UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable development – Science communication and outreach (Part 2/2)

Hari VishnuOcean Decade

"sunset over ocean

Is there a way to reverse ocean health decline and continue to rely on it ? The Ocean Decade is an opportunity to seek a positive answer to this question.

20 May, 2021

Hari Vishnu

This article is Part Two of a series on the UN Decade of Ocean sciences panels covered by Earthzine over the last year.

In this article, we cover the involvement of students and Early Career professionals or Young Professionals (ECOPs/YPs) in the Decade. It also discusses science communication and outreach for the Decade. The article will span coverage of panel discussions held at OCEANS Seattle and Ocean Sciences, San Diego. In part one, we covered the objectives, perspectives and plans of the Decade as discussed at OCEANS Seattle, and the involvement of technical societies and the private-sector. 

The involvement of ECOPs is vital to the Decade, as they will form the generation of leaders that will ‘inherit’ the Earth, take forward the learnings from this movement, and benefit or be affected directly by the Ocean’s health.

The Decade places heavy emphasis on ECOPs involvement and has created an informal working group (IWG) to create a strategy for engaging and incorporating younger perspectives [1]. The IWG's goal is to enable transformative change in how ocean science, solutions, and innovations are designed and implemented. Recognising that the ocean is facing unprecedented levels of threat due to human activities), members of the working group are engaging in efforts to address the multiple challenges affecting coastal, deep-sea, and open-ocean waters.

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ECOPS initiatives under the Ocean Decade

ECOPS initiatives under the Decade

To bring together ECOPs around the world in promoting the Decade, there is an upcoming Virtual ECOPs day on June 1st which is a 24-hour livestream event following the sun around the world. It aims to engage ECOPs from all around the world and from a variety of professional disciplines to showcase their ocean related work, activities and contributions to the Ocean Decade. If you are an ECOP, or interested in ECOPs contribution to the Decade, make sure to follow the livestream - Young Professionals from IEEE OES (including yours truly) will be featured in one of the segments as well, talking about student underwater robotics competitions and science communication initiatives under the Decade.

As part of ECOPs outreach, there was a Decade panel at Ocean Sciences Meeting 2020 which I attended. The panel discussed how ECOPs worldwide could get involved, and urged ECOPs to connect and establish a Network of Networks to spread the word, and also involve in mentorship programs as part of the initiatives.

It is also important to reach out to a diversity of people, breaking the language barrier, and brainstorm how to enable a more inclusive participation. The panel said that the Decade tries to ensure the working group is representative of geography as much as possible. The ECOPs group leaves it to these local champions to take up the cause in their respective areas

Another important aspect of the Decade is science communication (scicomm) - which readers of Earthzine are probably not strangers to!

At OCEANS Seattle, the panel discussion included a talk by Mattie Rodrigue from OceanX, whose focus is on science communication [2]. She spoke about how it is important to tell stories of local heroes and scientists, and amplify what they are doing in the eyes of the general public. It is also important to catalyze the mainstream media to tell these stories and make them more accessible. For the last 7 years, most of OceanX’s activities have been through their research vessel M/V Alucia. They undertake media-focused expeditions. A famous production by OceanX includes the "Deep Sea" episode of the docuseries Blue Planet II, that has become quite a hit. Mark Dalio, Founder & Creative Director of OceanX, spent more than 500 hours in the deep ocean, producing this episode.

Brine pools are highly saline underwater lakes known to be toxic to most sea life, and yet they hold the promise of biological secrets that could lead to medical breakthroughs. This is an example of a video project by OceanX on the wonder of Brine pools.

OceanX also partners with other players to identify possible expeditions for monitoring/survey missions. An example of this was a survey of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts that have been declared as National marine monuments of the US, some place in bahamas. OceanX's research vessel took a voyage to observe them up-close and in person for the very first time. Recording from their submersibles, OceanX observed incredible deepwater corals, very different to the kinds that live in warm, shallow waters, and species specially acclimatized to living hundreds of meters under the water. Another example is their project to tag the bluntnose sixgill shark in the deep ocean, using a submersible. 

Videos explaining OceanX’s projects and expeditions can be found at their youtube channel. Many of these have caught quite attention from the mainstream media. For example:

The next speaker was HyeJoo Ru from University of Washington. She spoke about scientific awareness programs for youth that she had been involved in, and as part of the undergraduate research. These programs were focused on high school students, to help them build projects for ocean monitoring and increased their awareness. It also focused on creating a climate action network to create a sustainable future.

How ECOPs can contribute to the Decade planning process

How ECOPs can contribute to the Decade planning process

These sort of programs are important for equipping the youth with scientific skills and awareness, so that they can advocate the voice of science to the government. As part of this outreach program, HyeJoo reached out to the youth via social media outlets - Snapchat, Instagram, etc, as part of youth conservation programs. HyeJoo’s UG research led her to think about how we communicate science to people who aren't necessarily experts in the field, and she shared her thoughts on this. Citizen science was one of the ways that HyeJoo suggested as a way to reach out to people from other fields.

The panel also discussed that often, activities like Scicomm and policy are considered not useful by academics, or not a priority as compared to papers. It is important to ensure that professors and universities don't consider this a waste of time. One way ahead is to try and ensure science communication is infused into the curriculum worldwide. 

Questions from audience

Q: Can you elaborate more on how we can make science communication more effective in the Decade ? Is it important to attract more players from outside the Ocean domain ?

A (Panel):

It is easier to attract Marine science or engineering students into this movement - Dangle a yellow robot in front of them ! Harder to attract students of law or banking or from other fields into this. But this is vital to do. We need to convince them that their expertise is important to move ahead together. We also need to emphasize that they don't need to know every aspect of the Oceans to help us with their contributions

HyeJoo: Citizen science programs are a good way to let people know how they can get involved and how Oceans affect them. It fosters new perspectives. Maybe it can even help these ‘lawyers or bankers’ know how they can contribute to policy by going on a cruise and knowing how it works, and bringing it back into their domain. Also, cross-disciplinary classes are important. And it is important to find that common denominator amongst all.
David: Yes, citizen science is a critical component. At Seabed 2030 and Gebco, we have a branch involved with Ocean comms and with people like Oceanx who do this.
Rick Spinrad: I challenge anyone to find a field of study that does not have a marine application. Indeed, all fields are affected by or can affect marine application, and we need to find the common denominator.

Q (Spinrad): Have you looked at similar lessons learnt in other fields in incorporating ECOPs into the movement ? How not to make those mistakes?
A (Panel): It's a good thought, we will do this. We are making sure that in our network of networks, there are professionals from not just ocean sciences but other fields, so their ideas will be incorporated. 


[1] Rachel Kelly and Pradeep Arjan Singh, "A new generation of Ocean Leaders", Conversation.com

[2] https://www.good.is/good10-the-oceans-issue-the-media-bbc-with-ocean-x