The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (the ‘Ocean Decade’) was launched in 2021 to improve our scientific understanding of the ocean for a healthier planet and a more equitable and sustainable ocean economy. Fugro's Louis Demargne explains why improving public access to private-sector
Geo-data is essential for the Ocean Decade's success.
The discovery of a pristine, 2-mile-long coral reef off the coast of Tahiti in January was so unusual that it was picked by many mainstream media outlets. Located between 35 m and 65 m below the sea surface, it was previously thought that there was not enough sunlight to sustain life at such a depth. This discovery highlighted how little we still know about the ocean and how much we have left to discover.
Yet the ocean plays a vital role in maintaining human health and well-being. It produces half of the oxygen we breathe and provides food and livelihoods for over 3 billion people. As a carbon sink capturing roughly 30 % of the CO2 we produce, it is also a key ally in fighting global warming. So how can we properly manage something we don’t fully understand?
The ocean provides food an livelihoods for more than 3 billion people. Photo credit: Jeff Hester / Ocean Image Bank)
The Ocean Decade vision
With a clear goal of transforming our scientific knowledge of the marine environment, the Ocean Decade is helping to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health and contribute to a new blue economy that is both equitable and sustainable. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’ and for science to work, we need data—lots of it! Unfortunately, the availability of ocean science data is currently insufficient to drive extensive research and to inform sustainable ocean governance and policies.
This presents an opportunity for members of the private sector, who are actively collecting ocean data in support of resource and infrastructure development projects around the globe. These projects include a wide range of scientific inputs, including metocean measurements, bathymetry, seabed morphology and biodiversity among other datasets. From ports and harbours, to trans-oceanic communications cables, to offshore wind farms, to oil and gas structures, privately-held Geo-data support the permitting, engineering, construction and operation of marine assets, but are generally not shared or made publicly accessible.
An opportunity to unleash privately held Geo-data
Now more than ever, companies understand that employees, shareholders, customers, and society expect them to contribute to a sustainable future. Given the private sector’s increasing awareness of and focus on ocean stewardship, we represent an important partner in expanding the pool of ocean data generators and users. We must seize this opportunity to leverage ongoing commercial activities, help facilitate access to privately held ocean Geo-data, knowledge and other in‑kind resources to improve our collective understanding of the world’s oceans. In that way, we are moving the Ocean Decade forward by delivering the data we need for the ocean we want.
Planning, designing, constructing and maintaining offshore infrastructure requires massive amounts of marine Geo-data.
There are challenges ahead when it comes to widespread sharing of Geo-data assets. Making this private-sector data available will mean solving a number of technical, legal and economic barriers in terms of information technology infrastructure, data management and processing, intellectual property rights and other liabilities, for starters. However, only by joining forces will we be able to solve these issues. Companies have much to gain from allowing public access their data and contributing resources to the Ocean Decade and not just from a reputational and environmental, social and governance (ESG) point of view. The Ocean Decade will help protect the very environment that sustains their marine-based businesses, while potentially opening up new business opportunities, related to new sources of energy or food, for example.did
Today, only 4 % of deep ocean has been directly observed or physically measured, and only about 20 % of the seafloor is mapped. We are essentially walking in a deep, dark cave with only a small candle light to guide us. Imagine what marvels we will discover in that dark cave, when we switch on the floodlights by unleashing previously inaccessible Geo-data!