12.05.2017 - Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

Western Pacific ocean research at the forefront of UN Ocean Conference commitments

© Shutterstock: Great Barrier Reef, Australia, after a 2016 coral bleaching event

Strengthening marine research, capacity, monitoring and technology transfer in the Western Pacific and its adjacent regions is a crucial step to sustainably managing our ocean and its resources and mitigating the impacts of ocean acidification.

Being the most densely populated area and growth engine of the world economy, the Western Pacific and adjacent regions strongly rely on the ocean for economic growth, human livelihoods, cultural benefits and prosperity in general. However, marine pollution, over-fishing, biodiversity/habitat loss, climate change and ocean acidification, are threatening the health of the region’s marine resources and ecosystems.

For instance, ocean acidification, also called “the other CO2 problem,” relative to the Greenhouse Effect, happens when the ocean absorbs exorbitant amounts of carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere. This oceanic intervention has greatly reduced the impact of this greenhouse gas on the climate – in other words, the ocean bought us considerable time. But the ocean can only do so much. Ever increasing carbon dioxide emissions are undermining the ocean’s health and climate regulating capacity. A decrease in ocean pH will make it more difficult for marine organisms such as corals, mollusks, to form their biogenic calcium carbonate. Not only does this mean global warming will accelerate, but it also implies the ocean biodiversity and seafood security will suffer from more acidic water.

This has important negative implications for our own well-being, yet the full effects of ocean acidification on organisms and ecosystems remain poorly understood. Most of our current scientific knowledge is based on simplified laboratory experiments.

To address these pressing challenges, such as ocean acidification, it is imperative to fill knowledge gaps and to foster marine research capacity and technology transfer in the Western Pacific and its adjacent regions. In response to this call, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, its Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) and their partners have announced two important commitments:

1. Develop and strengthen the regional research and monitoring network to assess the impacts of ocean acidification on coral reef ecosystems in the Western Pacific and its adjacent regions.

2. Develop research capacity and transfer of marine technology through the IOC Regional Network of Training and Research Centers in the Western Pacific and its adjacent regions.

Launched by a partnership of over a dozen international, governmental, scientific and research institutions, these two initiatives aim to achieve key regional-level outcomes by 2020 around the development of scientific knowledge, research capacity and transfer of marine technology needed to underpin ocean governance and mitigate the impacts of ocean acidification on ocean health and biodiversity.

Via its Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC), UNESCO’s IOC will coordinate these two initiatives in close collaboration with all relevant partners. A number of activities are planned over the next three years, covering the Western Pacific and adjacent regions, in particular the establishment of two new regional training and research centers with provision of regular trainings on key regional issues, and the development and strengthening of ocean acidification monitoring capacity in half of existing selected pilot sites.

Initiative deliverables also include hands-on exercises, technical assistance and regular scientific trainings being regularly provided at two existing Regional Training and Research Centers, respectively on Ocean Dynamics and Climate (RTRC-ODC) in the First Institute Oceanography (State Oceanic Administration of China), and on Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health (RTRC-MarBEST) in the Indonesian Institute of Sciences..

These two voluntary commitments are part of the outcome of the United Nations Ocean Conference (5-9 June 2017 which will take place at the UN Headquarters in New York. The initiatives figure on The Ocean Conference Registry of Voluntary Commitments alongside other commitments undertaken by Governments, international organizations, civil society organizations, the private sector, scientific institutions and other stakeholders toward the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 – to conserve and sustainable use our ocean.

Please visit the official UN Ocean Conference website for a comprehensive view of our side event programme, expected outcomes, and voluntary commitments.

For more information, please contact:

Wenxi Zhu (w.zhu(at)unesco.org), for information about the Western Pacific and its adjacent regions initiative.

Julian Barbière (j.barbiere@unesco.org), for information about UNESCO’s IOC in the Ocean Conference.

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