Progress on 10 Ocean challenges reported in State of Ocean Report 2022

EarthzineOcean Decade, Ocean Literacy, Plastics

The report provides info on the state of the Ocean to assist policymakers, in light of the 10 Decade challenges

7 Apr, 2023

Afzalbek Fayzullaev

Scientific knowledge is essential to reverse the damage done to Ocean health, save marine life, and sustainably use the Ocean. UNESCO states that “one cannot manage what one cannot measure” [1]. This is a reference to the fact that Ocean knowledge is not always comprehensive and also not actionable either. Because of this, UNESCO also urges the need for quantitative information about the Ocean, hoping to provide a more comprehensive report in future years with the help of UN agencies and other organizations. One step towards this is the State of the Ocean Report which is an annual brief, accessible, one-stop overview of the current state of the Ocean, and to mobilize global society to act towards ‘the ocean we need for the future we want’.

The 2022 State of the Ocean Report (StOR) provides up-to-date information on the state of the world’s Ocean in order to assist policymakers make decisions for the future. The StOR started with a foreword from Vladimir Ryabinin, the Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO. He also made sure to state the importance of real action, in the global, regional, national, and local sectors, in addition to the implementation of policies. Speaking about the StOR, Ryabinin stated that in order to implement any action “it is crucial to keep the general public, stakeholders and governments fully informed of the quickly evolving situation in the ocean, and what is being done.”[1] The public must be made aware of the dynamic state of the ocean in order to build toward solutions to issues in the Ocean, a task that StOR undertakes.

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Trawlers overfishing cod. Overfishing can lead to drastic depletion of fish stocks in the Ocean.

StOR is structured in the context of the 10 Ocean Decade Challenges (Table 1) that must be addressed to relieve some of the stresses on the Ocean and some actions that could be taken to do so.

Challenge 1 focuses on marine pollution and its effects on marine and human life. A pressing issue that affects marine life is the presence of dead zones, an area that has a reduced amount of oxygen in the water [1]. These dead zones, also called hypoxic zones, are caused by an overgrowth of aquatic plants, an effect of nitrogen and Phosphorus getting into large bodies of water. These hypoxic zones can cause changes in the food webs of ecosystems, habitat loss, and loss of biodiversity [1]. Plastic pollution also harms human health as well, an issue that has been exponentially rising since the late 1800s.

Table 1 The 10 Ocean Decade Challenges

Challenge 1

Understand and beat marine pollution

Challenge 2

Protect and restore ecosystems and biodiversity

Challenge 3

Sustainably Feed the Global Population

Challenge 4

Develop a sustainable and equitable ocean economy

Challenge 5

Unlock ocean-based solutions to Climate Change

Challenge 6

Increase community resilience to ocean hazards

Challenge 7

Expand the global ocean observing system

Challenge 8

Create a digital representation of the ocean

Challenge 9

Deliver skills, knowledge and technology to all

Challenge 10

Change Humanity's relationship with the ocean

Challenge 2 is to understand what harms ocean ecosystems and to protect their biodiversity. The StOR section relating to this challenge starts by explaining ocean acidification, a phenomenon where the pH of the ocean decreases because of high amounts of CO2. The effects of this are numerous and severe and threaten “organisms and ecosystem services, including food security, by reducing biodiversity, degrading habitats and endangering fisheries and aquaculture’[1]. Furthermore, authors Andreas Oschlies and Hernan Garcia wrote about ocean deoxygenation, loss of oxygen in the ocean, and its main cause of global warming. To continue the discussion of climate change, StOR also included the pressing threats that climate change holds on biodiversity. Climate change causes the redistribution of thousands of marine species out of their usual latitudes, a clear disturbance to marine ecosystems.

Challenge 3 focuses on sustainably feeding the growing global population. The growing population and “great awareness of the harmful impacts of land-based meat sources” have increased the demand for ocean-based alternatives. This increase in the use of ocean seafood resources has created immense pressure on the marine ecosystem. UNESCO also notes that an easy way to join the Ocean Decade is to consume sustainable seafood.

Related to the previous Ocean Decade Challenge, Challenge 4 describes the need to have sustainable and equitable use of the Ocean. To first show the importance of the Ocean, UNESCO notes that “the global economy depends on the ocean through fisheries, energy, tourism, and transport.” [2] To add on to this, a healthy Ocean is also able to bring more employment, supply more food and renewable resources, and even help build towards medical breakthroughs.

