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The Ocean Decade: how the next ten years can chart a new course for the blue planet

Inside the barrel of a large, crashing ocean wave.
Brett Allen/Shutterstock

When birdsong was filling the muted days of the first lockdown, marine scientists were noticing something similar in the world’s oceans. Container vessels, cruise ships and drilling platforms had fallen silent, and so the oceans grew quieter than at any other time in recent memory. Researchers are trying to understand how the lull affected ocean life, but there are already stories of whales seizing the chance to sing and dolphins venturing into coastal areas they’d avoided for decades.

The year of the quiet ocean is over, and noise pollution is roaring back to pre-pandemic levels, drowning out the sounds that marine species depend on to communicate and make sense of their surroundings. Sadly, that’s just one problem among many.

The UN has declared that the next ten years will be the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, recognising the enormous challenges facing our blue planet. The Conversation has been keeping an eye on some of these as part of our Oceans 21 series. Already, we’ve heard from experts about how chemical pollution in the ocean threatens human health, how the ocean economy is dominated by a handful of mega-rich corporations and why global warming is making the ocean more stable – with surprisingly worrying results.

But we’ve also heard informed reasons for hope. From the geographer studying the recovery of polar whale populations and the team of physicists learning how to track the journey of each plastic particle when it reaches the shoreline, to the anthropologist documenting the role that Scottish Gaelic plays in conservation in Outer Hebridean fisheries.

To commemorate World Oceans Day on Tuesday June 8 at 4pm BST, we’ll be channelling the expertise of marine researchers in a webinar hosted by Jack Marley, environment and energy editor at The Conversation. He’ll be asking a panel of experts how the world’s oceans came to be in such a precarious state, and what must happen over the coming decade to begin turning the tide.

Joining him will be:

  • Jean-Baptiste Jouffray, Postdoctoral Researcher in Sustainability Science at Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University
  • Joanne Preston, Principal Lecturer in Marine Biology at the University of Portsmouth
  • Jessica H. Whiteside, Lecturer in Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton

This webinar is now over. You can watch a video of it here.

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