring societal responses and adaptation across multiple scales (IPCC, 2019, 2021).
The importance of the ocean in the Earth's climate system, influencing weather patterns and affecting sea level, is now recognized by governments and increasingly so by the public. Less well-appreciated is the central role of the ocean in maintaining ecosystems and biodiversity and in supporting human systems. Approximately 680 million people live in low-lying coastal zones, and ocean and coastal economies support millions of people globally (Ebarvia, 2016; IPCC, 2019). The global economy associated with our coasts and ocean (the “Blue Economy”) is estimated to have an asset base of over US$24 trillion (24 ×1012) and generates at least US$2.5 trillion each year from the combination of fishing and aquaculture, shipping, tourism, and other activities (OECD, 2016). Nevertheless, marine systems across the planet are being altered because of climate change and human activity with impacts at local to global scales (e.g., Allison and Bassett, 2015; He and Silliman, 2019; IPCC, 2019; UN, 2021). These changes are unprecedented, threatening the capacity of the ocean to maintain crucial services to the planet and human communities (ecosystem services), including those that provide (e.g., food, water, and economic security), regulate (e.g., climate), support (e.g., nutrient cycling) and are cultural in their nature (e.g., traditional or recreational use) (IPCC, 2019; Sala et al., 2021) and so are increasing the potential for societal conflict.
The challenge is urgent. There is an immediate requirement to go beyond calls for action to deal with aspects of the impacts of climate change and human activities on the ocean (IPCC, 2019; UNESCO-IOC, 2021). An Action Plan for the Ocean is needed that develops a comprehensive global understanding of and plan for dealing with multiple ocean risks, that is flexible and adaptive as knowledge expands and new threats arise. The urgency of the challenge requires an internationally coordinated effort that draws on existing global research capacity and networks; a key opportunity presented by the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030 (UNESCO-IOC, 2021) that must not be missed if we are to minimize change in ocean systems and impacts on the services they provide to society.