The United Nations' recently published the first-ever comprehensive report on global ocean sciences, emphasizing the importance of continued research and investment. The report, entitled Global Ocean Science Report: The Current Status of Ocean Science around the World, was presented on World Oceans Day (June 8th) at the UN in New York as part of the UN’s Ocean Conference. The report stands in stark opposition to the statements coming from the Trump administration; while Trump has threatened to slash U.S. funding for climate research, which includes ocean research programs, the report calls for increased funding for research and greater international scientific cooperation. Moreover, given that about 70% of the financing for ocean science comes from public sources, the report stresses the need for continued funding and support from governments across the world.
“The publication [of the report] marks a turning point in that it is the first such tool developed to help inform countries’ and stakeholders’ decisions and investments in favor of the ocean,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in a press release. “It will also play a major role in assessing progress towards meeting [the UN’s goal] to preserve the key resource that the ocean represents for humanity as a whole.”
The report is comprised of data detailing the size and scope of ocean science projects across the world, and highlights “opportunities as well as capacity gaps to advance international collaboration in ocean science and technology.” The report stresses the importance of continued research given the fact that millions of people across the world rely on the ocean for their livelihood; every year, the ocean is estimated to generate about $1.5 trillion in added value, (according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
The report ranks countries using many different metrics, including number of ocean researchers per inhabitants, number of scientific publications dedicated to the ocean, and amount spent on ocean research as a percentage of national research and development spending. The report found that a country’s commitment to ocean science and research varies according to its size, the length of its coastline and, unsurprisingly, the economic benefit that it draws from the surrounding ocean resources. As the U.S. has rich history of public research and innovation, and has large industries that rely on the ocean, it ranks quite high in many of the metrics the report measures. Unfortunately, this could soon change.
The report comes out a few weeks after Trump unveiled his full 2018 budget request, which proposed huge cuts to nationally funded science research programs. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is tasked with providing research and information on the ocean and the atmosphere, would face significant cuts under Trump. Among a long list of things that NOAA does is monitor dangerous weather patterns and changing ocean temperatures, generate sea charts, monitor fisheries, and protect coastal areas. NOAA's primary research arm, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, is slated to be one of the departments most affected, with a proposed budget cut of over 20%, from $514 million to $400 million.
“NOAA is the lead agency for the nation’s weather forecasts, weather satellites, fisheries, ocean services and climate monitoring. If you rely on TV weather forecasts, use a weather app, eat fish, enjoy boating, or claim your status as an Earthling, these cuts potentially have implications for you,” wrote Marshall Shepherd, a University of Georgia meteorology professor and former president of the American Meteorological Society.
Thankfully, these cuts have to be approved by Congress before they’re implemented, which means they may not go through. Another bright spot is that Trump’s egregious cuts are coming at a time of newfound awareness regarding the world’s oceans. The UN Ocean Science report was presented at the first first-ever UN summit on oceans; the week-long conference created a new program aimed at training ocean professionals from developing countries, and wrapped up with the adoption of a 14-point Call for Action to protect the world’s oceans. All of the Heads of State and government representatives that participated in the conference affirmed their “strong commitment to conserve and sustainably use our oceans, seas and marine resources.”
“Looking forward, the conservation and sustainable use of oceans can be achieved only if we manage to address effectively the threats that oceans face; this requires collaboration at all levels and across many sectors,” said António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General in his address for World Oceans Day. “By going forward together, we can ensure that our oceans are peaceful, safe and bountiful, and remain healthy as our blue home.”
Hopefully Trump is listening.