About the Decade

The Decade will provide a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to create a new foundation, across the science-policy interface, to strengthen the management of the ocean.
Last update: June 21, 2022

Decade Motivation: reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health


The main motivation for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development is to support efforts to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health and create improved conditions for sustainable development of the Ocean.

Society now depends on the ocean more than at any time before. It is a vital source of nourishment, supporting directly the livelihood of about 500 million people, especially in the poorest nations. Ocean economies are among the most rapidly growing and promising in the world, providing benefits to many sectors of great economic value, such as fisheries, transport, biotechnologies, energy production, seabed resources exploration, tourism and many others.

Oceans are facing multiple environmental stressors (climate change, marine pollution, ocean acidification) engendered by these human activities and resulting in the loss of marine species and degradation of marine and coastal environments. As reported in the First World Ocean Assessment, we assist to a cycle of decline in the ocean health, with changes and losses in the structure and function of the Ocean that challenge the benefits obtained from marine systems. Over the coming decades, a changing climate, growing global population, and increased environmental stressors will have significant yet highly uncertain impacts on food security and human well fare.

Adaptation strategies and science-informed policy responses to global change are urgently needed

Decade Vision: Ocean Science that is fit for purpose

The Decade will encourage the science community, the policy-makers, the private sector and the civil society to think beyond business as usual and aspire for real change.

Decade Breakthroughs

The Decade will:

  • Address knowledge gaps through integrated research: whilst the knowledge we need is still available for guiding the first steps to be taken in terms of removing, adapting and mitigating identified impacts, the Decade would establish missing or strengthen weak links of science to marine applications of direct social benefits (adaptation to climate change or marine spatial planning).
  • Enable action at all levels: the Decade should provide an unifying framework to the UN-wide system for seeking science-based solutions to the 2030 Agenda priority issues. The Decade will catalyze major investments in ocean science (the Global Ocean Science Report found that ocean science accounts for less than 4% of the total research and development expenditures worldwide), as well as stimulate research agenda at the national level, by aligning science priorities with national commitments towards the sustainable development agenda. The Decade will raise awareness on the truly global dimension of the ocean, its economic services, demonstrating that its well-being affects people locally and globally;
  • Build capacities to act worldwide: the Decade will initiate a coordinated framework responding to regionally driven priorities to improve the scientific knowledge base through capacity development for nations and groups that are presently limited in capacity and capability, especially SIDS and LDCs.

Decade Objectives


the scientific knowledge and underpinning infrastructures and partnerships needed for sustainable development of the ocean.


ocean science, data and information to inform policies for a well-functionning ocean in support of all sustainable development goals of 2030 Agenda.

Open Science that is Fit for Purpose

The Decade will support Ocean Science that is Fit for Purpose.

The Decade will address both deep disciplinary understanding of ocean processes and solution-oriented research to generate new knowledge. This knowledge will support societal actors in reducing pressures on the ocean, preserving and restoring ocean ecosystems and safeguarding ocean-related prosperity for generations to come. Building on existing research and initiatives, the Decade will boost international cooperation to developing scientific research and innovative technologies, connecting ocean science with societal needs.

Scientific Priorities


To address global knowledge gaps and based on the SGD’s requirements, the priority research and development areas have been defined in the Decade Roadmap at a global level and will be adapted to the scientific priorities identified during the regional workshops. The Science Plan of the Decade will combine these global priority research and development areas and the regional scientific priorities, building programmes of research that will have global goals and adapted at a regional level but also duplicated when efficient.

Research and development priority areas:

  1. Comprehensive digital atlas of the ocean;
  2. Comprehensive ocean observing system for all major basins;
  3. Quantitative understanding of ocean ecosystems and their functioning as the basis for their management and adaptation;
  4. Data and information portal;
  5. Integrated multi-hazard warning system;
  6. Ocean in earth-system observation, research and prediction, supported by social and human sciences and economic valuation;
  7. Capacity-building and accelerated technology transfer, training and education, Ocean literacy.
  8. Provide ocean science, data and information to inform policies for a well-functionning ocean in support of all sustainable development goals of 2030 Agenda

Societal Outcomes

The Decade will turn the scientific knowledge and understanding into effective actions supporting improved ocean management, stewardship and sustainable development, procuring:

  • A clean Ocean whereby sources of pollution are identified, quantified and reduced, and pollutants removed from the Ocean;
  • A healthy and resilient Ocean whereby marine ecosystems are mapped and protected, multiple impacts (including climate change) are measured and reduced, and provision of ocean ecosystem services is maintained;
  • A predicted Ocean whereby society has the capacity to understand current and future ocean conditions, forecast their change and impact on human wellbeing and livelihoods;
  • A safe Ocean whereby human communities are protected from ocean hazards and where safety of operations at sea and on the coast is ensured;
  • A sustainably harvested and productive Ocean ensuring the provision of food supply and alternative livelihoods;
  • A transparent and accessible Ocean whereby all nations, stakeholders and citizens have access to Ocean data and information, technologies, and have the capacities to inform their decisions.

Decade Process: inclusive, participative and regionally driven

Interconnected planet on an ocean background

Inclusive and Participative

Scientists, policy makers, managers, and service users can work together to ensure that ocean science delivers greater benefits for both the ocean ecosystem and for society.

This Decade will be designed to facilitate global communication and mutual learning across research and stakeholder communities. It will work to meet the needs of scientists, policy makers, industry, civil society and the wider public, but it will also support new, collaborative partnerships that can deliver more effective science-based management of our ocean space and resources.

Bottom-up Regionnally Driven Approach

The objectives and outcomes have been agreed globally (with the expectation that groups and regions will support these).

A bottom-up process will be established so as to allow for the regional or even local definition of these outcomes and objectives (with the formulation of scientific products, activities and partnerships proposed in the context of the Decade).

How will the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission contribute to the Decade?

An important element of the Decade process will be to invite contributions from the science community to build the portfolio of Decade activities.

As the United Nations body responsible for supporting global ocean science and services, the IOC will play a substantive role - in addition to coordinating the Decade’s design and preparation - with regard to identifying programmatic contributions and thereafter in implementing the Decade.


IOC in a Nutshell

IOC enables 149 Member States to work together to protect the health of the Ocean by coordinating programmes in research, services and capacity-building for ocean observations, hazard mitigation, tsunami warnings and marine spatial planning.

A number of IOC programmes and activities can provide a significant contribution to the Decade so as to maximize achievement of its objectives, as well as benefit from it.

IOC contribution to the Decade, from a programmatic perspective
18 June 2018

To learn more about the consistency and potential synergies between the preliminary goals and objectives of the Decade and the high-level objectives and functions of IOC, please refer to the document.