Challenge 5 built off of the pressing issues of climate change mentioned previously by considering an ocean-based solution to climate change. StOR described coastal blue carbon ecosystems, including mangroves, marshes, and seagrasses, being a large mitigator of climate change. In addition to storing overwhelming amounts of carbon, blue carbon ecosystems also have other benefits such as “coastal protection from storms, improving water quality, benefiting biodiversity, fisheries, food security, tourism, and providing livelihoods for many coastal communities” [1]. Although these ecosystems are so vital to slowing climate change, they are severely threatened. For instance, mangroves are being lost at a rate of approximately 0.12% each year while seagrass is experiencing a rate of loss of up to 7% [1].

Coastal Salt Marsh, an in rapid decline

Coastal Salt Marshes are amongst ecosystems that are in rapid decline

The latter half of the StOR had to do more and more with how humans are affected by all this and what can be done in the future. For instance, Challenge 6 focused on better-preparing communities and building resilience to ocean hazards, such as tsunamis and rising sea levels. Examples of hazards can include rising sea levels, harmful algae blooms, and destructive storms. To mitigate the damages that these events can bring, experts must “have the knowledge to issue warnings” [3] but communities must also be able to respond effectively.

Challenges 7 and 8 both related to specifying the need for advancements in technology by expanding the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) and creating a digital representation of the Ocean. To start off, GOOS provides up-to-date information about “ our changing climate, ocean health, ocean life, weather and hazard warning” [1] to 8,208 ocean observing platforms. Unfortunately, due to funding and COVID-19-related constraints, GOOS is at risk. To mitigate this risk, StOR urges the development of transdisciplinary infrastructure where current technologies (such as biogeochemical sensors) are upgraded and new technologies (such as drones) are introduced [1]. Furthermore, creating a comprehensive representation of the Ocean would allow not only free and open access for exploring but also vital information about ocean conditions to stakeholders.

A buoy by the Land/Ocean Biogeochemical Observatory (LOBO) that is able to capture information about marine environments such as pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen.[4]

A buoy by the Land/Ocean Biogeochemical Observatory (LOBO) that is able to capture information about marine environments such as pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen.[4]

In order for any of these challenges and issues to be combatted, there must be the development of skill, knowledge, and technology, the topic of Challenge 9. “Capacity development” is discussed extensively in this section and refers to additional staffing and training in hopes to improve performance. The IOC has developed the OceanTeacher Global Academy, in hopes of developing a “portfolio of packaged courses (related to the needs of IOC and other partners and stakeholders) and to deliver courses through online and/or blended learning, on demand.” [1]. StOR also made sure to point out the differences in research across countries and the demographics of ocean science researchers. For instance, the number of ocean science researchers can vary from less than 1 to over 300 per million inhabitants. To add to that, discrepancies also exist when it comes to gender in Ocean science where the global average of female researchers is only 37% [1]. To conclude the StOR list of challenges, Challenge 10 is to  change humanity’s relationship with the Ocean. In order to do this, global ocean literacy (Table 2) must be enhanced and account for the complex relationship between society and the Ocean.

Table 2 The Seven Principles of Ocean Literacy

Principle 1

The Earth has one big ocean with many features

Principle 2

The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of Earth

Principle 3

The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate

Principle 4

The ocean made the Earth habitable

Principle 5

The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.

Principle 6

The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.

Principle 7

The ocean is largely unexplored.

There has been a clear increase in interest in global ocean literacy after announcements from the UN Ocean Decade in 2017. To add to that, since the UN Ocean Decade in 2021, there have also been almost 65,000 individuals accessing the UNESCO Ocean Literacy Portal as well as over 600 participants attending ocean literacy training courses [1].

To end the State of the Ocean Report, it was mentioned that the goal of the UN Ocean Decade was to address the lack of ocean knowledge. In 2017, the Ocean Decade encompassed the “vision of the science we need for the ocean we want”[1]. The Ocean Decade has come far, and so far has included 43 global programs, almost 157 projects, 28 National Decade Committees, and much more. The clear take-away message underscored in the Report is that global society must act towards the Ocean we need for the future we want [1].

Image Credits

"Trawlers overfishing cod" by Asc1733 is shared under CC-BY-SA 4

"Bride-Brook-Salt-Marsh" by Alex756 is shared under CC-BY-SA 3

"4a. Buoy, Oh LOBO Buoy!" by kqedquest


[1] IOC-UNESCO. 2022. State of the Ocean Report, pilot edition. Paris, IOC-UNESCO. (IOC Technical Series, 173)

[2] IOC-UNESCO. 13 Jun 2021. “Ocean Decade Challenge 4: Develop a sustainable and equitable ocean economy”

[3] IOC-UNESCO. 13 Jun 2021. “Ocean Decade Challenge 6: Increase community resilience to ocean hazards”

[4] The University of Maine. “Marine Sciences of Aquaculture, Fisheries, and Renewable Energy”