Scientists join call for major shift in understanding to protect ocean

Marine scientists from the University of Plymouth have contributed to a new international report calling for an urgent change in the way we think and talk about the ocean in a post-COVID world.

Published in the journal Aquatic Conservation, the study breaks new ground in recognising how an effective use of language can change the trajectory of ocean decline and says a rethink is both essential and timely in order to improve understanding and action.

Providing recommendations for decision makers, scientists and NGOs it makes six, scientifically-informed points which everyone should understand and act on.

The authors include Professor of Marine Biology Jason Hall-Spencer and Professor of Oceanography Chris Reid, who were also part of research published in 2019 which highlighted urgent action needed to head off potential ecological disaster in the global ocean.

This new report points to the absence of consideration of the ocean in most discussions about how we learn from the pandemic, and that the global-scale policy change needed will not be forthcoming without an improved understanding and articulation of the role of the ocean in our lives.

It also adds that although the health of the ocean is deteriorating swiftly and to the detriment of humankind, very little is being done to address the situation.

The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) authors hope that improving knowledge about the role of the ocean in our lives – something, for example, which is not featured in many school curricula – will increase the attention paid to the ocean and the urgency with which action is taken.

The report includes a synthesis of key ocean functions and the changes tracked by science and is emphatic that action must be taken now in response to the scale and accelerating nature of the change and argue that we need a joined-up, whole ocean response to climate and biodiversity.

The authors say that we need a ‘plan B for ocean recovery’ as downward step-changes in ocean health dramatically impact humanity. They call for a new ‘Marshall-style’ plan for the ocean, akin to the ambition and drive used to rebuild societies after World War Two.

Lead Author of the report, Professor Dan Laffoley says:

“These may seem simple, but decision makers do not act as if they were true. Humanity cannot survive without a healthy ocean performing the services that make our planet habitable and allow us to live. We have to understand that the one ocean of our planet is vital to our existence so let’s start talking about it in those terms. These kind of steps are important because they change the way people understand the ocean and, for example, the fact that damage in one part of the ocean can circulate and bring harm to another part – it’s all connected.”

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